Revolving signet ring

Either from France or Germany, early 17th century AD

This large, heavy ring is a masterpiece of technical virtuosity, and was almost certainly made as a cabinet piece for display and examination rather than to be worn. The disc of the ring is formed of a double intaglio seal stone with an engraved and enamelled hunting scene around the edge. The height of the disc is only 0.5 cm, yet the scene, depicting a mounted huntsman with hounds chasing a stag and a boar, is enamelled with supreme skill and artistry.

One side of the disc is fitted with an onyx intaglio of the Greek god Apollo and his lyre set within a frame of blue enamel, the other side with a sardonyx intaglio of a male and female figure, possibly Bacchus and Ariadne within a black enamel frame. The hoop is delicately enamelled with a floral design in blue, white and green on a black ground.

Swivel rings were common in antiquity, and there was a particular fashion for them in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The swivelling motion allowed for either side of the disc to be worn upwards. Most swivel rings revolve around a central pivot drilled into the disc, but this ring is rather more unusual; the disc can be turned round at any angle within the setting, and is not fixed in any manner.

The plain gold rim that curves inwards at the top would have originally been set vertically, the disc inserted, and the rim hammered down over the edge to secure it, but also allowing for the swivelling movement. Thus the hunting scene is completely invisible until the disc is swivelled.

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Revolving signet ring

  • View showing swivel of ring

    View showing swivel of ring

 

More information

Bibliography

H.B. Walters, Catalogue of the engraved gems (London, 1926)

O.M. Dalton, Catalogue of the finger rings, (London, British Museum, 1912)

Dimensions

Diameter: 2.400 cm
Height: 0.500 cm
Weight: 211.000 g

Museum number

M&ME Dalton ring cat. 314

MCN2872

Location

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