DETAIL: A large and intricate silver/bronze alloy ring of late Renaissance origin, probably seventeenth or eighteenth century, provenance is Southern Russia, the Crimean Region. The Crimean, now part of present-day Ukraine, was home of the Tartars (and before them ancient Greek settlements during the first millennium B.C.), across the Black Sea from what was at the time this ring was produced, the Ottoman Empire, modern day Turkey. The ring bears a very elaborate pattern on the sides of the band wrapping almost all of the way around to the back of the band, and an intricate perimeter of finely serrated “teeth” retain the gemstone within the bezel. It is quite substantial, and the design of the ring and the detailed metal work evidenced in the bezel and bands is very elaborate!
There is however some very light wear to the sides and back of the band, and some of the pattern has been flattened just a tiny little bit by wear. However all of the original embellishments are visible and intact. The finely serrated teeth retaining the gemstone within the bezel are all intact and show relatively little wear except to one of the longer-axis sides. On that one particular side of the bezel you’ll see that several of these intricate teeth have been worn away. It might seem peculiar that only this one area of the ring, specifically the bezel, would show such accelerated wear while the rest of the ring evidences very little wear. However it was quite fashionable even as far back as the Roman Empire to wear not only a ring on each finger (including the thumb), but even to wear multiple rings on the same finger.
This ancient fashion was carried forward into Medieval and Byzantine (Eastern) Europe. The wear you see was caused by the original owner wearing this ring on the same finger as another ring. The wear is where the two rings contacted one another. In fact, if you look very closely at the gemstone, you’ll see that it too evidences a little bit of wear where it came into contact as well. Despite the wear, which is still very light, the gemstone remains quite secure within the mounting. Of course, some signs of wear are to be expected from a ring several centuries old. It was produced with the idea that someone would purchase it and wear it – and that is exactly what happened. It is clear that several centuries ago this ring was worn, albeit probably somewhat infrequently. The wear is very light, does not adversely affect the “wearability” of the artifact, and is almost undetectable except upon very close scrutiny.
The ring was probably designed to be worn by a man, and is bold and handsome enough to be worn by a man today. However the design is elaborate, elegant, and intricate enough to be worn with good taste by a woman as well. Although there are unmistakable indications of wear, they are not excessive, and the artifact’s integrity is undiminished. Despite the very modest amount of wear, it remains quite intricate and substantial, and the design of the ring and the detailed metal work evidenced in the bezel and bands is very elaborate! The oval gemstone is quartz orange carnelian. Agate and quartz carnelian gemstones and jewelry were not only very popular throughout the Medieval Period and into the Renaissance and Victorian Periods, by also as far back as the Roman Empire. And before the Romans, the Greeks, Phoenicians, and Egyptians as well as the Sumerians also fashioned carnelian into jewelry.
The ring itself is silver alloyed with bronze, moreso silver than bronze judging by appearances. This style of ring was popular throughout much of Eastern Byzantine Europe for centuries, so it is difficult to place a precise date on the artifact. However it is likely to have been produced sometime in the 17th or 18th century, and based upon where it was found, it was produced either in Ottoman Turkey and exported to the Crimean (which only a century before was part of the Ottoman Empire), or produced in the Crimean Region itself. In any event, this elaborate piece of Byzantine/Renaissance jewelry is in a very good state of preservation, and is quite wearable.
The Tatars of the Crimean Black Sea Region are one of the ethnic sub-populations of Russia (present-day Ukraine). Prior to the current era (before 0 A.D.) the vast lands of South Russia were home to various Proto-Indo-European tribes such as the Scythians. Between the third and sixth centuries A.D., the steppes were overwhelmed by successive waves of nomadic invasions when swept through Europe, as was the case with Huns and Turkish Avars. A Turkic people, the Khazars, ruled South Russia through the 8th century. They were important allies of the Byzantine Empire and waged a series of successful wars against the Arab Califates. The Early East Slavs constituted the bulk of the population in Western Russia from the 7th century onwards and slowly assimilated the native Finno-Ugric tribes, such as the Merya, the Muromians and the Meshchera.
