Seventeenth-Century Rings

Seventeenth-Century Rings

Toward the end of the sixteenth century and the beginning of the seventeenth century, a marked change in jewelry and ring styles took place. Just as the Renaissance period was highlighted by ornate gold settings this era was distinguished by a growing emphasis on the gemstone. Refinements in cutting and foiling techniques resulted in a greater diversity of shapes and an emphasis on displaying the beauty of the gems themselves. Enamel is now typically used only as an accent in either white or black and, while gold is still used for colored gemstones, diamonds are set off in silver. Large stones are now worn and set as solitaires while arrangements of smaller stones are set in a myriad of shapes including stars, rosettes, and cruciforms. Details on the shoulders are kept subdued and most often as an engraved foliate motif simply enhanced by black and white enamel.

The prevalence of death was an inescapable part of everyday life in the 1700s. Continued plagues, widespread poverty, famine, and war – all these Malthusian factors served to keep death a common presence and the wearing of memento mori rings popular. A variety of ring styles were used with memento mori themes including signets, wedding rings with a skull between two hands, and locket rings featuring skulls and crossbones. As with other rings, gemstones if affordable, added an element of less austere ornamentation.

By the second half of the seventeenth century, memento mori imagery began to merge with the mourning ring. Distributed according to wills, seventeenth-century mourning rings were inscribed with details such as the individual’s name, initials, coat of arms and date of death. A plain gold band or band of gold enameled all the way around in emblems of death and burial, with an inner inscription were characteristic. Locks of hair were sometimes contained in locket bezels or in hollow hoops. The increasing popularity of bequeathing mourning rings is generally attributed to the execution of the English King Charles I in 1649. Supporters of the monarchy wore jewelry, most often rings, made of a flat topped quartz crystal which covered a gold wire cipher or crown set upon a background of plaited hair. This style known as Stuart Crystals would continue to be popular into the 18th century.

Memento Mori Ring, 17th Century. Skeleton Holding an Hourglass Surmounted on Braided Hair.
Schmuckmuseum Pforzheim, Germany.rings were still worn for practical purpose, the emphasis was now firmly on effect and style.

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