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How Did Gemstone Jewelry Evolve Through History?

May 13, 2018

How Did Gemstone Jewelry Evolve Through History?

The history of crystals and gemstones dates back to around 20,000 years ago. These colored pieces of stone have always charmed people from different centuries and from various parts of civilization. Possibly, the first gemstones were found in dried-up river beds. The materials first used as gemstones were fairly easy to find and easy to work up.  Thus is not surprising that the first minerals known to man are supposed to be amber, coral, malachite, lapis lazuli, and turquoise. Obsidian was valued among the Stone Age artisans and then later by American Indian tribes.

Gemstones in Ancient Egyptian Culture

Egyptians highly reflected in their jewelry designs the religious importance of certain sacred objects.  Gem carvings known as “glyptic art” typically took the form of scarab beetles and other religious symbols. In ancient Egypt color, not type of material was the primary criterion of value. Egyptians taste in jewelry preferred bright colors, principally blue and orange. Opaque, lapis lazuli, coral, turquoise, jasper, quartz, and carnelian were all highly valued and used. Royalty was represented by the blue color, thus lapis was one of the most prized of all gemstones.

Classical History of Gem-Engraving in Europe

The classical history of gem-engraving in Europe is known to begin in the 6th century BC, when new materials and methods became accessible to the Greek artists. Later techniques were passed down to the Romans, and the use of drills and wheel technology soon facilitated the processing of harder gemstones. The Romans used a great variety of colored stones coming from the East and Egypt, including carnelian, garnet, and amethyst. Carved gemstones were used in antiquity as signets and seals. During the Roman Empire the rules stated that the rubies, sapphires and emeralds along with other gemstones had to be reserved only for the use by the royals.

Gemstones in the Middle Ages

During the Middle Ages numerous gemstones were known to many cultures. The faith in the healing power of gemstones was especially strong at this time. It was generally believed that gems could heal every manner of illness. Coral cured madness and assured wisdom. Emerald was considered to protect against all manner of enchantments. Sapphire offered protection from envy and was thought to attract divine grace. Throughout the Dark Ages gems were preserved in clerical treasuries.  Towards the end of the Middle Ages decorative arts began to emerge from the cloistered world of the royal court.

Renaissance Period and Gemstone Popularity

During the Renaissance Period Greek and Roman engraved gems became part of every antiquarian collection. In the sixteenth century, ancient gems and cameos circulated widely among collectors. Colored stones remained very popular as well with sapphire, ruby and emerald being the most hunted after stones. Pearls were extremely popular and were mainly obtained from Persia. Imitation gem production flourished. Diamonds, made of glass, rock crystal or colorless zircon entered the market as well. In the 17th century Europe jewelry was made of precious gemstones like diamonds and emeralds.

The Victorian Era - A Melange of Styles

The Victorian era combined an eclectic collection of stylistic impacts such as Elizabethan, Classical and Gothic revival, Greco-Roman, Neoclassical, Orientalism, Rococo and Romanticism. By the end of the Romantic Period, brooches and pendants containing polished agate gemstones had become very popular. A typical jewelry item of the Victorian era was the cameo. It was made of carved conch shell, hardstone agate, carnelian, and sardonyx. In the late Victorian era enamelling was main technique for adding color to jewelry but some gemstones were used, as pearls, diamonds and translucent stones like amethyst and aquamarine. In the 19th century Austrian jeweler Daniel Swarovski presented the first cut-glass crystals that successfully imitated the look of diamonds.

Art Deco Period: Fashion and Gemstones

During the Art Deco period in the 1920s French designers adopted crystals, and other rhinestones to make high-fashion statement pieces. Another essential feature was the use of contrasting colors such as black and white. Diamonds and light colored gemstones were mixed with dark opaque materials such as black onyx.

Modern Techniques and the Endurance of Gemstones

Nowadays a number of techniques are used to improve the color and appearance of natural and synthetic gemstones. Gemstone's magnificence is enhanced to increase the allure and demand of the gemstone. Gems manage to endure through time because of their certain features.

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