Jewish betrothal rings are one of history's most beautiful secrets. Their sophisticated craftsmanship and distinctive elegance has remained unparalleled, despite the rings almost being forgotten by Jewish communities for hundreds of years.
These unique and opulent rings featured wonderful miniature palaces, castles and temples, standing proudly in the place of a gemstone, and were often inscribed with Hebrew. The architectural symbols, which are thought to represent the marital home of the couple (and in some cases symbolised Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem), were often turned into a clasp which when opened read "Mazal Tov" (Good Luck in Hebrew).
Jewish wedding rings were first documented as an official part of the wedding ceremony in 10th century, though they probably date back much further. The earliest house rings that have been discovered date to 400 years later.
In a Jewish wedding ceremony the groom symbolically acquires the bride, this is done with the ring acting in place of money “The groom should give to the bride a plain ring, with a value not less than one perutah” (the perutah was the lowest value coin in biblical times). The lack of value to the ring demonstrates that the bride is not being bought like a piece of property. Rather, the wife's acceptance of the money is a symbolic way of demonstrating her acceptance of the husband.
To this day every Jewish wedding must accommodate such an exchange. However some Jewish opinions claim that the ring should be plain and made of solid gold with no detail. This condition has led some to believe that the ornate wedding rings of medieval Europe were ceremonial engagement rings, and that another plain ring would have also been used during the wedding ceremony.
The extravagance and price of the rings has also lead experts to believe that one ring would sometimes be owned and shared by an entire community,borrowed by each couple for ceremonial purposes during the wedding, and then returned. Within rich merchant and banking families the rings were traditionally family heirlooms passed from generation to generation.
Early Jewish Wedding Rings (14th - 15th Century)
In the 1340s Europe entered a dark chapter when town after town succumbed to the black death, which killed up to 200 million people. In response to this desperate situation, local communities turned on their Jewish residents, accusing them of starting the plague by poisoning wells and cursing Christians. Thousands of Jews were massacred and hundreds of communities destroyed in the ensuing pogroms. Fearing for their safety many Jews buried their valuables in the hope of one day returning, tragically they never did and their valuables remained undiscovered for centuries. Two of the most famous hoards of treasure to ever have been found from this period were in Erfurt and Colmar. These valuable collections contain two of the most ornate and beautiful house rings ever to have been excavated, shown in the first two pictures above.
Later Jewish Wedding Rings (16th - 19th Century)
As history advanced, so did the craftsmanship of the rings and they began to take on incredibly intricate filigree and enamelling (as depicted above). In spite of the incredible and varied examples of decorative work displayed across these rings, gemstones remain notably absent, most likely for religious reasons.
You can see many more house rings on this Pinterest board: Antique Jewish Wedding Rings
Modern Take on Jewish House Rings
In 2014, I launched my jewellery company Chloe Lee Carson, reintroducing the house ring as a beautiful statement piece of jewellery, designed to be worn. The Hoyz ring collection brings the house ring back as a universal symbol of love, harmony and holiness. Combining the historical origins with contemporary style, these updated designs strike a perfect balance of new yet old.
Love these rings? Buy them here