Not currently on display at the V&A

Thumb Ring

c. 1650 (made)
Place Of Origin

Thumb rings of this shape were originally used in archery as a way of releasing the bowstring accurately without injuring the hand. Thumb rings made with precious materials became emblems of royalty at the Mughal court in the 17th century and later. This example may have been made during the reign of the emperor Shah Jahan, probably between about 1640 and 1650. Rubies and emeralds are set in a flower pattern with their surfaces carved to resemble petals and leaves. The ring shows the skill of the jeweller, who used the 'kundan' method of setting precious stones into jade and other materials with tiny strips of highly refined gold.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
White nephrite jade, set with carved rubies and emeralds in gold using the kundan technique
Brief Description
Thumb ring, off-white nephrite jade with inset rubies, emeralds and gold, flower and leaf design, Mughal, probably 1640-1650, formerly in the Guthrie Collection
Physical Description
An asymmetric thumb ring fashioned in off-white nephrite jade with a reasonable polish on all surfaces. The inner surface is plain and smooth while the outer surface has been inlaid with fine gold "wire" that follows the edges at both ends. In between the two gold boundaries, there is a symmetric flower and leaf design of thirty inset ruby cabochons (twenty-one of which have been carved) and nine emerald cabochons (two carved). The stones have been set into reflective and possibly coloured, closed-back gold settings. Detail is also provided by additional inlaid gold "wire" which stand slightly proud of the surface of the ring.
Dimensions
  • Length: 41.0mm
  • Width: 31.4mm
  • Height: 23.0mm (Note: Height at the front)
  • Height: 13.9mm (Note: Height at the back)
Style
Object history
This ring was originally in the Guthrie collection and was purchased for the sum of £24-0-0, when he sold 81 of his objects to The India Museum in 1868. It was subsequently transferred to The South Kensington Museum (later renamed The Victoria & Albert Museum) in 1879.



Charles Seton Guthrie was an important collector of eastern coins and Mughal Empire jade and rock crystal objects. He was the second son of Scottish parents, both of whom were from noble and landed families, and his father worked for the East India Company in Calcutta.

Guthrie most probably developed his interest in jade and rock crystal when he studied geology as a 17 year old cadet in 1825 in Addiscombe, and he joined the Bengal Engineers in 1828.

Through his family’s established connection with the Inglis and Lister families, he became acquainted with Harry Inglis and his Anglo-Indian wife Sophia (nee Lister). He may well have received gifts of objects that Harry had acquired as proceeds from his Indian military campaigns. Harry was the son and heir of George Inglis who owned Inglis & Co., a large Indian trading company.

During his time in India, Charles Guthrie enhanced his collections with acquisitions financed by his army pay and also income from properties in his late mother’s estate.

He subsequently retired at the honorary rank of Colonel in 1857, although he returned to England in 1855, at the same time as Harry and Sophia, due to having 2 years of accumulated leave.

Following Harry’s death in 1860, his embalmed body was returned to India, accompanied by Sophia and Charles, where it was interred in an above-ground tomb. Sophia inherited Harry’s vast estate, which almost certainly contained many fine jewels and Mughal objects. Sophia began living together with Charles in Calcutta, bearing him a son in 1862. Following a financially significant arrangement being agreed by Sophia with Charles, the two eventually married in 1863 with the family returning to England a short time thereafter.

Sophia died in 1866, with Charles being named as an executor with instruction to liquidate her un-itemised English estate which included “jewels, trinkets and shawls”.

Soon thereafter, in 1868, Guthrie sold part of his collection of jade and rock crystal objects to The India Museum and his large coin collection to a museum in Germany. Colonel Charles Seton Guthrie died in 1874 and the remainder of his collections was sold at auction, in accordance with the terms of his will, with many objects finding their way into other important collections and then subsequently to the museum.
Production
Probably first half of the 17th century. The Mughal empire straddled territory in both the modern states of India and Pakistan, which were created as separate entities in 1947. The object may have been made in either of these regions.
Summary
Thumb rings of this shape were originally used in archery as a way of releasing the bowstring accurately without injuring the hand. Thumb rings made with precious materials became emblems of royalty at the Mughal court in the 17th century and later. This example may have been made during the reign of the emperor Shah Jahan, probably between about 1640 and 1650. Rubies and emeralds are set in a flower pattern with their surfaces carved to resemble petals and leaves. The ring shows the skill of the jeweller, who used the 'kundan' method of setting precious stones into jade and other materials with tiny strips of highly refined gold.
Bibliographic References
  • For information on thumb rings, see: UNTRACHT, Oppi, Traditional Jewelry of India, Thames and Hudson, London, 1997, pp.267-269
  • Barnard, Nick, Indian Jewellery: The V&A Collection London: V&A Publishing, 2008 Number: ISBN 9781851774838p. 58, pl. 3.10
  • The Indian Heritage. Court life and Arts under Mughal Rule London: The Victoria and Albert Museum, 1982 Number: ISBN 0 906969 26 3p. 109, cat. no. 304
  • Stronge, S. Made for Mughal Emperors. Royal Treasures from Hindustan. London and New York, 2010p. 161, pl. 122
  • Gifts of the Sultan. The Arts of Giving at the Islamic Courts. Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2011 Number: 978-0-300-17110-5p. 229, cat. 67. fig. 167. p. 181
Collection
Accession Number
02522(IS)

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record createdFebruary 27, 2004
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