Jewellery’s oldest finding was dated about 25,000 years ago. Jewellery was worn as amulets in early cultures to safeguard against bad luck and disease. Even today, we hear the stories and adventures of individuals who discovered luck and fortune due to gems and jewellery. Through these myths, jewellery develops into symbols that are believed to give the wearer control over fertility, wealth, and love. Jewellery was worn because of its magic characteristics.
Jewellery came later to denote human attachment and engagement. To demonstrate who they belonged to, slaves were produced to wear bracelets. Wedding rings symbolized two people’s dedication to each other. Only the rich and high-ranking church officials were permitted to wear gemstones at one moment in Europe. This was a sign of authority and riches. The ordinary people who want to imitate them would wear less costly jewellery to add colour and flash to their festive costumes.
Some African tribes still wear huge lip plugs today and distort their wearer’s mouth. This is to make the men look more fearful in the battle and the women so ugly that they wouldn’t want to steal them. Have you seen the long-necked women in Africa? This is achieved by adding a fresh childhood ring each year. The upper body is deformed and the neck appears longer.
Following the path of evolution of jewellery from the ancient worlds of Africa to the Mediterranean, then Europe and lastly the United States, we can see how jewellery has developed over time and is discovered today in jewellery shops.
Iran and the Mediterranean:
The earliest traces of jewellery can be traced back to the Mediterranean-blooming cultures and what is now called Iran around 3,000 to 400 BC. Usually, these were easy amulets and seals of stone. Many of these seals and amulets had spiritual meanings, stars, and floral designs. The gods were provided with jewellery and used to dress up statues. The Royal Tombs in ancient Sumner, dating back to 3000 BC, provided us with the biggest collection ever. They discovered mummies wearing every imaginable sort of jewellery, headdresses, necklaces, earrings, rings, crowns, and pins.
The ancient Egyptians are then there; they too wore amulets and talismans. Everyone in Mummy’s films has seen the scarab; it’s a tiny beetle carving. The ankh, the symbol of life, was another prevalent motif. The multiple strains of beads of different colours are a common piece of jewellery and one that even finds fashion again. The Egyptians produced bracelets of coloured gemstones with various strains. You have probably heard these names, as they are still common today; amethyst, carnelian, green feldspar, and turquoise.
The Egyptians used symbols to display territorial pride, the vulture depicted Nekhbet, Upper Egypt’s patron and Lower Egypt were represented by the cobra. Gold, silver, turquoise, chalcedony, amethyst and lapis lazuli were used by the royal jewellers. Lapis Lazuli was traded in Afghanistan with miners. Also popular for faience was the Egyptians, a glass-like glaze on clay and glass inlays.
The Egyptians firmly thought that colour represents elements of our personalities, and as a consequence, for the ancient Egyptians colour symbolism was essential. Yellow and gold were connected with the sun and used for the pharaoh and his priests in crowns and decorations. A green stone was put in the mouths of the pharaohs to restore speech in the other world. The red AB or heart amulet was believed to preserve the soul. The golden Udjat provided health and protection.
Bahrain is a flat Persian Gulf island located off Saudi Arabia’s coast. This was an island, not noble and rich. But an island of commoners where there have been found 170,000 burial sites. The oldest is almost 4,000 years old, while some are as recent as 300 BC. These were individuals of everyday life who had a high standard of living. Archaeologists flocked to explore how these individuals lived in Bahrain. They discovered heads of bronze axes, javelins, and they even discovered a pot dating back to ancient Oman, 4,000 years old. But their true find was a pearl and gold earring 4000 years old, the oldest ever discovered.
The Greeks were prolific writers and often spoke of jewellery and its effect on their daily life. Greek jewellery was wealthy and diverse as far back as 1200 BC and reflected society’s prosperity. The Greeks first copied Eastern Motifs but then created their own style according to their convictions in the gods and symbols. Crowns, earrings, bracelets, rings, hairpins, necklaces and brooches were included in Greek jewellery. Sometimes Greek females wore necklaces with 75 or more miniature vases that were dangerous. Their jewellery mixed the Eastern gemstone flavour with the Etruscan gold use. The Etruscan perfected a way to make small gold beads called granulation.
