Antique Harem Ring - it’s Origins

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Antique Harem Ring - it’s Origins

Could the Ottomans have known something that we didn’t about the stones and gems they used in their jewelry? Here is a look at the significance of the stones used in the making of these flamboyant pieces

Looking at the beautiful and flashy jewelry of the Ottoman Empire, it is inevitable to think about the deeper significance that pervades the simple outer shell of the many pins, rings, and headpieces. In Ottoman culture, the jewelry that is fitted with precious stones and gems were used to indicate one's position and power. However, it is also said that the sultans wore these gems and stones because they believed in the specific powers that they had. The jewelry worn during this time provides deeper insight into the way the Ottoman sultans thought and reflected on their philosophies. The rings and pins from this era are more than just jewelry – they help us tell a story of the magnificent culture of the Ottoman Empire.

Where does this attraction to jewelry come from? During the 16th century, the importance placed on jewelry grew to an overwhelming state. This fascination with jewelry came hand in hand with the expansion of Ottoman territory and the plundering of precious gems and jewels from newly conquered lands. Stones from all over Europe found their way into the hands of jewelers in the Ottoman palace, and it is said that at one point the sultan had 90 jewelers working for him in order to produce the flashiest and most flamboyant pieces.

The Ottomans were all about naturalism in their jewelry and costumes. Now, this does not mean that they were not flashy and dashing with colors and textures. It simply means that they valued the original shape and characteristics of the gems and stones they used. Unlike the European jewelers of the time, Ottoman jewelers gave prominence to the nature of the stone rather than insisting on perfect symmetry. Emerald, ruby, turquoise, diamond, pearl, coral, jade and agate were among the many precious stones used in the making of these pieces. And most importantly, they valued the unique and specific powers of every stone they wore, which were mostly associated with healing.

These diverse stones allowed for a colorful array of jewelry as well as supplying the Ottomans with diverse alternative medicine. Here is a look at the most popular stones used during the Ottoman era and their meanings and powers today.

l Emerald:
As known by many, emerald is the sacred stone of the goddess Venus. This greenish-black stone is thought to preserve love and has long been the symbol of hope. Some consider the emerald the stone of prophecy, though generally this stone is used by those trying to soothe and calm a troubled mind. This stone is thought to bring the wearer reason and wisdom, which was considered a common characteristic of the Ottoman sultans. Gifting this precious stone has a different meaning, however. Gift an emerald to your lover so they will stay faithful – which might have been why the wives of sultans were often given this stone. It acts as a bridge between two people and vibrates with love. The emerald is believed to repair broken hearts, heal heart diseases, and treat eye illnesses.

l Ruby: The ruby is thought to be the most powerful gem in the universe and can be associated with many astral signs. The gem brings peace and contentment to the owner, and to sleep with a ruby under one's pillow may chase away bad dreams. A ruby ring should be worn on the left hand to receive life force and ensure protection. This stone symbolizes vitality and royalty, and the ruby is a symbol of friendship and love when given as a gift. The ruby is said to aid in blood flow and circulation, as well as in the cleansing and removal of a blood infection.

l Diamond:
The diamond is the hardest and most valued gemstone of all. This stone is a symbol of innocence and constancy and is prized as the crown jewel. Today diamonds are used as engagement rings, but during the time of the Ottoman Empire, sultans would wear rings and necklaces with a set stone in the middle and diamonds surrounding it. This is because the diamond does not have specific power and only increases the power of the stones it is paired with. It is said that the diamond will block the flow of energy if the wearer has negative thoughts or feelings.

l Pearl: The pearl is the oldest known mineral used as a gem and was considered the most valuable for centuries. What differentiates the pearl from other precious stones is the fact that it is composed of organic matter derived from oysters. It is the astral stone for the signs Gemini and Cancer, and astrologers have linked it to the moon; hence, why the pearl is known as the "teardrop of the moon" in some cultures. Over time, it has become the symbol of purity and innocence, making it a staple to bridal gowns and the favorite jewelry of the bride to be. The pearl promotes prosperity and success and encloses the wearer with calmness aiding in spiritual transformation. It helps with stomach and digestion problems and helps soothe emotional stress.

l Coral: Commonly referred to as the "garden of the sea," coral was formerly believed to be a plant because of its natural shape. However, it is actually the accumulated skeletal masses of polyps that are living animals. This stone is believed to prevent misfortune, and dreaming about coral is thought to foretell the recovery from an illness. This stone aids in meditation, as it is also associated with the harmony of the heart. Additionally, when worn as a necklace, coral is supposed to offer protection from skin diseases. In general, the stone helps to combat depression and lethargy.