In the mid-9th century, a group of Scandinavians, the Varangians, assumed the role of a ruling elite at the Slavic capital of Novgorod. Although they were quickly assimilated by the predominantly Slavic population, the Varangian dynasty lasted several centuries, during which they affiliated with the Byzantine, or Orthodox church and moved the capital to Kiev in A.D. 882. In the 10th to 11th centuries this state of Kievan Rus became the largest in Europe and one of the most prosperous, due to diversified trade with both Europe and Asia. However the opening of new trade routes with the Orient at the time of the Crusades contributed to the decline and defragmentation of Kievan Rus by the end of the 12th century.
In the 11th and 12th centuries, the constant incursions of nomadic Turkic tribes, such as the Kipchaks and the Pechenegs, led to the massive migration of Slavic populations from the fertile south to the heavily forested regions of the north. The medieval states of Novgorod Republic and Vladimir-Suzdal emerged as successors to Kievan Rus, while the middle course of the Volga River came to be dominated by the Muslim state of Volga Bulgaria. Like many other parts of Eurasia, these territories were overrun by the Mongol invaders known as the “Golden Horde”, which would pillage Russia for over three centuries. Later known as the Tatars, they ruled the southern and central expanses of present-day Russia, while the territories of present-day Ukraine and Belarus were incorporated into the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and Poland, thus dividing the Russian people in the north from the Belarusians and Ukrainians in the west.
The name “Tatars” eventually become a collective name applied to the Turkic people of Eastern Europe and Central Asia. The majority of Tatars today live in European Russia, and are the descendants of the Eastern European Volga Bulgars who were conquered by the Mongol invasion of the 13th century. The original Ta-ta Mongols inhabited the north-eastern Gobi in the 5th century and, after subjugation in the 9th century by the Khitans, migrated southward, there founding the Mongol empire under Genghis Khan. Under the leadership of his grandson Batu Khan they moved westwards, driving with them many stems of the Turkic Ural-Altayans towards the plains of Russia. On the Volga they mingled with remnants of the old Bulgarian empire (Volga Bulgaria), and elsewhere with Finno-Ugric speaking peoples, as well as with remnants of the ancient Greek colonies in the Crimea and Caucasians in the Caucasus.
The name of Tatars, given to the invaders, was afterwards extended so as to include different stems of the same Turkic-Mongol branch in Russia, and even the bulk of the inhabitants of the high plateau of Asia and its northwestern slopes, described under the general name of Tartary. This name has almost disappeared from geographical literature, but the name Tatars, in the above limited sense, remains in full use. Most current day Tatars live in the central and southern parts of Russia (the majority in Tatarstan), Ukraine, Poland, Moldova, Lithuania, Belarus and in Bulgaria, China, Kazakhstan, Romania, Turkey, and Uzbekistan. They collectively numbered more than 10 million in the late 20th century.
The Crimean Tatars may still be found in Crimea, an autonomous republic of Ukraine on the northern coast of the Black Sea occupying the Crimean peninsula. The Crimean Tatars are actually descendants of a number of Turkic peoples. The ethnicity of the Crimean Tatars is quite complex as it absorbed by both nomadic Turkic and European components (in the first place, the Goths and the Genoese) which is still reflected in their appearance and language differences. A small enclave of the Karaims, possibly of Khazar (i.e. Turkic) descent but members of a Jewish sect, was founded in the 8th century. It existed among the Muslim Crimean Tatars, primarily in the mountainous Çufut Qale area.
The territory of Crimea was conquered and controlled many times through its history. The Cimmerians, Greeks, Iranians, Goths, Huns, Bulgars, Khazars, the state of Kievan Rus', Byzantine Greeks, Kipchaks, and the Mongols all controlled Crimea in its early history. These were followed by the Crimean Khanate and Ottoman Empire in the 15th–18th centuries, the Russian Empire in the 18th–20th centuries, Germany in World War II, and now, the independent Ukrainian state. The Crimean Tatars were forcibly expelled to Central Asia by Joseph Stalin's government, but have begun returning to their homeland in recent years.
