Jewelry is nowadays seen as nothing more than accessorize. A signature of a personality, an indicator of style, a mark of wealth. We judge them based on the ornamental, aesthetic value. Aside from artistic expression, or in special cases, emotional moments, jewelry does not carry much importance to today’s world. However, throughout history, jewlery had life or death connotations.
If you have ever read or have seen the screen remakes of Tolkein’s masterpieces the ‘’Hobbit’’ and ‘’The Lord of the Rings’’, you would guess the potential power, even if it was fictional, that a small and seemingly insignificant ring could bring. Bilbo Baggins started traveling the Middle Earth, Frodo fought wars, in order to defeat the magic power of the ring that was bringing man’s greed to the surface. In the nonfictional historical setting, the story of the powerful jewlery pieces, specifically rings, does not seem much less unbelievable to today’s minds. We imagine caveman wearing the pieces made of pebbles and bones, adoring their beauty, endurance, and stability in such insecure conditions they were living in. At around 1300, humans learned how to utilize diamond. Then they started producing jewelry out of it. Thinking of history, we associate kingdoms and territories with golden crowns, tiaras, and scepters.
Whether these objects were signifying personal triumph, conqueror’s victory, talisman, social status, or emotional commitment, they were bringing value or even purpose to people’s lives. The tradition of special compartment jewlery dates back to ancient times. These civilizations used to entitle magical properties to it, as pieces were thought to be protective.
Ancient India and the Middle East is where secret compartment jewlery originates from. Usually, in the form of a ring, it had a small locket on top that was used for storing a range of objects. Sometimes they used to carry a picture of a loved one or similar object of sentimental value in the small compartment. However, there is a huge murky moment in the history of jewlery. Just as in Tolkein’s picture, rings were having a darker element.
Inside the locker, you could often find a poison, preferably as a powder. Such a secret compartment jewlery piece was called a poison ring. Poison rings had large ornaments on top. The larger the ornament, the more concealed the container is, making it possible for the poison to go undetected. On parties, you could just open up the lid and spill the poison in the enemy’s glass of champagne. It is noted that people used poison rings for committing suicide. In case something happened that you couldn’t escape otherwise, you could drag some chemicals in a drink as an easy way out. When the long and painful death was an obvious outcome, it was common to ease the time for yourself by opening up the grandiose accessorize on your hand.
From the native Far East, the poison ring found its way to Europe and blended in Western European culture. Ancient Roman government official used his ring to escape from torture. It was worn as a convenient and sophisticated, but powerful weapon against any threat. The Carthaginian soldier also committed suicide with the help of a poison ring after he had collected the rings of dead Roman soldiers and sent them back home.
Italian Renaissance legend woman, Lucrezia Borgia, is believed to have used poison rings to dispose of her opponents in an elegant and rather practical style. Yet this claim has never been confirmed. When Marquis de Condorcet, a renowned mathematician, and philosopher, was subjected to the guillotine in 1794, he died from the poison of his hand. There’s a story on how a poison ring aided the ending of an aristocratic dispute. In Bulgaria, archeologists have discovered a secret compartment jewlery piece, a bronze ring that likely belonged to Dobrotitsa, the emperor of Despotate of Dobrudja in a fight with a rival, influential family at the time.
The poison rings were also used to hold pomanders, capsules with chemicals used to disguise the smell and protect from infections in times of contagious and devastating diseases. Another secret compartment jewlery with interesting tradition is a mourning ring. It was worn in grief, carrying bones or a lock of hair. It was believed that the grieving jewlery would protect the carrier from maladies.
Specific mourning jewlery is associated with the Victorian period (1837-1901). This era imposed strict social rules for mourning, especially on women. They were required to wear black mourning costumes and to restrict their behavior and social presence. In that sense, the Victorian mourning rings were made all black, to symbolize the grief for extinguished life. This style secret compartment jewlery was worn ‘’in memoriam’’, as a way to remember and honor the deceased. Victorians preferred jet, which is fossilized, black coal, to produce this ornament. Gems and crystals played a significant role in the world of poison rings. Not only that they were used to cover a poison container, but they were believed to carry a special meaning and superstitious properties. For instance, rock crystals were regarded as protectors against poison. Stones resembling the color of blood were thought to be holding the power of life. Lapis gems were associated with numerous legends, including one in the poem Gilgamesh were Sumerians traveled to find this stone. It carries afterlife protection and symbolism of royalty, according to the legend. Emerald is holding power, Amber is shining out the light. Diamond, as itself a form of a perfect and most abundant chemical element, carbon, is associated with endurance, strength, and good fortune.
Nowadays, these secret compartment jewels are quite fashionable, resembling the Goth style. Contemporary jewlery makers try to imitate the historical poison ring and adapt it to modern culture. From a cultural trademark to the poisonous, deathly weapons, rings were changing the course of history. Just as Tolkein’s ‘’Hobbit’’ implies, no creature, no matter how small it may appear, is never insignificant. Everyone is holding the power to completely change the world, and rings as tools, are definitely worth attention.