Viking jewellery techniques

Written by kim norton | 13/05/2017
Viking jewellery techniques
A number of Viking treasure hoards have been unearthed in the UK. (Anthony Baggett/iStock/Getty Images)

The Vikings were skilled artisans who made metal jewellery in copper, bronze, iron, silver and gold. They also created jewellery from stone, glass, amber and wood. Some designs, like the upside-down T-shaped "Hammer of Thor" Viking warriors often wore as a battle charm, were created in all media. Other types of Viking jewellery included brooches, pendants, charms and rings.

Forge-made Jewellery

Viking metalsmiths used hammer, anvil and fire to forge copper, bronze and iron into ornate carved pendants, arm rings and brooches. Designs representing the Hammer of Thor or the wheat sheaves of the goddess Freyja were then incised into the hot metal with a hammer and chisel.

A rigid piece of interwoven metal, worn as an arm ring or a neck piece and known as a torc, could be created at a Viking forge by twisting and linking individual designs, such as dragons or sea serpents, together to form a band or chain.

Metal and sand casting

Pendants and brooches could be made by either metal casting or sand casting. To make a metal cast, a Viking artisan needed a small charcoal-fed furnace to heat copper, lead, bronze, iron, even silver and gold in a crucible to the melting point. The liquid metal would then be poured into prepared moulds. When the metal had cooled, the artisan would sand and polish the metal.

Sand casting was easier, The artisan would create a design mould by pressing a reverse image into a small box of sand and then add the liquid metal. The metal was allowed to air dry, and the mould then removed. Unlike metal casting, artisans could only use a sand mould once.

Glass jewellery

A Viking method of making glass finger rings would be to shape molten glass around a metal or a clay-coated wooden rod. Another method was to drop molten glass on the point of an iron cone. The cone was then spun rapidly by hand, causing the glass to roll evenly down the sides of the cone until the ring reached the right size. It then slipped off the top of the cone and was allowed to cool.

Vikings also made glass beads by scooping blobs of molten glass from an iron pot of heated glass with a long, narrow iron rod. Iron tongs then shaped the beads. Beads were also shaped by rolling the still-soft glass on a smooth stone surface. A mosaic effect of patterned glass was created by pressing bits of coloured glass into the cooling glass bead.

Viking knitting

Woven chains for necklaces were created by interweaving long beaten out strands of copper, silver or gold wire. This is known and can be recreated today as "Viking Knitting." Thin metal strands are twisted by hand into loops that interconnect, forming a strong decorative chain. Gemstones were often added, using strands of melted metal to solder the stones into place.

Amber jewellery

Amber was used to make beads, pendants, amulets and rings. To create a ring, a large piece of amber was cut into slices by a handsaw, then shaped with an iron chisel until a roughly circular flat disc was created. The disc was placed on a bow lathe, smoothed, polished and the centre cut out to create a ring. The cut-out centre piece would then be used for a bead or ornament, so nothing was wasted.

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