The Medieval Style Making of a 14th Century Ring: Part 1

03 July 2018

As some of you may know, Canterbury will be celebrating their annual Medieval Pageant on Saturday the 7th of July.

In anticipation for this year’s Pageant, we thought we’d show you all what we got up to last year.

In 2017, we decided to recreate a medieval 14thcentury style ring? We did exactly this, using medieval style jewellery making techniques, which undoubtedly were very similar to the methods we use today in our workshop here at Ortwin Thyssen Master Jewellery Makers.

The ring is a historic design made of a yellow gold with detailed engravings and an uncut Diamond Crystal. To recreate the ring we used 18ct Fairtrade yellow gold and adapted a few methods where we had to.

Here is how the first part of the ring was made using ancient techniques:

At first we weighed the Diamond Crystal and the 18ct Fairtrade Gold using traditional mechanical carat scales and Ortwin’s old tiny carat weights, rather than electronical scales.

Then we created a mould for the head of the ring using cuttlefish bone. We alloyed the pure Fairtrade Gold with Silver and Copper to create 18ct yellow gold. Today we use a gas-torch instead of a charcoal furnace as they would have done during medieval times. We did not want to risk burning the Cathedral down. But the crucible is still a type of ceramic as it would have been.

Straight from the crucible we casted the Gold into the cuttlefish mould, that smells like it would have done in medieval times.

We cut the casting funnel off with a fine saw instead of a chisel. Fine saws did not easily exist in medieval times. Then we re-melted the off cuts of  gold to create the sheet, again using a torch instead of the furnace. (Cathedral still standing!).

Using a hammer, instead of rolling mills as we would have done today, we traditionally forged the gold sheet and then annealed it. Ortwin still today likes to forge any gold after melting, because it orders the crystal structure nicely.

The profile of the 14th century ring looks like it had been created by a chiselled strip so we decided to chisel a strip of gold off that sheet instead of saw cutting or using the rolling mills.

The band was then starting to form as we soldered the strip of gold closed. For that we used a mouth blown gas torch, not quite a medieval furnace and a blow pipe. It has a different look, but it gives a very similar heat. This traditional way of soldering with a slow soft heat is still one of the best methods to create a perfect joint.

Once the band was closed, we hammered it round, much like we would do today.

It was then time to file the ring using different files, also how we do in our workshop today. After opening the ring up again, the ringhead was soldered in. And again, some more filing medieval or not, the design, shape and proportions have to be right.

We’ve created a video out of the footage that we had archived from last year’s ring making. Press play to see all of this in action!

But of course, it doesn’t all end there. The ring is not quite finished yet. It needs setting the diamond, engraving the band and burnishing the gold still. Be sure to take a look at our Part 2 video once released, which will show us completing the ring during Canterbury’s 2018 Medieval Pageant.