The ancient Greeks called Crimea Tauris (later Taurica), after its inhabitants, the Tauri. The Greek historian Herodotus mentions that Hercules plowed that land using a huge ox ("taurus"), hence the name of the land. The earliest inhabitants of whom we have any authentic traces were the Cimmerians, who were expelled by the Scythians (Iranians) during the 7th century B.C. The remaining Cimmerians that took refuge in the mountains later became known as the Tauri. According to other historians, the Tauri were known for their savage rituals and piracy, and were also the earliest, indigenous inhabitants of the peninsula. In 5th century B.C., Greek colonists began to settle along the Black Sea coast, among those were the Dorians from Heraclea who founded a sea port of Chersonesos outside Sevastopol, and the Ionians from Miletus who landed at Feodosiya and Panticapaeum (also called Bosporus).
Two centuries later (438 B.C.), the Archon (ruler) of the latter settlers assumed the title of the Kings of Cimmerian Bosporus, a state that maintained close relations with Athens, supplying the city with wheat, honey and other commodities. The last of that line of kings, Paerisades V, being hard-pressed by the Scythians, put himself under the protection of Mithridates VI, the king of Pontus, in 114 B.C. After the death of this sovereign, his son, Pharnaces II, was invested by Pompey with the kingdom of Bosporus in 63 B.C. as a reward for the assistance rendered to the Romans in their war against his father. In 15 B.C., it was once again restored to the king of Pontus, but since ranked as a tributary state of Rome.
Throughout the later centuries, Crimea was invaded or occupied successively by the Goths (A.D. 250), the Huns (376), the Bulgars (6th century), the Khazars (8th century), the state of Kievan Rus' (10th–11th centuries), the Byzantine Greeks (1016), the Kipchaks (the Kumans) (1050), and the Mongols (1237). In the 13th century, the Republic of Genoa seized the settlements which their rivals, the Venetians, had built along the Crimean coast and established themselves at Cembalo, Soldaia, Cherco and Caffa, gaining control of the Crimean economy and the Black Sea commerce for two centuries.
After the destruction of the Golden Horde by Timur in 1441, the Crimean Tatars founded an independent Crimean Khanate under Hacı I Giray, a descendant of Genghis Khan. The Crimean Tatars controlled the steppes that stretched from the Kuban and to the Dniester River, however, they were unable to take control over commercial Genoese towns. After the Crimean Tatars asked for help from the Ottomans, an Ottoman invasion of the Genoese towns led by Gedik Ahmed Pasha in 1475 brought Kaffa and the other trading towns under their control. In 1774, The Crimean Khans fell under the Russian influence in the Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca. In 1783, entire Crimea was annexed by the Russian Empire.
CARNELIAN HISTORY: Aside from pearls, which were "discovered" as gemstones by prehistoric man, carnelian, turquoise, and lapis lazuli are the oldest gemstones utilized in the manufacture of jewelry. Carnelian is a translucent form of (chalcedony) quartz, and ranges in color from yellow to a deep red, the color due to the presence of iron oxide. Some of the most ancient examples of jewelry included carnelian. Queen Pu-abi's tomb at Ur in Sumeria dated from the 3rd millennium B.C. In the crypt the upper part of the queen's body was covered with a robe made of gold, silver, lapis lazuli, carnelian, agate, and chalcedony beads. In Egyptian jewelry the use of gold was predominant, and it was generally complemented by the use of three colors of carnelian, as well as turquoise, and lapis lazuli. For example the orange accents in the famous mask of Tutankhamun were provided by carnelian gemstones. The blood red varieties of carnelian gained great popularity in the ancient world, and were widely used to produce engraved gemstones. Intaglio-incised carving was probably first used to produce seals. The art form is believed to have originated in southern Mesopotamia, and was highly developed by the 4th millennium B.C.
