Jewelry History

Jewelry Styles: Middle Ages

Period: 5th-15th century

Characteristic features:

  • pointed shapes, simple elegant patterns
  • Inserts: freshwater pearls, amber, gagate, coral; emeralds and rubies were imported, only the very rich could afford them
  • Techniques: enameling, gilding, soldering, inlaying, casting, grinding, metalwork; the process of cutting stones began in the late Middle Ages
  • Biblical themes, representations of the afterlife.

Western European styles became similar during the Middle Ages.

Christianity played an important role for medieval jewelry. It was not just about the appearance, but also about the very creation of the pieces. In the early Middle Ages, monasteries became the center of jewelry making. At monasteries jewelers were trained in the art and in due course opened their own business in the cities. The first guilds of jewelers were organized in the 12th century. This stimulated education, cooperation between workshops and quality control of pieces.

One can learn about the design of jewelry of that time not only from surviving specimens and paintings, but also from the pages of prayer books.

The Crusades and the exploration of trade routes helped spread art and technology throughout Europe. The development of trade brought a lot of money, and with it the ability to buy expensive things.

Jewelry reflected a clear hierarchy and was seen as a status symbol. Laws were even passed to restrict gold, silver and precious stones to commoners. Therefore, those who did not belong to the nobility could not afford expensive jewelry, even if they had money.

Superstition was close to Christianity, so jewelry still played the role of amulets. The metal, color, shape and stone were of importance. Some medieval items have cryptic inscriptions on them, which were probably meant to protect the wearer. In this we see the influence of alchemy and the spread of lapidaries.


A genre of symbolic literature of the Middle Ages. It described the special magical properties of stones and their symbolic meaning, echoing Christian teachings.

An influential poetic lapidarium is Liber lapidum, (“Book of Stones” or “Book of Stones”). It describes the properties of sixty stones.

It was compiled between 1061 and 1081 by Bishop Marbod of Rennes and was regularly reprinted.

Stone inlays are polished to cabochons until the end of the era. Enameling remains a popular technique – it is used to create colorful colored scenes and details.

Characteristic jewelry for the Middle Ages:

buttons, hairpins, hat badges, rings, weapons jewelry, coronets, brooches, bracelets, fibulae, chains with pendants (crosses, medallions).