During the Middle Ages, gemstones were most often set as polished but unfaceted cabochons and were chosen for their magical or medicinal properties as much as their aesthetic appeal. Sapphires were highly valued for their heavenly blue colour and supposed magical qualities. They were believed to cool the body, soothe headaches and ulcers, and cure stammers. Bishops were given rings as part of their consecration service and rings found in bishops' tombs suggest that sapphires were particularly favoured. This ring was said to have been found in the tomb of a French bishop.
This ring forms part of a collection of 760 rings and engraved gems from the collection of Edmund Waterton (1830-81). Waterton was one of the foremost ring collectors of the nineteenth century and was the author of several articles on rings, a book on English devotion to the Virgin Mary and an unfinished catalogue of his collection (the manuscript is now the National Art Library). Waterton was noted for his extravagance and financial troubles caused him to place his collection in pawn with the London jeweller Robert Phillips. When he was unable to repay the loan, Phillips offered to sell the collection to the Museum and it was acquired in 1871. A small group of rings which Waterton had held back were acquired in 1899.