Side and top view of a copper alloy ring
Side and top view of the traveler’s ring

This large and robust finger ring is known as a traveler’s ring. The ring itself is comprised of gilt copper alloy, and the bezel is set with crystal over a sheet of gold foil which may have once been painted. The crystal setting has now decayed but it was probably once cut as an intaglio with the owner’s coat of arms, thereby serving as a signet like this ring to impress hot wax onto a document to seal or authenticate it. The fact that this traveler’s ring is made of copper alloy as opposed to gold indicates that it may have been a personal possession available to a “lesser gentleman” who was perhaps not as wealthy as Christopher Lawne, likely owner of this gold signet ring.

Although it is now frozen and attempts to open it would damage the artifact, the bezel is hinged, meaning that it could be opened by its original owner. X-rays of the artifact reveal that below the decayed crystal setting there is a recess—just enough room to possibly contain a compass inside! 

Small personal items containing compasses, including items like this travelers ring, and diptych dials, became popular in the 16th and 17th centuries. Such items were used not necessarily for their intended purposes as timekeepers or wayfinders, but as a visible sign that the owner was scientifically literate—a sign of one’s status.

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