Fraternal medals, which are common in the United States but less so in Europe, range from the rarified to the ordinary. At one end of the spectrum are the beautiful Masonic presentation medals made by Tiffany, which hung from bright red ribbons. At the other end are your basic service medals, whose horizontal bars mark the number of years the wearer has been with a particular order.
Many of the objects we think of as medals are actually referred to as jewels by Masons. The jewels are the metal parts of the medals, which were often made of silver, silver plate, or gold plate. These squares, compasses, keys, and other Masonic symbols hung from jewel hangers, what we might refer to today as ribbons. The ribbon portions of the hangers were usually made of silk, while the metal at the top and bottom of the hanger was formed from silver plate or coin silver. DeMoulin Bros. & Co. of Greenville, Illinois, was one of the biggest suppliers of jewels, hangers, and other Masonic accoutrements.
Of course, Masons do not wear whatever jewel strikes their fancy. Each object is designated for a particular officer. For example, the Worshipful Master, who is the leader of a given lodge, wears the right angle of a square, a tool used by Masons to make sure a right angle is “true.” A lodge’s senior warden will wear a level, while the junior warden is decorated with a plumb. Other officers wear crossed keys (the treasurer) or crossed quill pens (the secretary). In general, no one except the officer is supposed to wear a jewel of office, although the widow or daughter of a deceased Mason may do so. There are also medals for degrees of service for members of other fraternal groups such as the Scottish Rite.