Shown here: modern day interpretations of poison jewelry by Fortune & Frame. Moments + Moods

Poison Ring History: How Deadly Rings Became Fashion Jewelry Pieces

Moments + Moods

Poison ring history has a negative reputation for being dark and gloomy, but modern-day interpretations can be surprisingly powerful in a positive way.

Shown here: modern day interpretations of poison jewelry by Fortune & Frame.

We are often told that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. No one’s perspective is quite like yours, although there is often a popular opinion in modern society. As generations evolve, so do ideas and opinions. But is it possible to find beauty in something that once was seen as a fatal threat? 

Poison ring history is full of darkness and mystery. These pieces were intended to store something inside, similar to the modern locket that we know today. People would carry beautiful gemstones in these rings that were used as protection against dark forces and cultivated positive energy—this was especially utilized by pregnant women to protect their unborn children. However, the sinister minds of the time found another deadly purpose for these pieces. 


The history of poison jewelry may seem dark and mysterious, but many modern adaptations have allowed this jewelry to become something beautiful.

FROM THE BEGINNING… 

Poison jewelry were symbols of secrecy; you never quite knew what the person was hiding inside that small capsule closed with a hinge (similar to the design of our Sphere Secret Ring). But at the time “poison ring” didn’t act as an inconspicuous name and it was exactly what it sounded like: a piece of ornate jewelry filled with fatal powders and elixirs. This goes to show that looks can indeed be deceiving. Who knew if and when each person who wore a poison ring would use it to do harm? Sounds like something out of a medieval fairytale.

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Vintage poison rings have a long history and originated in ancient India and the Far East, then the mysterious jewelry made its way to Europe in the 16th century. The term “poison ring” was coined in the Middle Ages, when it was rumored the aristocracy would wear these rings to easily slip poison into an enemy’s goblet or sprinkle it all over their plate, without anyone batting an eye. This instilled fear in many and allowed wealthy leaders to assert their dominance. 

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Though poison jewelry was once dangerously beautiful and held harmful secrets, rings like these are used for joyful memories and meaningful words. 

One of the most infamous tales of the poison ring is the story of Pope Alexander VI and his only daughter, Italian noblewoman, Lucrezia Borgia. It is said that Borgia took advantage of these poison rings to dispose of her father’s political rivals and inconspicuously add a few drops of poison into their goblets just before they would drink them to knock out the competition. 

Though murder by a poison ring was not common, these pieces became deadly in different ways and symbols of self-inflicted harm. 

Ancient Romans sometimes used poison rings to commit suicide when captured in battle or even to avoid painful torture and death, if captured in battle. The idea was eventually adopted by many, as an escape from crisis and pain. 

BEYOND THE POISON… 

So besides poison, what else was put inside a poison ring?

Poison rings were also known for its less exciting uses. During the Middle Ages, these jewelry pieces were often a holding place for relics of saints or loved ones that had passed. Stored inside were bits of their hair, bone, and even teeth, which were thought to protect the wearer from impending danger. It was almost as if this person that had passed was watching over you in the next life, as long as you kept a piece of them close by. The Renaissance Era brought a new purpose for this jewelry, as the rich would use them to hold sweet fragrances, precious gems, and small momentos like portraits of loved ones, and locks of hair. 

This jewelry has much more beauty and purpose behind it than what appears on the surface, as it was also used as a form of expression for people. Poison rings eventually evolved into charms for poison necklaces and poison bracelets. People could express their heartbreak through mourning rings—that were interestingly enough shaped like miniature caskets—as small symbols of hope and healing for those grieving their loved ones. In the time of Queen Mary, people could display their political and religious opinions, wearing the monarch or ruler’s figure, that was enclosed inside the locket, around their neck or on their hand. 

True emotion was encased inside these pieces. 

Whatever the purpose once was, sinister or heartfelt, they are pieces of jewelry with meaning and opening each unlocks a unique story that deserves to be told. It’s enclosed container has the potential to contain something quite magical. What could possibly have been held in these pieces is up for debate, because the possibilities are truly limitless. 

With a name like “poison jewelry” it’s easy for people to shy away and only seek the story of dark use of these pieces. But as time passed, these have become more than hidden compartments for poison. They are miniature time capsules filled with raw humanity. 

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Like our Capsule + Wand Locket , these pieces allowed wearers to hold onto a moment. Frozen in space, what this jewelry unveiled was a small piece of a story hidden from the rest of the world.

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As time went on, people realized that poison jewelry could be customizable and represent a positive reflection of one’s life.

A MODERN TWIST… 

This brings us to modern-day. 

Lucky for you, this is more than just a quick poison ring history lesson. 

Modern-day poison jewelry has moved away from being used to store poisonous elixirs and deadly contents (or so we hope) but the brilliance of its design lives on. For us at Fortune & Frame, the idea of poison jewelry has inspired several of our pieces including inspirational rings and capsule jewelry pieces that contain something else we find particularly powerful: words. 

Whether it comes from your lips to paper, or was said by someone you admire from near or far, the mantras we keep close can act as our greatest protection when facing life’s challenges. But we know that sometimes the motivation you need is hard to find within ourselves while experiencing stress or hurt. 

Today, contemporary adaptations of these deceitful pieces have turned such bewitching wearables into truly inspirational jewelry—giving us the ability to hold our pick-me-ups close to our hearts. 

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A piece like our Heart + Arrow Locket can serve as a reminder for someone you love. They may not always be with you physically but you can add a message inside that bonds you two together. 

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Though our Sphere + Wand Locket is not what it seems on the surface, inside can hold the messages that remind us that our personal stories can always change, too. 

The Sphere + Wand Locket is a symbol of progression. A sphere is infinite, there are no angles or corners, end or beginning—it goes on forever, which means that the story can begin anywhere. The reputation that poison rings carries is one that is not so publicized anymore. Most people think of the modern-day locket when they picture jewelry that reveals something inside, proving that ideas change and we can continue to evolve.  Life can be tough, which perhaps adds to the allure of poison jewelry. Having a tool for protection, whether we are facing the day-to-day or one of our biggest obstacles, can help bring comfort and peace of mind.


Sometimes it feels like you’re being kicked while you're down or that someone poisoned you and that harsh feeling is rushing through your veins. But from poison jewelry, we have learned that there is beauty to be found, even where you would least expect it. These pieces prove that anything can be mysteriously and wonderfully distorted: in good ways and in bad. Inside of this poison jewelry-inspired selection we have shared, hold the messages that set your soul on fire, fill you with inspiration, and motivate you to push forward in stride.

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Want to read more about jewelry and evolution? Check out:

Julia Mazzella





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