Coin Jewelry

IN A NUTSHELL: Using an ancient coin for jewelry can enhance its attractiveness, though it's not without its risks.


People have been making coins into jewelry since the inception of coinage. Most coins that were holed or pierced throughout history were done to be worn around the neck or affixed to an article of clothing.

There are many ways to have necklaces, pendants, rings, brooches, tie clasps, cufflinks, buttons, belts, and so on made out of coins today, whether ancient or modern, whether with genuine coins or replicas made primarily to be used for jewelry. You can buy coin jewelry premade or use the coin of your choice. You can contact a local jeweler or an outfit that specializes in coin jewelry, or you can make coin jewelry yourself. A simple Google search for "coin jewelry" will turn up many options.

Some people are critical of coin jewelry, feeling it degrades or even ruins coins. The fact is that coins are damaged when used in jewelry, even if they're not holed, through the pressure applied by the settings they're in, through wear they receive by brushing against things as they're worn, and through oils and salts from skin. Ex-jewelry coins are worth less than normal coins. So it's best to use for jewelry coins that are common enough to be worth sacrificing in this way.

Using coins as jewelry is another way of appreciating coins. You adorn yourself or someone else with an item of beauty or historical significance, and you create interest in others who notice. In a column in the February 1994 Celator, Wayne Sayles dismissed the notion that using coins for jewelry is unethical and instead described it as allowing coins to be appreciated for their beauty to a wider audience. An article titled "Coin Jewelry" by Pamela Y. Wiggins in the March 2006 Numismatist talks about how coin jewelry can be found in museums around the world.

I've had two coins made out of jewelry, an Alexander the Great drachm into a ring and a Julian II bronze into a tie clasp, for myself. My wife, alas, has little interest in wearing one of my coins.








Alexander the Great silver drachm from Sardis, Asia Minor, c. 334-323 BC, M.J. Price 2542


I used a local jeweler to have this Alexander the Great lifetime drachm from Sardis, Lydia, Asia Minor (present-day Turkey) made into a ring. Lydia is the area where coins were invented about three centuries earlier, c. 600 BC. Alexander the Great is one of history's most fascinating characters, a philosopher-king whose life was based on military conquest. The coin is silver and about the size of a U.S. dime but thicker, a well-centered and round VF. It's a nice enough coin but not too nice to be sacrificed in this way.

After deciding to have a ring made, I asked my local coin shop buddy for advice and was directed to a local Russian jeweler named Oleg who had experience making rings out of coins. I first considered having having him put a bronze coin in a bronze setting for the distinctiveness and unpretentiousness of it, but I learned that bronze corrodes quickly when in contact with the skin.

So I asked Oleg to make me a ring out of a plain sterling silver setting to match the silver of the coin. I don't like the clashing appearance of a silver coin in gold setting, and I preferred something less gaudy (and expensive) than a setting made of white gold or platinum. I also wanted to direct attention to the coin itself, so I had Oleg put a satin finish on the setting, thereby roughing it up a bit to better match the surfaces of the coin. I was concerned about damaging the coin, but Oleg assured me that using a bezel without prongs wouldn't cause any indentations.

Oleg's charge was $120 for materials and labor. The coin itself cost me $75. Together that's just a wee bit less than what I paid for my wife's wedding ring.

Initially, I had a bit of an existential dilemma with the ring. Should I wear it so that the coin was upside down toward me and right-side up toward others? Or vice versa? Was the coin for showing off, or my own viewing pleasure? I decided to vary it.

I've received one negative response to this ring, and I received it online, which given the nature of the online world is to be expected. The person lambasted me by saying the making this ring was an indulgence, that coins are degraded like this by being made into jewelry, and that silver coins in silver settings have a cheap connotation. Can't please everybody...








Julian II bronze AE-3 from Constantinople, Asia Minor, c. 361-363 AD, RIC 167


I had a U.S. Indian Head cent tie clasp as a kid. I recently looked around for something similar and found it but quickly realized I wanted something better. The further back in time you go, the more interesting it becomes.

So I looked for an appropriate ancient coin with historical interest. I wanted one about the size of a U.S. cent and with an uninteresting reverse, since it wouldn't be seen. I decided on a bronze of the Roman emperor Julian II, who reigned from 360 to 363 AD, and found one on eBay that I won for $40.

Julian II's claim to fame is that he was the last pagan Roman emperor. The theological disputes and blood feuds of early Christianity, which have continued to this day, had alienated him from the new religion and turned him into a proponent of classical learning and paganism, and before becoming emperor he studied under several prominent philosophers in Athens. One of his names is Julian the Philosopher.

During Julian II's reign he issued an edict of religious tolerance and attempted to revive polytheism. But he was unsuccessful, and the Western world descended into more than a thousand years of ideological rigidity, dogmatism, and intolerance, of the subordination of discovery, invention, and reason to doctrine and darkness.

I wanted a coin with a contrasting patina to best make out the details, and from the photo of it accompanying the auction, the coin appeared to have one. But the coin in hand had a detail-obscuring uniform dark brown patina, which looked nothing like the photo, indicating the photo must have been edited to enhance the contrast. So I took a pensil eraser to the coin's highpoints, removing what was likely artificial patina and allowing the coin's detail to be more visible.

With this project I went with an outfit that specializes in coin jewelry,
Hallock Coin Jewelry of Anaheim, CA. I wanted a sterling silver alligator-type tie clasp (they call them tie bars) with a plain bezel, rather than one made of gold-plated silver, and they quoted me a price of $30 for the materials and labor. The local Russian jeweler who I had used for the coin ring wanted $200 for the same job.

Hallock Coin Jewelry sends catalogs only to retail stores but it will mail you photocopies of relevant pages in its catalog, or you can read it online. It's best that you create a little paper diagram indicating how you want the coin oriented in the tie clasp or any other piece of coin jewelry you have them or anyone else do for you.


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Coin sites:
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Glomming: Coin Connoisseurship
Bogos: Counterfeit Coins

© 2014 Reid Goldsborough

Note: Any of the items illustrated on these pages that are in my possession are stored off site.