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  • Place of origin:

    Egypt (made)

  • Date:

    1500 BC-1400 BC (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Gold set with glazed steatite and bound with wire

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Jewellery, Rooms 91, The William and Judith Bollinger Gallery, case 4, shelf A, box 1

The earliest known finger rings are about 6000 years old and come from the near East. They evolved from a cylinder seal attached to a hoop of precious metal surrounding the finger. Later the Egyptians used a magical scarab beetle, in stone or imitation stone, with an engraved seal on its base. This was adopted by the Etruscans and Phoenicians, and from it developed the signet ring as a guarantee of authenticity or ownership.

The scarab beetle was thought to be an incarnation of Khepri, an Egyptian sun god associated with resurrection. Because the beetle lays its eggs in a ball of dung and pushes it around, the Egyptians used it as an image and metaphor for the passage of the sun across the sky. The young scarab beetles hatch out of the ball of dung (equivalent to the sun), which emphasizes the concept of new life and rebirth through the sun.

This steatite beetle is glazed in blue, colour associated with rebirth. On the underside it is marked with amuletic signs, which suggests that it wasn't intended to be used as a seal.

This ring forms part of a collection of over 600 rings and engraved gems from the collection of Edmund Waterton (1830-81). Waterton was one of the foremost ring collectors of the nineteenth century and was the author of several articles on rings, a book on English devotion to the Virgin Mary and an unfinished catalogue of his collection (the manuscript is now the National Art Library). Waterton was noted for his extravagance and financial troubles caused him to place his collection in pawn with the London jeweller Robert Phillips. When he was unable to repay the loan, Phillips offered to sell the collection to the Museum and it was acquired in 1871. A small group of rings which Waterton had held back were acquired in 1899.

Edmund Waterton used the fortune which was made by his family’s involvement in the British Guiana sugar plantations to put his collection together. His grandfather owned a plantation known as Walton Hall and his father, Charles Waterton, went to Guiana as a young man to help run La Jalousie and Fellowship, plantations which belonged to his uncles. When slavery was abolished in the British territories, Charles Waterton claimed £16283 6s 7d in government compensation and was recorded as having 300 slaves on the Walton Hall estate.

Physical description

Gold ring with a revolving oval bezel set with a glazed steatite scarab with amuletic signs. The shoulders bound with wire.

Place of Origin

Egypt (made)


1500 BC-1400 BC (made)



Materials and Techniques

Gold set with glazed steatite and bound with wire


Height: 2.5 cm, Width: 2.7 cm, Depth: 1.3 cm

Object history note

ex Waterton Collection

Descriptive line

Gold ring with a revolving oval bezel set with a glazed steatite scarab with amuletic signs. The shoulders bound with wire, Egypt, Second Intermediate Period, about 1500-1400 BC.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

'British Guiana 2426 (Walton Hall)', Legacies of British Slave-ownership database, http://wwwdepts-live.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/claim/view/7157 [accessed 28th May 2019].


Gold; Steatite

Subjects depicted



Jewellery; Metalwork; Amulets; Africa


Metalwork Collection

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