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How Did Jewelry Industry Evolve in World Cultures? Part I

May 13, 2018

How Did Jewelry Industry Evolve in World Cultures? Part I

Jewelry or jewellery, is a personal ornament that is worn for personal adornment and distinguished by very fine design and craft, such as rings, earrings, necklaces, brooches, bracelets, bangles, clips, etc. It was created to worship almost every body part. Jewelry is made primarily from precious metals or other nonferrous metals, wide range of materials, frequently in combination with gemstones and semi precious stones, amber, ivory, pearls, beads, shells, enamel, feather or other substances.

Etymology of the Word "Jewelry"

The word jewelry is originated from the word jewel. First known use of the word is from the 13th century. It was anglicized from the Old French “joule” and traces back to the Latin word „jocale”, meaning plaything. The British spelling jewellery adds -lery to jewel, while the American spelling jewelry adds -ry.

Early History of Jewelry

It is probable that the history of jewelry began around 80,000 years ago, as confirmed by cave paintings showing figures wearing necklaces and bracelets. From an early date it was worn as a protection from the dangers of life or as a mark of status or rank. Prehistoric humans used decoration materials from the animals they had killed for food (animal bones, mammoth tusks, teeth, bird feathers) or gathered from their living environment (natural made semi-precious materials, wood, berries). A great variety of shells, corals, fishbones and colorful pebbles were used during the prehistoric ages and are still used in some costal cultures. During earlier times jewelry was created for everyday life, such as pinning clothes together. Bead necklaces constructed from shells were strung together with twine most likely as charms. The jewelry pieces prehistoric humans made were crude necklaces and bracelets of bone, teeth and stone hung on pieces of string or animal tendon. Although during earlier times jewelry was created for practical uses, later it was used almost especially for adornment.

Development of Fine Jewelry and Metalworking Techniques

Most people settled along the banks of large rivers which led to the discovery of untouched alluvial deposits of minerals, such as precious metals and gems. The first fine jewelry appeared as cities began to develop during the Bronze and Iron Ages. As time went on, advancing technology allowed craftsman to begin refining metals and gemstones into works of art that influenced entire cultures and jewelry styles. Metalworking techniques became more discerning and decoration more complex. The ability to forge bronze and copper into many shapes enabled the creation of highly detailed jewelry and the arrival of gold introduced even more varied designs since it was uncommon and easy to work with.

Egyptian Jewelry Making

Egyptian jewelry making started in prehistoric times. The manufacturing of jewels became a profession and craftsmen began to use artistic skill and a wide variety of materials, like gold, lapis lazuli, amethyst, bronze, jasper, emerald. They preferred glass colors instead of natural colors of gems. Egyptian nobility favored necklaces, bracelets, amulets, pendants, and belts and wore jewelry to express their wealth. Interestingly they rarely had it on during their everyday life but wore it in death. They believed jewelry would help them on their journey to their afterlife. The scarab, flower, Isis knot, Horus eye, Sphinx, serpent, vulture are motif symbols connected with gods and the cult of dead. Howard Carter’s sensational excavations in 1922 led to the discovery of Pharaoh Tutankhamen (18th dynasty) tomb and revealed incredible treasures showing the artwork of ancient Egypt. Innovations that were introduced by Egyptian jewelry craftsmen spread across the world.

Greek Jewelry and Its Evolution

Before the arrival of metallurgy to Greece and the surrounding areas, Greek jewelry was made in the style of animals and shells filled with amethysts, pearls, chalcedony, emerald, and cornelian. Initially designs of Greek jewelry were very simple but attractive. As far back as 6000 BC metal adornment was very rare, but shells, clay, stones, bones were used. After the arrival of the Bronze Age, Greeks began creating more complicated designs that reflected the power and wealth of nobility. Greek jewelry often symbolized legends, celebration of the gods, cultural beliefs and war scenes. Development of the great Greek Mycenaean civilization brought the first great rise of jewelry use. Gold became the primary decorative raw material, but silver, lead, and bronze were also used. Jewelry making became more important shortly after 800 BC due to the contacts with other advanced civilizations, like Egypt and Far East. In Greece jewelry was worn on special occasions and especially women wore jewelry to express their beauty, social status. A magnificent period for jewelry came under the reign of Alexander the Great. The technical ability of Hellenistic goldsmith reached the highest levels ever attained. Body adornment, like necklaces, earrings, plaques with metal filigree and funerary decorations were popular. The silverwork was especially well-known among the examples of Hellenistic jewelry making. This period was known for the creation of cameo, which is a piece of stone carved to create a portrait of a leader or god.

The Romans used a variety of materials for their jewelry from their extensive resources across the continent. Based on other cultures they developed their own jewelry styles. In ancient Rome, jewelry was used to an extent never seen before and not to be seen until the Renaissance. Over 2000 years ago Romans used gold mainly with precious stones such as sapphires, rubies, topaz, emeralds, and pearls in their jewelry. The most common artifacts of early Rome were the brooch, which was used to pin clothing together and the pendants, which could be filled with perfume. The other jewelry they used to create were amulets, talismans, rings, necklaces, bracelets, clasps, earrings, which were used to protect wearer from evil spirits and curses (evil eyes). Men often used to wear only rings (one on the hand, one on every finger or none at all), while women wore wide range of jewelry. Carrying rings gave birth signet rings that featured a carved stone, which was used with wax to seal documents. The Romans used 18 and 24-carat gold because of their coins, which were made of gold. Coinage gold was easily available; therefore, it was favored by craftsmen for decorative jewelry. Ancient Rome began to lose its strength in the early Christian period but its jewelry designs were engulfed by neighboring countries and surrounding territories.

Decline of Roman Civilization and Integration into Western Cultures

By the end of the 4th century Roman civilization was in full decline. Its power was gone, but Roman culture was integrated into Western civilizations. As the majority of world adopted Christianity cultural styles began to meet. Post-Roman Europe continued to develop jewelry making skills. Celtic art generally refers to works of the ancient Celts. They very rarely maintained any form of records and little is known about the symbolism of the now widely popular Celtic design. Clothing fasteners, amulets, signet rings are the most common artifacts known to us. A particularly striking example is the Tara Brooch (silver gilt with a knitted silver wire, decorated over with complicated Celtic interweaves). The Celts specialized in continuous patterns and designs. Celtic cultures were not affected by the spread of Christianity, so a number of unique styles and manufacturing methods were developing during this time.




















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