Precious and Shiny Adornments

Did you know…

that Russian women wore all sorts of fancy jewelry unlike anything you’ve ever seen? You expect to see a kokoshnik on a Russian woman, that is the high and/or wide headdress made popular by Russian folk ballets. And indeed, it existed in medieval Russia. But there’s a lot more!

Unfortunately, I don’t have any information at hand on men’s jewelry. But I’d say it’s fairly safe to assume they wore some. As for women’s jewelry, they wore a great variety of items.

Beads: lots of glass beads of various shapes and colors, but also stone and precious stones, ivory (walrus tusk, probably), amber, and precious metals. Glass bracelets, and bracelets made of other materials, too. But the most interesting and exotic-looking pieces of jewelry are temple rings, amulets and kolts.

Kolts were smallish (about 1 to 2 inches in diameter), hollow pieces, made of inexpensive metal alloys and were worn as pendants attached at the temples to the hair or the headdress, by ribbons, small chains, or leather thongs. They were probably filled with bits of perfumed cloth. Some were also made out of silver. More precious kolts could be larger (up to 2 1/2 inches), made of gold with cloisonne enamel.

Some amulets were moon-shaped (crescents) and were worn secured to the head in the same manner. Other amulets could be animal-shaped, and these were worn in sets or singly, secured by a pin to the dress at the shoulder, or on the belt, or as necklaces. There were also other amulets: spoon-shapes, keys, knives that were clearly not functional. Headgear1

Temple-rings, finally, were just that — metallic rings worn at the temples, again attached to the hair (braided in) or to the headdress. They were usually worn in sets. They could be simple slender rings, or rings with three diamond-shaped medallions, or three beads. More complex temple-rings had seven “rays” or seven “leafs”.

The designs on the jewelry could be found in other items: Celtic-knot-like carvings on stone or wood (on buildings, on furniture, in manuscript illuminations), animals, circular motifs, etc. The birds found on gold cloisonne kolts could be found on dishes and in architectural details. Many wooden items (spoons, cups, bowls, chair backs, column) were carved with similar designs.