British Collection Highlights:

Gold, garnet and pearl finger ring

This gold finger ring was found by a metal detectorist in the area of Bolnhurst and Keysoe (Bedfordshire) in 2013. The cut garnet is set in a high collet and would have originally been surrounded by four pearls. The collet is supported by two gold, openwork letters A and M, underneath the decorated shoulders of the ring.

This rare ring dates from around AD 1400, during the end of King Richard IIs reign and the beginning of Henry IVs, a tumultuous period of English history. The maker of the finger ring may have been French, perhaps working in Paris or London. Parisian craftsmen were known for their skilled goldsmithing and gem cutting, and the level of delicate detailing on this piece is very fine even the outer hoop is embellished.

The glimmer of light reflecting off the pomegranate-red garnet, surrounded by small pearls, and their gold settings was part of the allure of this finger ring. In the medieval period protective and magical properties were associated with precious and semi-precious stones. It was believed that the garnet in this ring could have kept a traveller safe, and protected its wearer from poison and vapours that it to say the plague. The pearls too were symbols of purity, virginity, the soul and heaven: such qualities or elements synonymous with the Virgin Mary.

We can also attribute the letters A and M to Mary, as the invocation of Ave Maria [Hail Mary]. These elements together make up a symbolic and protective piece of high status jewellery.

In comparison with other contemporary rings, this is a rare example combining such detailed decoration, pearls, a semi-precious stone, and openwork lettering invoking the Holy Mother of Christ.

While it has suffered some damage since it was last worn, it is remarkable that two of the pearls have survived as they rarely endure in British soils. After being found by the metal detectorist, the ring was reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme and the coroner, after which it was declared Treasure under the Treasure Act.

It was acquired with the generous support from the Arts Council England/Victoria and Albert Museum Purchase Grant Fund; the Art Fund; and the Bomford Bequest Fund and Hattat Fund of the Department of Antiquities in the Ashmolean Museum.

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Gold, garnet and pearl finger ring (Click to enlarge)

Gold, garnet and pearl finger ring (AN2016.1)

Click to enlarge

Gold, garnet and pearl finger ring (Click to enlarge)

Gold, garnet and pearl finger ring (AN2016.1)