Articles : Medieval Jewelry
The transcendent, timeless beauty of medieval jewels has not diminished with the passing of time. Made from the most precious and beautiful materials known to the medieval world - gold, silver, gems, pearls - , they also captivate modern beholders.
Few medieval jewels have come down to posterity. Because of the inherent value of their materials, many were destroyed, or rather, constantly recycled: they were melted down and reused in newer, more fashionable pieces.
However, the significance of medieval jewelry goes far beyond its material or decorative value. Precious objects communicated complex meanings and connotations and thus constituted an indispensable part of the medieval language of signs.
The raw materials
Goldsmiths worked mainly with the two most precious metals, gold and silver, and used enamel, pearls, and stones for the decoration of their products. Gold was seen as the most prestigious metal, for which silver-gilt or silver were seen as poorer substitutes, most suitable for lower classes.
Silver, in contrast to gold, was produced continuously through the Middle Ages in Europe, and even exported from there. In addition to silver mines that played an important part in silver production in the early and the High Middle Ages - Poitou (Merovingian period), Sardinia (11th-12th c.), the environs of Goslar, Germany (10th-12th c.), Freiberg, Saxony (12th-14th c.), - rich silver mines were discovered in the second half of the thirteenth century in Kuttenberg (Kutná Hora), Bohemia, which supplied silver in great quantities until its decline, due to the Hussite wars, in the fifteenth century.
Precious stones were acquired almost exclusively from long-distance trade. Among the most frequently used stones, rubies, sapphires, emeralds, turquoises, and diamonds came mainly from the East: rubies were brought from India and Ceylon, sapphires from Ceylon, Arabia, and Persia, emeralds from Egypt, turquoises from Persia and Tibet, and diamonds from India and Central Africa. Europe also produced a variety of gems and semi-precious stones in the later Middle Ages. The source for amethysts was Germany and Russia. Rock crystal came from Germany, Switzerland and France, opals and garnets, from Eastern Europe. Besides precious stones, also a great variety of less valuable stones were frequently used, as it turns out from a list of precious stones written by a Jewish merchant in 1453.
Other raw materials for the decoration of jewelry included freshwater pearls from Scotland, mother-of-pearl, amber - the fossilised resin of pine trees - found in great quantities along the Baltic coast, jet - the black fossilised remains of trees - mainly from England and Spain, and coral from the Mediterranean coast in North Africa.