The Waterford Gold Ring Brooch

Such brooches were given by men to women as love tokens. Earliest known example of its type in western Europe, this beautifully crafted brooch, consisting of a ring with a hinged pin, was used to close a cloak or the slit at the neck of a dress. The very fine quality probably means it belonged to a rich merchant's wife or a knight's lady and it is further evidence of a wealthy, sophisticated society in 13th century Waterford. Found in pristine condition in layers of ash and charcoal associated with industrial hearths on Bakehouse Lane in the Waterford city centre excavations, it is decorated with finely corded rims soldered to the outer and inner edges; on it are set four simple tubular collets filled with two blue and two green glass stones, almost certainly thought by the wearer and perhaps by the jeweller to be precious stones. Between the collets is filigree scroll-work applied in relief, formed by thin metal walls inset with a corded wire. The curling ends and significant points of the scroll-work are set with tiny balls of gold. The back is plain.

The ring-brooch was among the commonest jewels of the Middle Ages and was made of all qualities - from gold and silver to base metals - and often bore an inscription such as a protective formula or the name of the owner. Four definite and seven more possible ring-brooches, all made of copper alloy, were also found in the Waterford excavations. Often sold by travelling pedlars as evidenced by a 13th century French poem - the Dit du Mercier - where a pedlar offers to women gather around him little brooches of gilt brass and of silvered latten [a brass alloy] and so fond are folk of latten that often it is valued as silver.

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