The majority of gemstones we use today were already found by the Roman era. Myth and magic were the rule of the day and handled with regard for gemstones. They also had a second objective; the Roman women would have been hairpins long enough to be used for self-defence! The Romans also loved the cameo and loved it because of its beauty. Armbands for the wrist and upper arms and necklaces became common, as did jewellery produced from gold coins.
The Byzantine Empire:
No empire had exhibited a richer jewellery tradition than the Byzantines. After Emperor Constantine relocated the capital to Constantinople in 330 AD, the Byzantines acquired the place of this prestige. This empire brought together the greatness and wealth of Greece, Egypt, the Near East and sections of Russia and North Africa. This melting pot’s mixture of factors led to the use of wealthy colours, oriental symbolism, and it lasted through the Middle Ages. Trade, wedding and war brought their designs west to Europe. The art of enamelling cloisonné, where glass glaze is poured, set into pre-soldered patterns or cells and then fired at high temperatures to melt the glaze into a permanent design that flourished during the Byzantine period.
The darkness came over the lands they governed when Rome fell. Life was difficult and luxuries all but vanished from European life like jewellery. At the moment, most of the riches were in the church’s hands. In the tenth century, the sacred world enjoyed such finery as gem-studded altars, chalices, and icon missals (books used during mass). Bands of soldiers travelled to the Holy Land during the Crusades and returned with a great booty of gemstones and jewellery. The church benefited most from the looting, but many pieces were not delivered to the church and the common people found their way.
In several centuries, the Crusades were the first real trade between East and West, opening up a new world of trade and communications. It exposed fresh products and thoughts to the Europeans. A few farmers wore jewellery from the twelfth to the fifteenth centuries, except sometimes a brooch or hatpin was seen.
The royal family and churches frowned on commoners wearing jewellery or attempting to copy their clothes or manners in the Middle Ages. The nobility saw this as a unique privilege to enjoy only for them. Sumptuary laws have been launched to implement this concept. By controlling what individuals were permitted to wear, such laws were intended to reduce opulence and encourage thrift. Rings that were worn carried a meaning and a purpose. There were four main categories or purposes:
Ecclesiastical rings, worn as sacred emblems by the clergy and laymen.
Healing rings, intended to heal illnesses and ailments.
Rings of romance, on the left second finger the wedding ring because of its proximity to the core.
Gadget rings including knuckles of brass rings of the compass, stuffers of pipes.
Although the French set fashion trends in the seventeenth century, the most extravagant clothing was worn by England royalty Henry VIII. He boasted of at least 234 necklaces, 324 brooches, diamonds and pearls. His daughter, Elizabeth I, loved pearls so much that she produced over 2000 clothes of pearls and gemstones, each weighing down. The clothes of Elisabeth were typical of this era. The Queen of Spain also wore dresses heavily jewelled and embroidered with pearls.
France’s King Louis XIV endeavoured to make his court the most beautiful in the whole country. More large diamonds were imported from India during his reign (1642-1715) than at any other time in history. Ever hear of the blue Hope Diamond? It is thought that Jean-Baptiste Tavernier purchased it and the Royal Jewellers Le Grand put it in a necklace. This necklace was to be given to Marie Antoinette as a wedding gift, but instead, it was robbed.
The baroque design period was the seventeenth century. (Possibly, the word baroque comes from the Portuguese baroque for a disfigured pearl.) Colour gemstones lost favour and next, it was diamonds that led the jewellery industry.
Jewellery (British English) or jewellery (American English) comprises of tiny pieces of decoration worn for private ornamentation, such as brooches, rings, necklaces, earrings, pendants, bracelets and cufflinks. You can attach jewellery to your body or clothes.