AKM596, Ring

© The Aga Khan Museum
AKM596, Ring, Side

© The Aga Khan Museum
AKM596, Ring, Side

© The Aga Khan Museum
AKM596, Ring, Bottom

© The Aga Khan Museum

Click on the image to zoom

  • Accession Number:AKM596
  • Place:Egypt
  • Dimensions:Height 3.4 cm
  • Date:11th century
  • Materials and Technique:gold; filigree and granulation
  • In this beautiful golden ring, the mastery of Fatimid craftsmen is on full display. One of the most triumphant dynasties of the medieval world, the Fatimids (909–1171) derived their name from Fatima, daughter of the Prophet Muhammad. They maintained their capital in Cairo, and their empire stretched as far south as Nubia (modern-day Sudan). The Fatimids also established trade relationships with the neighbouring Byzantine Empire (ca. 330–1453), whose capital was Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul). Some Fatimid jewellery has very distinct links to Byzantine objects (see AKM594). 

Further Reading


The hemispherical recess on this ring suggests that it may have once held a stone, though rings from the Fatimid period were not usually ornamented with gemstones at the bezel.[1] The ring makes abundant use of filigree (which involves the intertwining of metal threads to form elaborate patterns) and granulation (wherein tiny grains or balls of gold are applied to a surface, either to fill in a design or to create a pattern). While filigree remained one of the hallmarks of the technical accomplishments of Fatimid artisans, the use of granulation eventually fell to the wayside, something that scholar Marc Rosenberg referred to as “the battle of granulation and filigree” in which the latter eventually prevailed.[2]


The trove of medieval documents known as the Cairo Geniza provides a great deal of important information about jewellery production during the Fatimid period. These manuscript fragments found in the Ben Ezra Synagogue in Fustat or Old Cairo, Egypt, indicate prices, terminology, and production details about the goldsmithing and jewellery industry, much of which was staffed by Jewish craftsmen. Filigree, for instance, is referred to as mushhabbak (latticework) in 12th-century trousseau lists from the Cairo Geniza documents.[3]


The Fatimids obtained gold from a number of sources, including nearby mines in Nubia as well as in the Kingdom of Ghana. They also melted down and repurposed metal from older jewellery, a probable fate for many Fatimid pieces which no longer exist today. The infamous looting of the treasury of Fatimid caliph al-Mustansir (1036–94) around 1070 resulted in an irreplaceable loss of many riches from this period.


— Courtney Stewart

[1] The high raised bezel form is better known in rings from the Seljuq period (ca. 1040–1196).
[2] See Marilyn Jenkins, “Fatimid Jewelry, Its Subtypes and Influences,” Ars Orientalis, vol. 18 (1988), 40, quoting Marc Rosenberg, “Abteilung: Granulation,” Geschichte der Goldschmiedekunst auf Technischer Grundlage, vol. 3 (Frankfurt: 1918), 96–103.
[3] See Marilyn Jenkins-Madina, The Glory of Byzantium (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1997), 419–20, quoting Goitein, A Mediterranean Society: The Jewish Communities of the Arab World As Portrayed in the Documents of the Cairo Geniza, vol. 4, 211–12.

Barrucand, Marianne. L'egypte Fatimide: Son Art Et Son Histoire : Actes Du Colloque Organisé À Paris Les 28, 29 Et 30 Mai 1998. Paris: Presses de l'université de Paris-Sorbonne, 1998, 197–217. ISBN: 9782840501626
Bloom, Jonathan M. Arts of the City Victorious. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2007. ISBN: 9780300135428
Content, Derek J. Islamic Rings and Gems: The Benjamin Zucker Collection. London: Philip Wilson Publishers, 1987. ISBN: 9780856673337
Ekhtiar, Maryam, Sheila R. Canby, Navina Haidar, and Priscilla P. Soucek, eds. Masterpieces from the Department of Islamic Art in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1st ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011. ISBN 9781588394347
Goitein, Shelomoh D. A Mediterranean Society: The Jewish Communities of the Arab World As Portrayed in the Documents of the Cairo Geniza. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999. ISBN: 9780520221581
Jenkins-Madina, Marilyn, and Manuel Keene. Islamic Jewelry in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1983. ISBN: 9780870993268
Jenkins-Madina, Marilyn. "Fatimid Jewelry, Its Subtypes and Influences." Ars Orientalis, vol. 18 (1988), 40, 45, ill. figs. 51, 5b.
O'Kane, Bernard. The Treasures of Islamic Art in the Museums of Cairo. Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 2006. ISBN: 9789774248603
Rosenberg, Marc. “Abteilung: Granulation.” Geschichte der Goldschmiedekunst auf Technischer Grundlage, vol. 3. Frankfurt: 1918, 96–103.
Spink, Michael and Jack Ogden. The Art of Adornment; Jewellery of the Islamic Lands. Part I and Part II. London: Nour Foundation, 2013.  ISBN: 9781874780861
Trésors Fatimides du Caire Exposition Présentée à l'Institut du Monde Arabe du 28 Avril au 30 Aout 1998. Paris: Institut du Monde Arabe, 1998. ISBN: 9782843060113
Wenzel, Marian. Ornament and Amulet: Rings of the Islamic Lands. New York: Nour Foundation in association with Azimuth Editions and Oxford University Press, 1993. ISBN: 9780197276143


Sign up for our newsletter Discover new Programs added regularly