Intaglio rings are not at all fashionable, they are not even known to the general public at all.
And yet, everything about these rings is fascinating, whether it’s their method of manufacture, which hasn’t really changed over the centuries, or their millennial history, which bears the traces of the many civilizations that have preceded ours and left their mark for the making of modern intaglio rings.
To open the chapter of intaglio ring is to delve into the history of the world and antiquity, myths and legends, a fascinating world full of adventures, fantastic beasts, gods, but also everyday objects and life scenes from antiquity in Egypt, Mesopotamia or the Roman Empire.
These rings only attract scholars, history enthusiasts who marvel at a pebble shaped by hand centuries ago and which has crossed the turpitudes of the world to reach us and leave its testimony of an era gone.
Because often antique intaglios are exhibited in museums or are extremely expensive, copies or reproductions are made so that they can be worn.
What makes Intaglio Rings specials?
Intaglio rings are rings set with a fine stone engraved in hollow which can be used as a seal. These stones can be opaque or translucent, as we will see later.
On the opposite, the cameo is a stone engraving in relief, it is generally done on an opaque stone, to better appreciate the reliefs.
It should be noted that there are engraved intaglio stones which cannot be used as a seal, these stones are fine translucent stones engraved on the back of the stone and whose engraving by transparency of the latter is appreciated. They therefore have a face in the shape of a cabochon or else a classic cut which is of no interest for sealing the documents.
On the left, a Roman amphora engraved in a dark blue agate stone. On the right, the portrait of Demosthenes, the famous Greek orator of antiquity, engraved on a cabochon-cut amethyst stone
Beyond their physical particularity, the intaglios mostly refer to illustrious characters from antiquity, represent gods or scenes from mythology, or even reproduce objects from everyday life in the antiquity.
History of Intaglio Rings
The history of these rings begins millennia ago in Mesopotamia with the development of Glyptics, which is the art of engraving fine stones, particularly for making cylinder seals.
Nearly 5000 years before our era, the first developed (known) civilization made its appearance in Mesopotamia and with it appeared the first texts of laws, title deeds and official acts signed by the people concerned.
At the time, the signature was made by a roll of fine stone engraved by hand (and therefore unique) rolled and pressed on fresh clay tablets, thus leaving their mark and attesting to the participation of the signatory.
Cylinder seal with its clay mark dated from the Uruk period
With the development of this know-how, it becomes possible to cut smaller stones more finely, which once set on rings, allow the wearer of the intaglio ring to easily dispose of his seal without risk of losing it.
The intaglio ring is the ancestor of heraldic engraved signet rings and signet rings, since the techniques of stone engraving (glyptics) developed long before man was able to use metals, the age of bronze beginning only 3000 years before our era.
Here is an example of intaglio seal rings from Mesopotamia.
The Mesopotamian civilization largely influenced the Egyptian civilization, also known for its stone-engraved artifacts, including scarab-shaped amulets found in countless tombs.
The latter subsequently influenced both Greece and ancient Rome, which produced their share of intaglio rings bearing the effigy of, among other things, their gods.
Example of an Egyptian scarab carved from a piece of lapis lazuli stone to then be mounted on an Egyptian cross of life pendant, made in our jewelry workshop
Which stones can be engraved for intaglio?
All stones can, in theory, be engraved. It all depends on the talents of the engraver and the risks he is able to assume, the engraving of fragile stones or stones with internal tensions that can lead to their breakage.
This is particularly the case with emerald stones which are naturally very included and fragile. The cutting of precious stones implies great control and significant costs, just because of the price of the stone alone and the risk of breakage for certain stones.
The fine stones that will most often be found for intaglios, whether modern stones or ancient stones, are:
- Carnelian: with a color ranging from dark yellow to almost red orange, it gives a very beautiful visual rendering and makes it possible to clearly distinguish the reliefs
- the agate
- lapis lazuli stone
- Black or green onyx
- The Bloodstone
- The amethyst stone
Intaglio engraving techniques
In principle, the engraving of intaglios has not changed since the appearance of this technique 7000 years ago.
The principle remains to remove material step by step, following the contours of the drawing in order to create the cavity that will make the desired design.
The tools have completely changed and the engravers use magnifying glasses with lighting, motorized tools and cutters as well as polishing pastes with diamond powder allowing them to work much more efficiently than their predecessors of antiquity.
The fact remains that the technique and the craftsmen’s tricks allow them to create real works of art, as shown in this video detailing the different stages of the sculpting of a beetle as well as an intaglio in a carnelian stone.
Modern tools nowadays make it possible to engrave stones automatically through the use of CNC machines in order to reproduce texts, drawings or images faithfully and economically.
If the rendering is not strictly identical to manual intaglio engraving, the fact remains that these techniques make it possible to democratize this type of engraving and to obtain results of more than satisfactory quality.
The artisan jeweler can carry out the engraving of soft stones with a diamond point.
Large manufacturers, for their part, use dedicated machines for the series production of stones with identical engravings allowing the simultaneous engraving of several stones.
One of the best known and recognized European companies for the quality of engraving of these natural stones in series is a German company Lorenz-Gravuren.
Even if modern techniques compete today with the know-how of the engraver, the latter remains the only one able to offer a tailor-made antique work, his know-how having a deserved price.
Custom Carnelian Intaglio ring
This 18k gold intaglio ring project features a classic design with a barrel-shaped top topped with a Carnelian stone engraved with Egyptian motifs.
The particularity of the ring is the height of the plate which is full, the ring then weighing 22 grams in 18-carat yellow gold. You can see below the draft of the project before its manufacture.
The engraving of carnelian stone is done in the traditional way, it is done by hand in hollow and the quality of the engraving is checked using modeling clay allowing the quality of the engraving background and the rendering to be clearly seen. will have the wax seals made with this intaglio stone.
Finally the stone is mounted in place and we can see the final rendering of the ring worn on the finger.
Custom intaglio Onyx ring in Silver
This intaglio ring project is made in solid silver on an onyx stone engraved by a modern CNC engraver.
Why choosing this method?
The goal is to engrave a logo that is visible on the onyx stone and not to make seals. it did not justify the financial investment of a modern traditional engraving. In addition, CNC engraving can do multiple engravings side by side symmetrically, which is not the classic style of manual intaglio engraving.
The design of the project can be seen on these rendering visuals of the digital model of the ring project.
As you can see in these images, the onyx stone protrudes far beyond the ring top, giving it an old-fashioned style that adds to its charm.
Above, these examples of intaglio rings in onyx on the left and lapis lazuli on the right show what is possible to achieve, via our custom ring creation service.
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