Make a Gem Encrusted Bridle
By THL Donwenna Beast Healer, An Tir

The Inspiration

The Company of St Anne, a mounted military tournament company,  was to stand Tenant on the Field  at  Emprise de la Trois Roses at Gulf Wars X in Meridies AS XXXIV.  As Captain of  the Company,  I wanted to present the best possible appearance.  In addition,  many of the best equestrians of the Knowne Worlde, would be present. To ride well is one thing, but all of these competitors worked just as hard on presentation.  Several had built or purchased period-looking  saddles and many used fabulously appliqued full-coverage caparisons.  In researching the style of caparisons I needed to create for the Emprise, I closely studied many illuminations and realized that no one had  created any of the gem-encrusted bridles that I saw in much of my research.  For this project I was delighted to think that I could combine two of my favorite hobbies: horses and silver fabrication. 

Using precious metals and gems to decorate leather tack .(i.e., bridle/saddle/armor) for horses has been popular since the inception of riding and the development of the tack needed to control and protect the horse.   Even in modern times silver is routinely used to decorate Show saddles, bridles, and breast collars.  For my project, I intended to create a bridle that would be in keeping with this Emprise, a Tournament held in the style of King Rene in the 15th C.   Once I determined that the gem-encrusted bridle was in use during that period, I had to ascertain what gems     were used and how they were mounted on the leather.

Figure 1.  Froissart Chroniques, arrival into Paris

Bit and Bridle
The bit (metal mouth piece) used here on  this bridle is a modern 'Tom thumb snaffle.'   It is essentially  similar to the snaffle with shanks  used in period.  The design of this bridle is  the same as that used throughout history: a horizontal brow band above below the ears and a horizontal noseband across the lower nose are both attached to vertical cheekstraps one on either side of the face and which terminate at the bit. A throat latch secures this all in place to keep the whole bridle from slipping forward off the face of the horse.  The reins are attached to the bottom shanks of the bit.     I looked at many  illuminations of  horses outfitted by nobility from the 15th C.   I chose this simple design of bridle, bit and reins because they most closely matched the more humane modern bits and style that most horses are trained with today.

The Gems

Figure 2 Journey of the Magi,(close up of  the decorated bridles )
I was unable to tell from the    illuminations what gems were used on the bridles.  For that I had to extrapolate to gems that were used for personal decorations for that time period.  From my sources, I verified that many of the gems we use today were known in period, albeit they were not  complexly faceted as are  modern precious jewels.  I learned that  cabochons (domed surface) were

popular in period, but that also simple four planed faceting was done to some precious              gems like sapphires and emeralds.  For my purpose I chose to use mostly cabochons that I had collected during the past several years.  They included malachite, mother of pearl, aventurine (a type of quartz), chrysoprase (a type of chalcedony), and cat's eye glass (manmade).

Metal Mountings

I chose to work with silver since I already had  a beginning silversmithing class several years ago. Silver was used routinely in the 15 C as was also pewter and gold.   Due to time constraints and lack of expertise and equipment, I bought pre-fabricated silver and silver-like (nickel) bezels to mount the gems.  Next,  I had to figure out how to attach the bezels to the leather.  I found that metal was routinely mounted by studs that were riveted to leather in period .  Besides the books which described various museum pieces, my research  included  real harness mountings seen online from  the Strong Collection of antiquities (see accompanied pictures).   About the same time as I was conducting this avenue of research, I  ordered leather online so that my husband  THL Agelos Evienece,  could make the bridle and reins I envisioned.  I sent an e-mail querying the  technical department at the leather catalog website asking for  suggestions on how to securely  mount gems on leather. Their response was much in keeping with the current practice of attaching  silver  onto  modern parade tack: that of using Chicago screws. In addition, I found rosettes and shields, some of which already had Chicago screws soldered onto their backing and ready to mount on harness. Thus I ordered the harness weight black vegetable drum dyed leather  and  a variety of Chicago screws, leather tacks, rosettes and shields so that I could experiment with them all.

Mounting the Gems
Besides decorating  the bridle, I was also making new garb and caparisons, so in the interest of saving time, I initially used JB Weld , an epoxy, to attach the bezels to the Chicago screws. I chose to utilize the screws instead of the studs, because  they offer  a secure form of attachment combined with ease of versatility.  I knew I would want to change out the gems periodically as I found nicer ones.  The JB weld flowed into all the crevices of the uneven surface of the rounded top of the Chicago screw surface and filled the space between the dome and the bezel.  The epoxy  was a dull gray when dried so I painted it with silver Testor's paint.  I only mounted several of the smaller gems in this fashion; I preferred to solder the larger ones in the future when I had more time and  equipment in a silversmithing class  I planned to take later in the year.