The source for most carnelian in the early Mediterranean were simply gemstones found on the surface of the Egyptian and Arabian deserts. However by the first millennium B.C., carnelian was coming to the Mediterranean from India. The gemstones would reached the Mediterranean either via the Silk Route (if overland) or if by sea, they would have crossed the Arabian and Red Sea by ship, then overland to Alexandria in Egypt, before being distributed by trade across and around the Mediterranean. The ancient Indians were very fond of carnelian. Long beads in excess of 12cm in length (6 inches) were very popular with the Indus Valley populations (present-day Punjab), specimens having been excavated by archaeologists which date back to before 2,000 B.C. By 1700 B.C. the Minoans (of ancient Crete) had established trade routes from Knossos to Turkey, Cyprus, Egypt, Afghanistan, and Scandinavia. Carnelian was one of their major trade goods, along with amethyst, lapis lazuli, and gold. Even as far away as Japan carnelian has been found in Iron Age burials. In earthquake-prone lands such as Babylon and Greece, carnelian served as a talisman of good luck. An ancient saying went: "no man who wore a carnelian was ever found in a collapsed house or beneath a fallen wall."
Carnelian was mentioned a number of times in the ancient Egyptian “Book of the Dead”. A "tet" amulet made of carnelian was placed on a mummy's neck to protect the soul of the departed in the afterlife. The amulet was consecrated by steeping it overnight in flower-water, after which it was empowered by reciting the appropriate spell from the Book of the Dead over it. The ancient Egyptians often referred to carnelian as “the blood of Isis”. According to legend, the goddess Isis shed tears of blood upon the death of her husband, Osiris. The tears turned into carnelian, which she then shaped into a tet amulet. Isis placed the tet around the neck of Osiris to protect her husband as he journeyed to the underworld. In Egyptian mythology Isis was the equivalent of the universal mother-god found in virtually all civilizations, and was worshipped as the mother of Ra. Isis was the sister of Osiris (who was also her husband), Nepthys and Seth, the daughter of Nut and Geb and the mother of Horus, the winged Falcon God. Other early Mediterranean cultures as well believed that carnelian would protect the deceased in the journey between this world and the next. Carnelian was also believed an aid to astral travel in ancient Egypt, and Siberian shamans believed likewise. Ancient shamans believed that carnelian boosted all psychic and magical powers, especially intuitive gifts like psychometry, dowsing, clairvoyance, and astral travel.
Carnelian was widely used throughout ancient the ancient Sumerian, Babylonian, Assyrian, Minoan and Phoenician worlds, as well as in ancient Greece, Rome, and Persia for the carving of intaglio gemstones for signet rings and other seals used by dignitaries and merchants to authenticate documents with their own unique personal “signature”. Many of the intaglio carnelian rings and signets produced by ancient Roman and Greek craftsmen and still in existence today, have retained their high polish better than many harder stones. A particularly noteworthy collection is housed at The Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia. Carnelian was probably the favorite gemstone for Roman artisans as they produced the intaglio gemstones so popular in signet rings. Aside from being quite beautiful, carnelian seals and signets had the practical advantage of not sticking to wax.
The ancient Mediterranean cultures, particularly the Romans, recommended carnelian gemstones for those of weak voice or timid on speech. It was also thought to give courage to those who wore the gemstone, and also to provide a positive influence on the reproductive system. As with amber, ancient Romans believed that the darker carnelian represented males and the lighter carnelian, females. In the world of the ancient Mediterranean, carnelian was also believed to be strong protection from the evil eye, referring to the almost universal belief in the ancient world that some evil sorcerers or witches had the ability to transmit evil with just a glance. The ancient Muslims also believed carnelian to protect against the evil eye, as well as bringing happiness to the owner. Carnelian was called “the Mecca stone”. Legend has it that Mohammad's seal was an engraved carnelian set in a silver ring, quite possible since carnelian was often used for signet seals. In ancient Islam carnelian stones were also engraved it with the name of Allah to promote courage in the wearer.
In ancient Tibet, it was believed that the seven treasures of material wealth were gold, silver, lapis lazuli, seashell, agate, pearl, and carnelian. Carnelian was used during the Middle Ages to enhance fertility, requiring that it be worn both by the male and female for those couples seeking a child. It was also believed to protect from miscarriage during pregnancy. The Medieval Christian Mystic Saint Hildegard recorded that carnelian was used to relieve headaches and as a child-birthing aid. In the Renaissance era cameos were frequently carved of carnelian in the belief that it would ward off depression and insanity. It was also believed that carnelian set in jewelry would help overcome shyness or social inhibitions. Napoleon is said to have carried a carnelian amulet he found in Egypt, as a talisman, echoing the ancient belief that carnelian would bring victory to the wearer in all contests except love.
