The British Sovereign is a coin with a long history, and it is no longer a circulation coin. However, it is still issued as a collector’s coin, and it is commonly used in jewellery. Sovereign rings and sovereign pendants are very popular, and many jewellers offer to mount gold sovereigns and half sovereigns into sovereign rings and pendants.
The History of the Sovereign
The first iteration of the sovereign was minted by Henry VII in 1489. It was half an ounce in weight, and 1.7in in diameter. These gold coins were worth too much to be of any use in circulation, and were probably used as presentation gifts from the king to dignitaries.
The first sovereigns to be valued at one English pound were issued by English monarchs in the 16th century, and varied in size and fineness.
After this, the term ‘sovereign’ fell out of favour until 1816, when Britain was placed on the gold standard, which defined the British Pound as a specific quantity of gold. At this time, the 20-shilling piece was named the sovereign. The Royal Mint was directed to strike these new coins, weighing 7.988g, according to a design by Italian sculptor and gem engraver Benedetto Pistrucci.
The obverse (front) face of the sovereign bore, at that time, the face of George III, and the reverse bore an image of St George & the Dragon. The obverse face of the sovereign has since borne the image of several British royals, but the reverse has mostly retained the Pistrucci St George, except between 1825 and 1871, when a shield design was struck instead. This shield design was criticised by many as not being as beautiful, and so between 1871 and 1893 the Mint slowly returned to using the Pistrucci carving. To this day, the same master tools are used to strike each new coin series, showing Pistrucci’s stunning carving.
Since that time, each monarch of the British Empire, and later of Great Britain and the Commonwealth, have issued sovereigns. With the discovery of gold in Australia in 1851, Royal Mint branches were set up in Adelaide, Sydney, and Perth, and these produced distinctive sovereigns. The Klondike gold rush in Canada saw a Royal Mint branch set up in Ottawa in 1908, while other branches were opened in Bombay, India, and Pretoria, South Africa. All of these mints produced regional variants of the sovereign, among other coins, for relatively short periods of time, although there is now a mint operating near Delhi, India under license from the Royal Mint.
Manufacture of the sovereign at the core Royal mint has started and stopped several times over the years as demand for the coins has waxed and waned. Over time, the use of the sovereign has gone from a main currency coin to a trade coin to a bullion coin and collector’s item.
Uses of the Sovereign in Jewellery
The sovereign has been in use in jewellery since at least the 19th century, when gentlemen would use them to adorn their pocket watch chains. As time wore on, wristwatches replaced pocket watches and those wishing to wear their sovereigns began to use ring, earring and pendant mounts to display their sovereigns.
A sovereign ring is usually worn on the little finger of the non-dominant hand, most often by men, although people of all genders have seen the appeal of the sovereign ring and can wear them. For those with smaller hands, half-sovereign rings are also available. These are made with the half-sovereign, which is half the weight and size of the full sovereign.
Sovereign pendants are another way in which people may choose to wear their sovereigns as jewellery. These can be very elaborate, but in general they are quite simple to allow the beauty of the sovereign to shine through.
When the sovereign is mounted in a ring, only one side is visible, and traditionally this is the obverse (front) side, with the head of the monarch visible. Occasionally, people will opt for the reverse side, usually with Pistrucci’s gorgeous St George & the Dragon, shown. It is also not unusual for other coins with meaningful symbols to be inserted in sovereign ring mounts. When a sovereign is mounted in a pendant, however, if it is done well then either side can be seen depending on how the wearer chooses to wear the pendant.
Here at Albany Village Goldsmiths, we can find the perfect mount for your sovereign, whether it’s a classic sovereign ring or an unusual sovereign pendant, or even a pair of half-sovereign earrings. We can also help you source the sovereign if you don’t have one yet.