Jewelry Basics: Enduring Allure: A History of Jewelry

There’s something about a beautiful piece of jewelry. Since the dawn of civilization jewelry has been an integral part of culture; of who we are.

It says a lot about us. Tastes, styles and statements have changed, but our love for those sparkling, precious objects has never diminished. Long before clothing developed into fashion those rare jewels and precious metals were a cherished symbol of prestige and beauty. Over time, jewelry has evolved from the mystical religious symbols of pagans and objects of power and opulence of royalty to universal fashion everyone can appreciate.

Egypt Throughout the ages jewelry has made a statement about the people and the culture that produced it – from religious beliefs to statements about social standing. One of the most famous ancient treasures ever found is that of the Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamen. The Egyptian goldsmiths were highly skilled artisans who covered the mummy with a large quantity of gold and jewels. Among the ornaments found in the tomb were necklaces, amulets, pendants, bracelets, earrings, and rings of the typical style of the time. Egyptian jewelry was highly symbolic and symmetrical and had precise religious and mystical meanings. Some of the symbols used in their jewelry were the scarab (a large beetle), lotus flower, falcon, and serpent.

Greece Jewelry was an art form all its own. The ancient Greek style of jewelry more closely resembled miniature classic sculptures than objects of adornment. The human figure, both male and female, mythological figures and entire heroic scenes were popular motifs for rings, earrings, pendants and other forms of jewelry. As skill and technique improved, Greek jewelry became highly detailed and eventually became complete works of art. One example is an earring of a chariot scene complete with driver and horses.

Rome Power and wealth. In ancient Rome jewelry was at first an of prestige reserved only for the highest social classes. But as trade and the wealth of the Empire increased, jewelry became available to all classes of citizens. Romans borrowed styles from earlier cultures and added their own themes. In keeping with the flamboyance of the time, jewelry became larger in size and more ostentatious. They began to use more colored stones than previous cultures, including topaz, emeralds, rubies, sapphires, and pearls.

The Middle Ages A return to simplicity. After the fall of Rome the style of jewelry began to move away from depicting mythological icons and heroic scenes and became ornaments used for decoration. The style of the time was much more simple than that of earlier cultures. Necklaces were gaining popularity and jewelry was used to decorate both hair and clothing. In addition, jewelry was often used to hold religious relics of saints.

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The Renaissance Decadence at its finest. During the Renaissance, jewelry once again became highly developed works of art. The great artistic ability of the craftsmen meant jewelry had become much more elaborate and its great value came from its magnificent workmanship rather than purely from the monetary value of gems and precious metals used. Jewelry reached a popularity never seen before that time, and both men and woman tried to outdo each other with opulent displays of gems and gold. The wealthy even decorated their hats and clothing with large, colored gems.

17th Century We can sum this up in a couple of words – heavy, very heavy. The 17th century saw technical improvements in the cutting of precious stones which reinforced the popularity of gems. Beautiful floral arrangements were en vogue at this time and were carried over to the design of jewelry. Gold ornaments were often painted with enamel to create brightly colored flowers and then later with diamonds and colored gems. At this time jewelry was very large and very ornate which meant it was also very heavy to wear.

18th Century Vast amounts of Brazilian diamonds were being imported into Europe at this time, and they enjoyed widespread popularity. Since techniques of cutting precious stones had improved dramatically, it became quite fashionable to show off the stones by trying to hide the settings as much as possible. Because of this jewelry was airier, lighter and easier to wear. People finally had the opportunity to really show off the sparkle and beauty of diamonds and other gems.

19th Century The Industrial Revolution brought enormous change to the whole world – and that included jewelry. Mass production finally made jewelry available to everyone. For the first time it could be produced on a large scale at prices both the middle and lower classes could now afford. The quality of imitation stones also improved so that even the lower-class could enjoy beautiful rings, pendants and other pieces they couldn’t previously afford. On the other side, firms such as Faberge and Cartier were producing high-quality jewelry for the rising bourgeois class.

20th Century and Beyond Today, jewelry comes in many different flavors. No matter who you are or what your taste or budget, there are designs that will suite your individual style. In the 20th century, fashionable clothing finally gained the esteem and prominence jewelry has always enjoyed. Now jewelry and fashion are joined hand-in-hand. You can’t have one without the other. There is more room for creativity and personality than ever before. From classic looks to the explosion of cool and ultra-modern body piercing, if you want it, it’s out there.

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