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The two adventurers circled warily around the plinth as they studied their treasure - a simple, perhaps deceptively simple - band of red gold that nestled there on its silken pillow. A ring. On its own. Unguarded. This deep in the dungeon. Garth the Gross sucked on his teeth and took a step back.
"I say we leave it alone. Reckon it's cursed."
"How can you tell?" his companion asked, tilting his head on one side as though for a better view.
"Looks like my wedding ring"

Basic Information

Jewelry is a form of personal decoration worn for personal adornment - unlike clothing jewelry is generally non-functional or possessed of purely symbolic function (e.g. signet rings or medals), although some pieces may have some useful effect besides decoration (e.g. hair pins and broaches). Historically, some pieces of jewelry were also thought to have magical properties, warding off malign influences and/or invoking good ones (e.g. lapis lazuli pieces worn as protection against the evil eye in the ancient Mediterranean or jade worn for good health in China).

"Ideally" jewelry is made of expensive materials - often gemstones and precious metals, although coral, ivory and other rare biologicals could also be used - however it was and is possible to have pieces valuable solely for their artistic merit1 and/or made from substitute materials to resemble expensive ones.

Cultural attitudes to jewelry vary - often what may (and may not) be worn depends heavily on gender and social class. Even today much of the western world frowns on men wearing any non-symbolic jewelry but regards it as normal for women and in many eras laws have stipulated who and of what rank might wear jewelry made of gold, silver etc. and/or who might wear what class of precious stone. Other restrictions may be places on which items may be worn - crowns and circlets may be restricted to the aristocracy for example whilst piercing rings may be the mark of a slave.

Jewelry is often a significant component of treasure.

A maker or repairer of, or dealer in jewelry is known as a jeweler.

An indicative list of pieces of jewelry would include:

  • Digit rings (for the finger, thumb or toe) - historically common and very often symbolic.
  • Piercing rings (for any body part that you can get a ring through) - often "low status" jewelry.
  • Crowns, circlets and tiaras - often symbols of authority.
  • Bracelets (for wrist or ankle)
  • Armbands
  • Necklaces, torcs and chokers
  • Hair bands, clips, rings and combs (or whatever technology your culture uses to keep long hair in place).
  • Chains
  • Broaches
  • Medals

In addition, many items of clothing have historically been decorated close to the status of jewelry, belts and girdles being prime examples and other items such as watches and cloak pins coming somewhere between the two categories.

A further application for jewelry is that of portable currency - the Norse in particular made use of hacksilver: roughly cast items of silver (or, more rarely gold) that were designed to be worn, but were equally designed to have regularly sized pieces sliced off for use in commerce. In some cases jewelry may actually consist of currency with some degree of setting or the other from being pierced and strung upwards…

Speaking of currency, in primitive or low cash societies, it should be normal for high status individuals to wear a great deal of generic jewelry in the form of rings, torcs, armbands and the like which can be passed out to their subordinates as reward or payment. Depending on the exact culture and reasons for the gift, the recipient may wear the item (arguably the origins of medals and other decorations), sell it for cash or quietly bring it around to the back door and have the chamberlain (or whoever) redeem it for cash.


1. full source reference

Game and Story Use

  • Great for cultural misunderstandings - where a character demeans himself before people he is trying to impress by wearing too much "bling" (or fails to wear enough and appears to be a person of no significance) or wears an item with a specific meaning that he has not "earned" and generates offence thereby.
  • Jewelry found as treasure may be extremely culture bound, leading to hours of fun if PCs try to sell it to the wrong people (or keep it and wear it, although very few players will keep something their characters could sell for cash).
  • Note that many pseudo-medieval fRPGs treat glass or crystal jewelry as worthless fakes - this was very much not the case for large parts of the historical middle ages, where glass was relatively expensive and acceptable stuff for making jewelry.
    • Also, for large parts of the middle ages, gem-cutting was fairly primitive and diamond was regarded as almost unworkable, some species of "worthless crystals" were actually a pretty good bet for getting a presentable, well cut gem.
  • As a rule of thumb, no-one bejewels anything that is going to see routine use - a sword heavily set with gems will probably never see combat (and will likely be ruined if it does), and much the same applies to a hand covered in rings coming into contact with work.
    • So an observant PC may note that an NPC has a left hand full of jewelry but nothing on his right - perhaps to ensure that his weapon handling isn't impeded.
    • That said, there is also the gangland tradition of wearing a fistful of heavy rings that can serve as an improvised knuckleduster. These will typically be solid metal rather than jewel studded …
  • Material can also be hidden in jewelry - hidden compartments in rings and pendants are traditional … sometimes for storing poison in.
  • As a general rule, people who pay with jewelry should be expected to overpay and not to haggle. Expecting the merchant to make change for a ring is very cRPG, but not all that congruent…
  • "Certain RPGs" have a tendency to obsess over cash based treasures and undervalue jewelry - which can also be a side effect of their obsession with defaulting to gold based currency. In other systems, more respect may be show and the copper broaches worn by mooks are worth collecting, whilst a gold arm-ring might be worth a year's income.
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