Digital restoration project of a unique 5th century Saxon ring: gold, glass and sapphire, Yorkshire Museum collection. Recreated fully in 3D, this ancient artifact can now enjoy a second life, and visibility, thanks to modern technologies.
The final look, after retouch. We implemented dust to add a human scale and presence to an, otherwise, silent and abstract scene.
A 3D sculpt is created first, with the gold frame, gems and glass all separate. It is important to keep a handmade feel to it.
A 5.000.000 polys mesh is now ready to be rendered. High tasselation meshes are still the fastest and safest rendering assets.
The render scene, on slate slabs, to evoke the rustic and cold environment this jewel belongs to.
The raw 3D render is usually 50% of the final quality: the other half is achieved in retouch. The blue and black background is very Viking.
Digital restoration is an incredibly powerful and non-destructive technique to restore to former integrity and beauty especially valuable and fragile historical artifacts. Whereas a 3D scan can give you an exact copy of the artifact (and we also do that), digital sculpting can indeed achieve the one extra step of restoring shape, proportions, materials and colors. CGI is not only the most cost and time effective tool, but its end result perfectly meshes in our digital era, ready to be visualized in high definition, used for virtual and augmented reality, 3D printed.
It takes about 8 hours of work to digitally replicate an artifact of this complexity, and after that a whole world of sharing and publishing opportunities is open at little o no extra cost. Digital restoration is, thus, the most effective tool to cover the broadest cultural and marketing opportunities for museums and collectors.
As common with antique jewelry, the craftsmanship is truly superior and the gold itself is of a very high standard. It is an alloy of 90% gold, 8% silver and 2% copper, weighting at 10.2 grams. Such ring is likely to have belonged to the highest ranks of Saxon or Viking society, yet its flamboyance has no historical precedents. That is, the sapphire itself is an extremely rare artifact in Anglo-Saxon era, with only one instance recorded, in the coronation ring of Edward the Confessor. Such rarity was due to the sapphires being mined in the Indian region, with very low chances to trickle into Europe. Found by a metal-detectorist, this ring is presently owned by the Yorkshire Museum, England and valued at 35.000£.
It is a common misconception that antique jewelry is by necessity rough and primitive, yet this is definitely not true. The lack of tools and technology, if fact, proves the exorbitant skills of ancient goldsmiths, that went through unfathomable efforts to create what are, rightfully, museum pieces. Stakes were much higher, for an ancient artisan, with not only the good name, but the actual bread and survival depending on masterly work. Neglect and sufficiency, in handmade objects, are instead symptomatic of modern era, and it is very common to see lousy copies of ancient artifacts being sold as originals, using their primitive looks to validate this claimed antiquity, while exactly the opposite holds true: the older the artifact, the higher the craftsmanship.
How precious is glass?
Very precious indeed. Red glass, such as the one used in this ring, was no common sight, in the past. We are used to dismiss glass as cheap and humble, nowadays, yet it has been a very valuable material up to 1800. Red glass especially required gold salts in the making, to achieve a deep cranberry shade, so it was definitely a luxury material. Thus its name: Gold Ruby glass.
Interestingly enough, the first documented use of gold infused glass is from the 4th century, in Roman artifacts, and after that the technique goes lost until the 17th century. Our Saxon ring, then, fits exactly in this narrow gap of first and last use. There is a very captivating movie that deals with the mysticism and value of the red glass: Herz aus Glas, 1976, by Werner Herzog, and I highly recommend to give it a go, if you like ancient mysteries.
Traditional restoration has two possible outlets
Direct intervention on the artifact, with restored parts seamlessly blended in or left in intentional contrast. This has the distinct disadvantage of compromising the historical value of the original and of providing a mottled look that has no appeal to the public and, ultimately, fails to create a viable connection.
Full replicas, that involve a considerable amount of manual work, material and heavy manipulation of the artifact, with high risk of damage and alteration. After material costs and extremely high-value manual labor, physical replicas will still need to go digital, to meet contemporary sharing and publicizing needs.
When physical restoration is, clearly, a must for artifact meant for direct observation, the CGI alternative is the cost and time effective way to preview and speculate upon possibilities. The contemporary urge for a digital copy of physical assets is covered as well, by the CGI approach, and offers immediate means of sharing, promoting ad celebrating your project.