l Jade: This stone brings together the energies of love, healing, money, and protection to the wearer, making it the most preferred stone. Jade is known to attract love and affection to the wearer, and it symbolizes successful love or marriage when carved into the shape of a butterfly. Jade can also be used to bring money into one's life. Because this stone strengthens mental faculties and helps with clear reasoning, it may also help you make better business decisions. Also known as a protection stone, jade helps guard against accidents and misfortune as well as serving as a protection amulet. The soothing milky green color of jade helps make it an excellent healing stone, and it helps aid the body in self-healing with psychological ailments by working through the underlying reasons for them. Regarding physical ailments, this stone is particularly helpful for the kidney, heart, and stomach.

l Agate:
Agate is a deep fiery red-brown stone that links to the fire elements and stimulates vitality and inspires inner knowledge to aid in the resolution of problems. It also helps in overcoming addictions and other destructive desires. When worn as jewelry, the stone has a calming effect over the person and also imparts security and safety. This protective stone has strong grounding powers and instills spiritual fortitude. Though generally known for its color, agate is also a popular healing stone as well. This stone helps in healing the stomach and strengthens the nervous system. It helps improve vision at night and reduces the effects of hot flashes.

Gold and silver were the most popular metals in the Balkans in the 15th century. Although today jewelers only consider diamonds to be truly precious stones, the Ottomans considered a much wider variety of stones to be precious, including turquoise, lapis lazuli, carnelian.

<dıv class="spott">A workshop at Topkapi Palace during the Ottoman period was responsible for most of the gold and silver jewelry made for the sultans and his harem. The rest came as booty or bribe.

Most people by now know that Sotheby’s in Geneva will be auctioning off the Pruth diamonds – a necklace, earrings and brooche set that is believed to have been part of a bribe offered by Russia’s Empress Catherine to Sultan Ahmed III to ensure that the Pruth River Peace Treaty was signed between their countries in 1711.

Whether it was 75,000 or 100,000 years ago that man first donned an ornament hardly matters. But following the history of jewelry through the ages is exploring man’s growing sophisticated use of tools and metals, disposable income, and differing aesthetic ideas. From the earliest chains of animal teeth that might have had magical significance through to today’s charm bracelets, mankind doesn’t seem to have come too far.

The Ottomans were no different. Jewelry was a portable bank account, an investment against the future, perhaps a dowry. It was the Ottoman court that led the way in jewelry design. There was a permanent staff, under one man, that was responsible for the designs and production of jewelry. In the 16th century, there were 80 men employed and they worked within the palace complex in the First Courtyard. They were of Greek or Jewish origin although the Ottoman conquests of places like Tabriz and Cairo in the first part of the 16th century ensured that the most capable jewelers, and other artists for that matter, came to live and work in Istanbul at the court.

The materials with which the artisans worked usually consisted of gold or silver and brightly colored precious or semi-precious stones set in one of these metals. The Pruth set is instantly recognizable as not being of Ottoman workmanship. Registers exist going back to the 15th century that shows what was brought to the palace in the way of materials as well as what came as “gifts” or were purchased, inventories of everything in stock, the artist, and when an item left the palace and where it went. There are even registers showing the contents of estates that returned to the sultan’s possession following the death of some state officials or possibly a member of the dynasty.

As one would expect, the Ottomans used their jewelry not just for personal adornment but to also express power and virility. Moreover, they used jewels in ways that we would hardly consider today such as on thrones, the covers of books, swords, quivers, goblets, and lamps. Evens trays were made out of gold and silver and often presented as gifts to foreign rulers. Gold and silver wire was used to embroider clothing and covers for tables, furniture, and curtains among other items including carpets.

Miniature paintings don’t do justice to the ways in which jewelry was used by the Ottomans for personal adornment although aigrettes, necklaces, and earrings are depicted. A clearer picture can be obtained in paintings by western artists who visited Istanbul over the centuries, assuming that these men actually saw examples of Ottoman jewelry even though they were unable to visit harems themselves.

Gold and silver were the most popular metals, and their consumption was helped by conquests in the Balkans in the 15th century and later in East Anatolia where mines were located. Although today jewelers only consider diamonds, emeralds, rubies, and blue sapphires to be truly precious stones, the Ottomans considered a much wider variety of stones to be precious, including turquoise, lapis lazuli, carnelian, jade, and rock crystal. The color was more important for the Ottomans than it is in modern times and that may be why they liked colored diamonds or used them to set off a larger, brighter stone like an emerald or ruby. Pearls were especially great favorites.

Today many of the precious jeweled items that the Ottomans valued still exist at Topkapi Palace Museum and some are on display. For the curious, the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality’s Culture, Inc. division has just published a book, Istanbul’s 100 Jewels and Artisans. And on Nov. 15, quite a few people will be focused on the diamond set that got away. 

