“What kind of jewelry did they wear in the Middle Ages?” When asked this on tour at the Ozark Medieval Fortress, I am tempted to give the quick answer and just say “All kinds”, and that would be very close to the complete picture of Medieval jewelry. It is definitely wrong to think that the Dark Ages (early Medieval) were primitive in jewelry making, since jewelry goes back to the ancient world. Like Rome before Medieval Europe, jewelry was a symbol of wealth, status and power. The use of a ring as an emblem of rank or position was carried over into the Medieval. With the growth of cities in the 1100’s and especially 1200’s, craftsmen had a base for safe and profitable jewelry-making which greatly helped increase the production of adornments for the upper classes.
For the common people, the major change in jewelry was from pagan to Christian designs. Their jewelry was easy to make, often of natural materials such as rope or clay beads and usually served a practical purpose in addition to decoration. They also used iron, pewter and leather in their simple jewelry making. By law they were prohibited from using gold, silver, diamonds, sapphires, rubies or emeralds. Three major types of jewelry were the bodkin (hairpin), gimmel ring (interlocking bands that were the forerunner of engagement rings) and necklaces. Another practical item often decorated was the cloak pin used to hold cloaks closed at the throat.
Pictured is a Medieval-style cross necklace of iron and leather made in my blacksmith shop. It is not copied from any particular sample of the era, but rather fashioned after the simple general style of the Medieval.