Medieval pearl setting

Hello, I was wondering if anyone knows how “they” set pearls in the
medieval era. The sort of setting that interests me is where the
pearl is bored right through and then mounted on a wire, that is
attached to a brooch (or something) and the end of the wire is made
into a ball. Do they just heat the free end of the wire so that it
melts and forms into a ball? Does that damage the pearl (or sometimes
stone)? I want to recreate the technique.

Thank you, Graeme.

Hello, Graeme,

I am also very interested in medieval european jewelry methods. From
the photos I have pored over and the pieces I’ve stared at in
museums, I think they did it with cold joinery. It is difficult to
tell with jewelry that is 600 years old, but it looks to me like the
wire going through the pearls has been upset (made into a rivet or
nail head) and the other end going through the main piece has been
riveted also.

Orchid had an interesting discussion a while ago about melting wire
near pearls or beads - search the archives for the phrase ‘balls at
the end’ and you might turn up some interesting stuff. Given the
danger to the pearls and the look of the wire ends, I think that this
was all done mechanically in the middle ages.

Laurie Cavanaugh
soon to be!

Yes heating up the wire, I am pretty sure would destroy the pearl.
One never gets to see the backside or inside of ancient pieces. I did
some restoration many years ago to a wooden chest that was made about
1575, all of the hinges and larger knobs had wires that ran through
the wood and were then crimped over. I would imagine that is probably
how the pearls were done as well. Ball up the gold wire, then thread
it through the pearl then put the wire through a hole on your piece
and crimp or ball peen the wire end over. they also used to make
bezels that fit the pearls and then set them like the
Golden shrine in Venice is covered with pearls set this way.

Good luck Dennis

From the museum pieces I’ve taken a good close look at, and the
photos in my reference books (Jewelry: 7000 Years is a great
reference (ISBN 0-8109-8103-3)), there seems to have been two ways
this was done.

Where the pin through the pearl/stone is fixed to the body of the
object, they typically peened the end of the wire into a “rivet”
head, sometime with decorative effects done in the peening process.
All of the ones where the end of the wire is an actual ball, the
other end of the wire is wrapped in to an eye and it’s a pendant
attachment to the body of the piece. Often, there is a snippet of
wire soldered on the shaft of the wire to keep the stone in place
(this is how the pearl/bead headed hair and hat pins were done) There
are a number of examples where all they did was loop the end and bend
it down flat to the surface of the pearl/stone.

Remember, most of their hot work was done in air driven charcoal
fires, with a few instances of a blowpipe and candle/oil flame being
used to provide spot heat.

Ron Charlotte – Gainesville, FL
@Ron_Charlotte1 OR

Hi Graeme,

There are several ways that I’ve seen pearls set into medieval
period jewelry, but it sounds like the setting you’re looking at has
the pearl pinned into place. Usually done on a cast or fabricated
piece with approx. 18 ga. or thicker wire. The ball at the end is
formed by carefully peening and filing the end of the wire to secure
the pearl. If you attempt this, protect the pearl by covering it with
a thin suede, and poke a hole through to access the wire end. You can
also use a beading tool to aid in forming the ball. On many
Renaissance period jewels the assembly is cold joined. Where the
piece is made from a series of die cut pieces that are enameled and
riveted together. Pearls are often attached by wire that is balled at
one end, and split at the other. The split end is secured the same as
a rivet. Alternately, a tube style rivet is also prevalent. The Lyte
Jewel is a good study of this, where you can see the little tube
rivets used to secure the diamond settings.

Best regards, Lyn

Lyn Punkari

Old fashioned pearl setting according to the books, I have never
tried it, uses a pin split down the middle with a wedge just pushed
into the end,the hole in the pearl is tapered wider towards the end
so when you push the pearl in it pushes the wedge into the slot.

No chance to get it off though!



There are two well known classical methods of setting pearls - one
is to simply drill right through the pearl and fix it with a headed
pin rivetted over on the back side of the piece. The other way was to
make a setting by soldering a slightly dished disc about 1/3 the
diameter of the pearl onto a wire. the pearl is drilled part way
through and the wire is cut off to a length which is almost equal to
the depth of the hole. The end of this wire is then split and a tiny
wedge is made and just put into the end of the split. Now when the
pearl is pushed onto the wire, the wedge is forced into the split and
the ends of the wire grip tightly in the hole, securing the pearl
absolutely without any adhesive. The other end of the wire can be
rivetted or otherwise fixed at the back of the setting.

Best Wishes

Ian W. Wright
Sheffield UK

Securing a drilled pearl might have been set in the following
manner. A wire pin is soldered onto the piece the length cut to 3/4
the size of the pearl. the wire stub is then sawn in half with a thin
blade.The ball end is made from simalar wire with the ball melted
onto the wire and cut 3/4 the length of thepearl. this wire stub is
then formed like a v or chisel point. The pearl is inserted into the
first stub on the piece and the ball section inserted into the other
side.with only the slightest of pressure the ball section is pushed
into the cut section which causes the cu t wire to expand and so hold
the pearl in place.

i hope this could be of some use to you.

philip beeslaar