The second design ring is typically the Turkish harem ring. This is a ring that was given several hoops to the favorite harem, the next wife received a ring with fewer rings indicating their position in the preferences of the husband. Of course, can be gold or silver and we can find them all rings topped with colored stones or with stones forming different colored bands and other combinations

Both lead and design are a nice souvenir of our visit to Turkey and they come at all prices, from the cheapest to the most expensive silver gold and stones of the highest quality. When pricing, Turkey parts are weighed and calculated how much it costs the ring. Of course, have to dribble, but the prices can be very convenient so that is cheap labor in the country.


The court records dating from 1526 indicate that there were 90 jewelry artisans in the service of the Sultan. The art of Ottoman jewelry making reached its peak in the 16th century, with gold and precious stones applied not only to wearable jewelry but also to articles of everyday objects such as book covers, utensils, weapons, etc. using a variety of materials such as leather, ivory, glass, bone, mother-of-pearl, horn, wood and metals such as zinc.

Ottoman jewelry had to be ornate and extremely colourful. Jewellers used a variety of metals in order to fashion a piece of jewelry, which is the main difference from European jewelry where the same metal is repeated. Another feature of Ottoman jewelry is that instead of strict symmetry, the nature of the stone and metal are given prominence. For instance, the natural characteristics of a ruby and emerald reflect the Ottoman feature of jewelry. Jewelry was produced in the palace or in workshops elsewhere. Ottoman jewelry was designed using natural motifs which reflected the prevailing tastes. As the types of stones and the mines increased during the expansion of the Empire, jewelry production increased also. From the 18th century onwards, Western trends led to an exaggerated increase in the size of the jewelry.

Aigrettes were used both by the Sultan and the notable women of the Harem. It was the symbol of power because of its shape and appearance. It is known that Sultans gave valuable aigrettes as presents or as awards to certain individuals. Jeweled aigrettes also enhanced the heads of horses during equestrian ceremonies. They attracted attention with their simple floral or drop designs and reflected the brightness of the precious gems on them. In later periods, the aigrettes were huge. In portraits, the sultans usually wore one aigrette but sometimes they wore three. Women wore more than one aigrette but sometimes they put one on their forehead and another on the back of their head.

Pins were important pieces of jewelry in women's head ornaments. These ornaments were pinned to crests or put directly on the hair or sometimes they were put on the brooches of dresses. The "Titrek" or "Zenberekli" are typical Ottoman pins that dangle with each move of the body. Motifs from nature such as the tulip, rose, violet, floral bouquet, bird, butterfly, and bee are mostly used in this type of jewelry. Jewelry with flower motifs was used on the hair.

Earrings have been widely used for centuries. They have many shapes from small pearl drops to long dangling ones. They have an important place in Turkish jewelry because they emphasized the beauty of the hairstyle and dress of Ottoman women. Earrings are classified according to how they dangle: the double dangling ones "pay-i çift" consist of three drops called the "üç ayakli", (three feet).

The simple gold bangles are not only considered to be jewelry but are bought as an investment to be converted into cash by their owners whenever needed. The women of the Ottoman Palace bought these bracelets from time to time. There are many other styles of bracelets that women favoured such as the twisted type. Signet rings encrusted with precious gems like rubies, emeralds, and semi-precious germs like carnelian, amethyst, and jade were favoured by Ottoman women. They wore them on one or more fingers. Solitaires and rose-shaped diamond rings and 'divanhane çivisi' which has one more diamond layer around the rose-shaped ring are Ottoman ring styles. The "Dinahane çivisi" motif is formed by continual rows of diamonds around one large diamond at the top. This design was used in bracelets and necklaces. It was used in silver and gold rings, too. They are depicted in the works of the late 18th and early 19th-century famous painters Konstantin Kapidagli and Antoine de Favray.

Chokers and long necklaces were used by Ottoman ladies. Gold coins were strung on long gold or silver chains or on a string of pearls. Such necklaces were worn by rich women. The 18th century British Ambassador in Istanbul wrote that Hafize Sultan, the wife of Sultan Mustafa II, wore a string of pearls down to her knees with a diamond as big as a turkey egg and two strings of emeralds.

Jeweled golden, silver, crystal, mother-of-pearl, or ivory belts were the essential accessories of the Ottoman woman. Belt buckles with floral or geometric motifs decorated with diamonds, rubies, turquoise, and emeralds were sometimes worn at the waist and other times over the hips.

 Reference: Aygun Ulgen/Osmanli vol. 11, Yeni Turkiye, 1999; Newspot/BYEGM.