Pearl, Sapphire and Diamond bracelet. Made by Cartier in 1925. From the collection of Doris Duke
Antique Jewish wedding bands are stellar examples of the artistry of jewelry making. The rings are made of a metal circle, molded to fit the would-be owner, topped with an architectural feature resembling a house. The goldsmith would then engrave something on the exterior of the “house”; engravings were also commonly hidden inside, in which case the “house” – or bezel – would slide open. The engraving would usually read Mazal Tov, or the Hebrew initials M.T.
The rings’ houses varied in design from castle-like, to square, round or hexagonal. The structures were representations of either the Holy Temple or synagogues in the diaspora.
Large in diameter and heavy due to the architectural features, many of the rings are practically unwearable. Morgan ponders the question as well, saying that there is no conclusive evidence, either in Jewish tradition or in the Christian documentation recording Jewish practices, of such rings ever having been worn.
Trading in gold, jewels and precious stones was the trade of choice by wealthy Jewish merchants for hundreds of years. The memoir portrait of Gluckel of Hamlen, the daughter of a gold merchant of those times, depicts a wedding ring embroidered in gold thread, hanging from a necklace, which may have been the way the rings were worn after the wedding ceremony.
Jewish wedding bands are unique and although many of them are magnificent and expensive, none have stones set in them. The rings are devoid of their classical focal point due to a rabbinical ordinance barring setting gemstones in wedding bands, or engraving them with hallmarks – the latter first appearing in the 19th century. Also, Jewish goldsmiths were not allowed to join guilds and mark their creations until circa that time.
As part of the 19th century Prussian War effort citizens were asked to donate their gold jewelry. In return, they may have received black lace-like cast-iron pieces of jewelry which were proudly worn by the Prussian women. The style proved so popular that it was manufactured through the middle of the century.
The cabal of illustrious designers and manufacturers of this fabulous style of jewelry was quite small and consisted of Geiss, Schott and Lehmann. This particular Gothic Revival Berlin iron bracelet is attributed to Geiss, as makers of this fine art form did not always stamp their pieces with identifying marks. The design is certainly one of patterns used by Geiss. It was during this era of production that the form mimicked gate iron work and tracery patterns found in architectural elements.
The piece features nine panels or links utilizing Gothic elements of architecture such as quatrefoils, vertical piers and shafts, lancets, ogee arches and finials of lacelike iron tracery attached to a clasp reminiscent of a trefoil window typically found in a Gothic era church. For additional information and similar examples see pages 70, plate II and pages 88-89 in “Cut-Steel and Berlin Iron Jewellery” by Anne Clifford.
Date: Circa 1820 - 1840.
via The Three Graces
Antique Victorian gold and opal ring. Via Maejean Vintage Etsy.