Figure 3. The Display of the  Gem Encrusted Bridle

After studying the illuminations of the period, I designed dagged reins and a conventional-looking  simple bridle with wide horizontal brow and nose bands. Then after THL Agelos Evienece made these  leather parts, I punched the holes at intervals across the brow band, nose band, cheek straps, as well as in the  center of the dags.  In the majority of the holes I inserted the floral patterned Chicago screws to serve as a temporary decoration.  Patterned designs on various metals mounted on leather tack were commonly used throughout  period. (see Strong Collection). 

I recently enrolled in an Apprentice silversmithing class and have been able to mount the  larger gems onto silver bezels.  In order to solder the bezels onto the Chicago screws, I had to grind the rounded dome shaped top of the Chicago screw until it was entirely flat because the solder would not fill in any gaps as did the epoxy.  The
Chicago screws are nickel over brass. These metals  both soldered to
the  bezels easily in a matter of moments. 

In conclusion, the gem-encrusted bridle is a work in progress. I am grateful to my husband, THL Agelos Evienece for using his leatherworking talents and knowledge of horses to  create the bridle.  The initially unadorned bridle is the  foundation on which  I have been able to combine my two favorite hobbies:  horses and silversmithing.

King Davin riding Valerius at An Tir Crown Tourney March 2001.  Valerius, owned by Donwenna is attired in bard she created and   appliqued with the An Tir King's Royal Device.  Valerius' bridle is the first incarnation of the gem-encrusted bridle decorated by Donwenna Beast Healer (leatherwork by THL Agelos Evienece)


Resources for Silversmithing (with examples of Antiquities)
Raymond, E., The Gems in the Breast Plate Thousand Oaks, CA 1987 , pg. 45 Silver (Genesis 23:16)

Von Neumann, R ,  The Design and Creation of Jewelry. 3 ed., Radnor, PA 1982

Resources for Jewelry (with examples of Period Pieces)
Lightbown, R. Mediaeval European Jewelry (catalog of the Victoria and Albert Museum  collection circa 800 to 1500 AD)  Hong Kong, 1992  pg. 218 ---Carved Mother-of pearl early 15th C
IBID pg. 31---agate mines opened in Germany in the 14th C; chalcedonywas imported from India
IBID pg. 318glass on girdle (woman's belt) 14th C
IBID pg. 318---silver belt decorated with shields 14th C
Raymond, E., The Gems in the Breast Plate Thousand Oaks, CA 1987 , Pg. 42 Chyrsoprase (Rev.21:20)
IBID Pg. 44---malachite in biblical times (Revelations 21:18,20)
IBID Pg 45. Quart (Rev. 21:19,20)

Resources for Illuminations and Pictures (examples of  Tack)
Online Resources
The Bibliothèque nationale de France  (1,000 Illuminations from the Department of Manuscripts )

The Strong Collection of Antiquities

King René's Tournament Book, A Modern English Translation
By Elizabeth Bennett
Reference Books
Barber, R. and Barker J.,  Tournaments , Boydell Press,  Suffolk, England 2000

Clephan, R. The Medieval Tournament , Dover Publ, New York, NY, 1995

Davis, R., The Medieval Warhorse , Thames and Hudson, London, 1989

Dossenbach M. and H. , The Noble Horse , Crown Publ. , New York, NY. 1987

Edge, D.  and  Paddock, J.  Arms and Armour of the Medieval Knight,  Crescent Books, New York, 1988

Ffoulkes, C.  The Armourer and His Craft from the XI th to the XVI th Century,
Dover Publ, New York, NY , 1988

Holme, B.  Medieval Pageant , Thames and Hudson, London, 1987

Kottenkamp, F. The History of Chivalry and Armor , Crown Publ, New York, NY., 1988

Matthews, C and J.,  The Arthurian Book of Days, (with Manuscript Illuminations), MacMillian Publ. Co, New York, NY, 1990

Reid, W., Weapons through the Ages , Crescent Books, New York, NY, 1986

Stone, G., A Glossary of the Construction, Decoration, and Use of  Arms and Armor in all countries and all times, Brussel, Publ, New York, BY 1961

Taylor, L.,   Bits ,Wiltshire Book Co. N. Hollywood, CA 1966

Turnbull, S., The Book of the Medieval knight, Sterling Publ. CO., New York, NY, 1995

Vuksic V. and Grbasic Z., Cavalry ,The History of the Fighting Elite (650BC- AD 1914),Sterling Publ House, New York, NY,  1993

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