Like earlier civilizations, medieval Europe believed carnelian to be a powerful healer, using it as a remedy for bleeding wounds. A leading medical treatise of the 17th century said of carnelian, “the powder is good to drink against all infections. Carried about, it makes cheerful minds, expels fear, makes courage, destroys and prevents fascinations and defends the body against all poisons. It stops blood by a peculiar property; and bound to the belly keeps up the birth.” "Carnelian" gets its name from the Latin "cornum" (cornel berry or carnelian cherry). The color of carnelian, which can range from yellow to orange to red and even to brown, is due to the presence of ferric oxide (iron). If the ferric oxides become hydrated, i.e., the stone absorbs moisture, the stone will be more yellow or brown. Conversely, if excess moisture is removed, it will become more red (which explains why it was often heated in the ancient world, even if by laying it out in the sun, so as to enhance the red hues). Carnelian is also fluorescent, showing under ultra violet light either a light blue or yellow-green coloration.
Throughout the history of the ancient world, gemstones were believed capable of curing illness, possessed of valuable metaphysical properties, and to provide protection. Found in Egypt dated 1500 B.C., the "Papyrus Ebers" offered one of most complete therapeutic manuscripts containing prescriptions using gemstones and minerals. Gemstones were not only valued for their medicinal and protective properties, but also for educational and spiritual enhancement. In the ancient world carnelian had many medicinal applications, believed useful in the treatment of open wounds, sores, spasms, fever, infections, nose bleeds, arthritis, and even infertility. It was also believed that a carnelian worn about a woman’s neck would relieve cramps. Carnelian was also believed to relieve back pain, arthritis, fight infections, as well as to improve circulation to help purify the blood. On the metaphysical plane, it was widely believed in Medieval Europe that a carnelian amulet would protect the home from fire and misfortune. It was also believed helpful in finding the right mate, and to help wearers achieve the perfect balance between creativity and mental processing (left and right hemisphere functions), and thus a useful aid for daydreamers and the absent-minded. Carnelian was also worn to enhance passion, desire, and sexuality.
HISTORY OF SILVER: After gold, silver is the metal most widely used in jewelry and the most malleable. The oldest silver artifacts found by archaeologists date from ancient Sumeria about 4,000 B.C. At many points in the ancient world, it was actually more costly than gold, particularly in ancient Egypt. Silver is found in native form (i.e., in nuggets), as an alloy with gold (electrum), and in ores containing sulfur, arsenic, antimony or chlorine. Much of the silver originally found in the ancient world was actually a natural alloy of gold and silver (in nugget form) known as “electrum”. The first large-scale silver mines were in Anatolia (ancient Turkey) and Armenia, where as early as 4,000 B.C. silver was extracted from lead ores by means of a complicated process known as “smelting”. Even then the process was not perfect, as ancient silver does contain trace elements, typically lead, gold, bismuth and other metals, and as much as a third of the silver was left behind in the slag. However measuring the concentrations of the “impurities” in ancient silver can help the forensic jewelry historian in determining the authenticity of classical items.
From Turkey and Armenia silver refining technology spread to the rest of Asia Minor and Europe. By about 2,500 B.C. the Babylonians were one of the major refiners of silver. Silver “treasures” recovered by archaeologists from the second and third millenniums demonstrate the high value the ancient Mediterranean and Near East placed upon silver. Some of the richest burials in history uncovered by archaeologists have been from this time frame, that of Queen Puabi of Ur, Sumeria (26th century B.C.); Tuankhamun (14th century B.C.), and the rich Trojan (25th century B.C.) and Mycenaean (18th century B.C.) treasures uncovered by Heinrich Schliemann.
