The Bernhard Ring Artifact Highlight #9

Gold nugget jewelry was symbolic of dreams of fast wealth and identified the wearer’s direct connection to gold mining.

In January 1848, James Marshall found pieces of gold in the American River at Sutter’s Mill in Coloma. Driven by the news of riches, prospectors from all over the world undertook a long and dangerous journey to California.

Jewelers, confidant that their skills would be needed, followed the trail of prospectors making jewelry for miners and their families. In the early days of the gold rush, jewelers were mostly occupied with repairs and creation of simple gold pieces.

The expanding mining industry meant a steady supply of nuggets that would then be made into chains, bracelets, rings, pendants and watch fobs.

A great example of gold nugget jewelry is this ring that belonged to Bernhard Bernhard. It was donated to our collection in 2014. The ring is inscribed “B. Bernhard, 1868 Nuggets, 1923 -1902.” Bernhard was born in 1823 and died in 1902, so the “9” in 1923 is mis-inscribed.

Bernhard (also known as Benjamin) Bernhard was a German immigrant who came to New York in 1846. Like many of his countrymen he decided to try his luck in California and in 1852 he arrived in San Francisco. His wife and son Peter, who stayed behind in St. Louis, joined him in Auburn three years later.

Bernhard developed a thriving business delivering supplies by mule wagon. When Central Pacific Railroad reached the summit, his business ended and he bought the former Traveler’s Rest property in Auburn in 1868. The house sat on a parcel of about 30 acres with a vineyard and an orchard.

The family grew hay, barley, oats, wheat and potatoes. Bernhard produced wine the first year the family lived on the property, but his focus was growing fruit. To expand his winemaking operation Bernhard built a stone winery in 1874 and a wine processing building in 1881. That is where the grapes were crushed and where the wine probably went through its first fermentation. During the 1880s, Bernhard produced an average of 2,500 gallons of wine and a few hundred gallons of brandy annually. Bernard and his wife Rosa died in 1902. Their home is now a museum.