Little Miss Medieval: Baubles and Gems
February 28, 2012
Little Miss Medieval
Part I: Baubles and Gems
Let’s talk about jewelry! Specifically, medieval jewelry from about the 5th Century AD (400) to about the 15th Century (1400)– a wide swathe of 1000 years that offers plenty of fun gems to hunt for or make! Since the Middle Ages saw the rebirth of skilled crafts, jewelry began to regain popularity and began to be ever more elaborate as the Renaissance drew near. Jewelry in the Middle Ages was a definite sign of wealth and nobility, so don’t plan on pairing your grey peasant kirtle with a giant gold cross unless you’re costuming for sheer enjoyment rather than accuracy.
It’s actually really easy to find new or vintage pieces to use with your cloak or gown! Favorite medieval jewelry motifs include saints, crosses, and circles decorated with enamel, mosaics, carving, and rough or cabochon gems (gemstone cuts beyond the flat table cut had not yet been developed, so rhinestones and sparkly diamonds are out). These are universally popular even today.
I combed through the V&A Museum archives and found some amazing period pieces and paired them up with similar vintage and handmade items you can buy for yourself.
Pendants in the Middle Ages were worn by men and women and often featured saints or gemstones that were believed to offer the wearer protection. Charms were popular with everyone, nobility to peasant, and were made from bone, wood, iron, silver, ivory, stone, and gold.
Pins, Brooches, and Badges
This is the most versatile piece of jewelry ever! Hold up your cloak, disguise a stain, close a seam, add a chain for a necklace, tame a piece of drooping trim–the list goes on and on! The most popular pin style is the ring brooch. They often had words engraved on them, but plain circles or wire twists are perfect for everyday use. Originally, brooches did not have the pin in the back, but rather in the front, center. Older cloak and kilt pins were a circle held in place with a separate pin. The later Middle Ages and Renaissance saw the transition from these fibula brooches to pin-backs.
Reliquary Crosses and Crucifixes
Crosses and Crucifixes are some of the most popular pieces of Medieval jewelry, especially if they contained a relic, like a piece of the True Cross or a lock of saint hair.
Simple gold bands to giant chunks of precious gems, rings varied as much in the Middle Ages as they do today. It’s really easy to find medieval-style rings in sterling silver, thanks to the traditional crafts revival of the 1960s and 1970s. Those regal vintage rings are awesome! Look for cabochon stones in the smooth/rubbed bezel or claw settings.
Medieval jewelry is surprisingly modern looking. With a good eye, I’ll bet you can find plenty of yard sale treasures to add some sparkle to your Baroness costume!