The ancient Egyptians believed that the skin of their gods was composed of gold, and their bones were thought to be of silver. When silver was introduced into Egypt, it probably was more valuable than gold (silver was rarer and more valuable than gold in many Mesoamerican cultures as well). In surviving inventories of valuables, items of silver were listed above those of gold during the Old Kingdom. Jewelry made of silver was almost always thinner than gold pieces, as indicated by the bracelets of the 4th Dynasty (about 2,500 B.C.) queen Hetephere I, in marked contrast to the extravagance of her heavy gold jewelry. A silver treasure excavated by archaeologists and attributable to the reign of Amenemhat II who ruled during the 12th Dynasty (about 1900 B.C.), contained fine silver items which were actually produced in Crete, by the ancient Minoans. When the price of silver finally did fall due to more readily available supplies, for at least another thousand years (through at least the 19th dynasty, about 1,200 B.C.) the price of silver seems to have been fixed at half that of gold. Several royal mummies attributable to about 1,000 B.C. were even entombed in solid silver coffins.
Around 1,000 B.C. Greek Athenians began producing silver from the Laurium mines, and would supply much of the ancient Mediterranean world with its silver for almost 1,000 years. This ancient source was eventually supplemented around 800 B.C. (and then eventually supplanted) by the massive silver mines found in Spain by the Phoenicians and their colony (and ultimate successors) the Carthaginians (operated in part by Hannibal’s family). With the defeat of Carthage by Rome, the Romans gained control of these vast deposits, and mined massive amounts of silver from Spain, stripping entire forests regions for timber to fuel smelting operations. In fact, it was not until the Middle Ages that Spain’s silver mines (and her forests) were finally exhausted.
Although known during the Copper Age, silver made only rare appearances in jewelry before the classical age. Despite its infrequent use as jewelry however, silver was widely used as coinage due to its softness, brilliant color, and resistance to oxidation. Silver alloyed with gold in the form of “electrum” was coined to produce money around 700 B.C. by the Lydians of present-day Turkey. Having access to silver deposits and being able to mine them played a big role in the classical world. Actual silver coins were first produced in Lydia about 610 B.C., and subsequently in Athens in about 580 B.C. Many historians have argued that it was the possession and exploitation of the Laurium mines by the Athenians that allowed them to become the most powerful city state in Greece. The Athenians were well aware of the significance of the mining operations to the prosperity of their city, as every citizen had shares in the mines. Enough silver was mined and refined at Laurium to finance the expansion of Athens as a trading and naval power. One estimate is that Laurium produced 160 million ounces of silver, worth six billion dollars today (when silver is by comparison relatively cheap and abundant). As the production of silver from the Laurium mines ultimately diminished, Greek silver production shifted to mines in Macedonia.
Silver coinage played a significant role in the ancient world. Macedonia’s coinage during the reign of Philip II (359-336 B.C.) circulated widely throughout the Hellenic world. His famous son, Alexander the Great (336-323 B.C.), spread the concept of coinage throughout the lands he conquered. For both Philip II and Alexander silver coins became an essential way of paying their armies and meeting other military expenses. They also used coins to make a realistic portrait of the ruler of the country. The Romans also used silver coins to pay their legions. These coins were used for most daily transactions by administrators and traders throughout the empire. Roman silver coins also served as an important means of political propaganda, extolling the virtues of Rome and her emperors, and continued in the Greek tradition of realistic portraiture. As well, many public works and architectural achievements were also depicted (among them the Coliseum, the Circus Maximus). In addition many important political events were recorded on the coinage. You can Romaan coins which depicted the assassination of Julius Caesar, alliances between cities, between emperors, between armies, etc. And many contenders for the throne of Rome are known only through their coinage.
Silver was also widely used as ornamental work and in other metal wares. In ancient cultures, especially in Rome, silver was highly prized for the making of plate ware, household utensils, and ornamental work. The stability of Rome’s economy and currency depended primarily on the output of the silver mines in Spain which they had wrested from the Carthaginians. In fact many historians would say that it was the control of the wealth of these silver mines which enabled Rome to conquer most of the Mediterranean world. When in 55 B.C. the Romans invaded Britain they were quick to discover and exploit the lead-silver deposits there as well. Only six years later they had established many mines and Britain became another major source of silver for the Roman Empire. It is estimated that by the second century A.D., 10,000 tons of Roman silver coins were in circulation within the empire. That’s about 3½ billion silver coins (at the height of the empire, there were over 400 mints throughout the empire producing coinage). That’s ten times the total amount of silver available to Medieval Europe and the Islamic world combined as of about 800 A.D.
