The history of poison rings begins in ancient India and survives on to this day. Rising in popularity during the 1600s and made famous by Lucrezia Borgia, poison rings - and poison jewelry in general- continues to be an iconic type of jewelry.
What are "Poison Rings"?
Don't let the macabre name fool you, poison rings are essentially just lockets or vessel-rings, which is to say, any kind of ring that opens to reveal a compartment. Of course, these compartments are small, usually providing only enough space to store bits of hair, herbs, small pills, or a folded note. Beyond being unique and interesting looking, they're often great tools for treasuring keepsakes. They make particularly good gifts for remembrance as well.
While any ring with that opens to reveal a secret compartment can be called a "poison ring", we tend to think of poison rings as having a gothic or ornate style.
Poison rings are simply rings with a vessel to store small items.
Poison rings were made famous in the late 1400s and early 1500s, in part by Lucrezia Borgia, the daughter of Pope Alexander VI, who is rumored to have poisoned her enemies with the aid of a poison ring. Of course, this isn't their only (or even intended!) use but the name lives on.
Why are they called "poison rings"?
Other famous poison ring wearers include Roman soldiers who would sometimes keep poison on hand in case they were captured and threatened a more painful death than self-poisoning.
Emperor Heliogabalus (203 CE – 222 CE) wore one but never used it (that we know of). In 183 B.C. Carthaginian soldier Hannibal committed suicide by swallowing poison kept inside his ring.