Because of their long use and simple outline, roundels are accorded status as a subordinary charge by most heraldic writers.
Roundels in British heraldry have different names depending on their tincture. Thus, while a roundel may be blazoned by its tincture, e.g., a roundel vert (literally "a roundel green"), it is more often described by a single word, in this case pomme (literally "apple", from the French) or, from the same origins, pomeis — as in "Vert; on a cross Or five pomeis" (Scottish Public Register vol. 32, p. 26).
In French blazon, a roundel of either metal (or or argent) is a besant, and a roundel of any colour (dark tincture) is a torteau, with the tincture specified.
One special example of a named roundel is the fountain, depicted as a roundel barry wavy argent and azure, that is, containing alternating horizontal wavy bands of blue and silver (or white). Because the fountain consists equally of parts in a light and a dark tincture, its use is not limited by the rule of tincture as are the other roundels. Another name for the fountain is the syke (Northern English for "well").
Another special roundel, largely confined to Scots heraldry, is the gurges filled with a double spiral of contrasting tinctures. A gurges argent and azure can be seen in the arms of James Watt College.
In their earliest uses, roundels were often strewn (semy) upon the field of a coat of arms, a design with as many names as there are tinctures. For example, a field semy of roundels argent could be called platy; a field semy of roundels sable could be called pellety. The precise number and placement of the roundels in such cases were usually left to the discretion of the artist.
The term roundel also describes a circular shield used for heraldic display (as opposed to other forms such as the more common escutcheon or lozenge). An example of arms borne on a roundel is the Coat of arms of Nunavut.
- Fox-Davies, Arthur Charles (1909). A Complete Guide to Heraldry. p. 151.
- Fearn, Jacqueline (1980). Discovering Heraldry. Shire. p. 25.