Silver later lost its position of dominance to gold, particularly in the chaos following the fall of Rome. Large-scale mining in Spain petered out, and when large-scale silver mining finally resumed four centuries after the fall of Rome, most of the mining activity was in Central Europe. By the time of the European High Middle Ages, silver once again became the principal material used for metal artwork. Huge quantities of silver from the New World also encouraged eager buyers in Europe, and enabled the Spanish to become major players in the late Medieval and Renaissance periods. Unlike the ores in Europe which required laborious extraction and refining methods to result in pure silver, solid silver was frequently found as placer deposits in stream beds in Spain’s “New World” colonies, reportedly in some instances solid slabs weighing as much as 2,500 pounds. Prior to the discovery of massive silver deposits in the New World, silver had been valued during the Middle Ages at about 10%-15% of the value of gold. In 15th century the price of silver is estimated to have been around $1200 per ounce, based on 2010 dollars. The discovery of massive silver deposits in the New World during the succeeding centuries has caused the price to diminish greatly, falling to only 1-2% of the value of gold.
The art of silver work flourished in the Renaissance, finding expression in virtually every imaginable form. Silver was often plated with gold and other decorative materials. Although silver sheets had been used to overlay wood and other metals since ancient Greece, an 18th-century technique of fusing thin silver sheets to copper brought silver goods called Sheffield plate within the reach of most people. At the same time the use of silver in jewelry making had also started gaining popularity in the 17th century. It was often as support in settings for diamonds and other transparent precious stones, in order to encourage the reflection of light. Silver continued to gain in popularity throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, and by the 20th century competed with gold as the principal metal used in the manufacture of jewelry. Silver has the highest thermal and electrical conductivity of any metal, and one of the highest optical reflectivity values. It has a brilliant metallic luster, is very ductile and malleable, only slightly harder than gold, and is easily worked and polished. When used in jewelry, silver is commonly alloyed to include 7.5% copper, known as “Sterling Silver”, to increase the hardness and reduce the melting temperature. Silver jewelry may be plated with 99.9% pure ‘Fine Silver’ to increase the shine when polished. It may also be plated with rhodium to prevent tarnish. Virtually all gold, with the exception of 24 carat gold, includes silver. Most gold alloys are primarily composed of only gold and silver.
Throughout the history of the ancient world, gemstones were believed capable of curing illness, possessed of valuable metaphysical properties, and to provide protection. Found in Egypt dated 1500 B. C., the "Papyrus Ebers" offered one of most complete therapeutic manuscripts containing prescriptions using gemstones and minerals. Gemstones were not only valued for their medicinal and protective properties, but also for educational and spiritual enhancement. Precious minerals were likewise considered to have medicinal and “magical” properties in the ancient world. In its pure form silver is non toxic, and when mixed with other elements is used in a wide variety of medicines. Silver ions and silver compounds show a toxic effect on some bacteria, viruses, algae and fungi. Silver was widely used before the advent of antibiotics to prevent and treat infections, silver nitrate being the prevalent form. Silver Iodide was used in babies' eyes upon birth to prevent blinding as the result of bacterial contamination. Silver is still widely used in topical gels and impregnated into bandages because of its wide-spectrum antimicrobial activity.
The recorded use of silver to prevent infection dates to ancient Greece and Rome. Hippocrates, the ancient (5th century B.C.) Greek "father of medicine" wrote that silver had beneficial healing and anti-disease properties. The ancient Phoenicians stored water, wine, and vinegar in silver bottles to prevent spoiling. These uses were “rediscovered” in the Middle Ages, when silver was used for several purposes; such as to disinfect water and food during storage, and also for the treatment of burns and wounds as a wound dressing. The ingestion of colloidal silver was also believed to help restore the body's “electromagnetic balance” to a state of equilibrium, and it was believed to detoxify the liver and spleen. In the 19th century sailors on long ocean voyages would put silver coins in barrels of water and wine to keep the liquid potable. Silver (and gold) foil is also used through the world as a food decoration. Traditional Indian dishes sometimes include the use of decorative silver foil, and in various cultures silver dragée (silver coated sugar balls) are used to decorate cakes, cookies, and other dessert items.
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