La Femme Fatale: Antique 'James bond' jewelry
Believe it or not, back in the 1800s there was a kind of ring that doubled up as a diminutive firearm. Yes, that's right - a ring that was also a miniature gun. Known initially as Le Petit Protector - which was the first documented example of this kind of gun - a later, smaller ring known as 'La Femme Fatale' soon took over in popularity. This rare and unique little ring is the subject of this week's blog.
La Femme Fatale revolver ring c. 1830s. Via gunsinternational.com
Why would you have needed one?
Carrying a gun for personal protection was quite a popular fashion throughout Europe in the early 1800s. The derringer, the pen-gun, the cane gun, all these James Bond-esque contraptions, and more, were being sold in small shops across Europe and the US. In France, there were revolutions and wars, the reign of terror, and the conquests of an Emporer. In England, there were highwaymen and robbers, thieves, and disbanded soldiers. In Germany, there were wars and destitution, occupation, and rebellion. All had a reason to fear for their personal safety or to suspect their wallets, watches, or jewelry might be lifted from them in hard times; so carrying a small gun seemed a sensible fashion for any man. But, what about the women?
Well, that's where the miniature ring gun comes in. Produced in France in small quantities during the latter half of the 19th century, these rings were large enough to be worn on any finger and were often sold in small, oval-shaped jewelry boxes, suggesting that their target audience was predominantly women. While men carried larger guns in pockets and on belts, women wore these rings to protect themselves. While some believe they were mostly worn by prostitutes and spies - professions in which a woman was most likely to be attacked - there is ample evidence that they were popular among women in general, whether for making a journey alone or providing security while wearing expensive jewelry or carrying a heavy purse. Whatever the reason they were worn, the French company who sold them did, for a time, offer a matching set of 'his and hers'. These sets were dubbed 'Les Companions'.
‘Les Companions’ set with Le Petit Protector and Femme Fatal ring guns and ammunition. Note the difference in size. Via guns.com
How did it work?
Le Petit Protector and La Femme Fatal rings were both put together in similar ways. They usually consisted of a ring made from something like German Silver (a term for a kind of inexpensive 19th-century electroplating originating in Germany), mounted with a recoil plate, providing a base for a revolver-style cylinder full of brass pinfire rounds that could be fired while wearing the ring.
The revolver had to be manually rotated through each cylinder, and around the base of the cylinder, there were three attachments: the hammer, the cylinder release, and the trigger. In most cases, the ring would have been worn on the index finger, and the wearer would have fired the sideways-facing pinfire hammer using their thumb. To load, unload, or reload the gun, the user would have needed a small jeweler's screwdriver to separate the cylinder and ring base.
A finely crafted German silver ring revolver, the band engraved with herringbone borders and inscribed, 'Femme Fatale'. Top-mounted with a 7-shot cylinder, fold-down fire-blued trigger, and outer spring band. Contained with seven cartridges and a tiny screwdriver in a green velvet-lined ring case. Via collectorebooks.com, credited to Gregg Martin Auctions.
How Effective Was It?
Well, if you tried using one of these amazing little antiques now, the answer would probably be not so good. The ammunition costs a lot, since it's no longer produced, and the age and nature of the 19th-century metallurgy would probably make it into a bit of a liability.
Back in the 1800s, you would have had much less trouble firing one of these, however, given the size of the pinfire rounds, they would have produced something approximating the force of a modern BB gun or small pellet gun. While they may not have been 'guns' in the traditional sense of delivering a fatal wound, they would have likely created enough of a distraction to buy the wearer some time to get away, or if used at extremely close range could cause a decent amount of pain. If nothing else, they would have provided a perceived sense of security and would have gained you a fair bit of attention if you were caught wearing one at a dinner party or ball.
Antique six shot 2mm pinfire ladies’ ring gun, engraved 'LA FEMME FATALE'. Probably made in France or Belgium, c. 1860 - 1880. The balance of the parts are fire blued steel. The case interior bottom is French fit and lined in a dark blue velvet. Via Wayne Driskill Miniatures
Antique "LA FEMME FATALE" revolver ladies ring gun, comprised of silver and iron, displaying a leaf design and a blued inner band. Top-mounted with a six-shot cylinder 2mm pinfire. Preserved in its original blue velvet-lined, dark red leather-covered ring case marked "JOHN PINCHES LONDON", who was a notable silver dealer at the time. Via gunsinternational.com
Revolver ring gun dating from the third quarter of the 19th Century, France. Silver and iron, blued; the back marked 'LA FEMME FATALE' with a frame of leaves. Seven-shot, 2 mm cylinder, case lined with blue velvet, complete with a screwdriver and a second cylinder. Via Czerny's International Auction House
In the 1850s-70s in Belgium and Germany, some copycat versions of the original French pinfire rings were also made. These will often be marked ‘Five Aces’, ‘Imperial Protector’, or ‘Le Quartre Morts’.
Small revolver ring inscribed, 'The Five Aces', 5 shots 3mm. Via PROANTIC
Revolver ring inscribed, 'The Extra Ace', 6 shots in 4mm. Via PROANTIC
Why did they go out of fashion?
Realistically, they just didn't pack enough of a punch. Once rimfire pistols and small centerfire pocket pieces like the Browning FN were available, pistol rings just didn't compare. They remain, however, a wonderful antique curiosity, and an expression of fear accompanying revolution and war in France that made personal protection seem paramount.
To wrap up, here are some pieces from Antique Animal Jewelry with double uses or hidden contraptions: