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All About Jewellery

Gems are fascinating creatures, appearig in countless forms, shapes, and in all the colours of the painter's pallette. Yet their great variety tends to mystify all but experts.

I. Introduction

Jewellery, ornaments made of of precious metal, often set with gemstones, worn since ancient times by people of all cultures for personal adornment, as badges of social or official rank, and as emblems of religious, social, or political affiliation. In its widest sense the term jewelry encompasses objects made of many kinds of organic and inorganic materials such as hair, feathers, leather, scales, bones, shells, wood, ceramics, metals, and minerals. However, the term jewelry properly refers to mounted precious or semiprecious stones and to objects made of valuable or attractive metals such as gold, silver, platinum, copper, and brass. Jewellery has been worn on the head in the form of crowns, diadems, tiaras, aigrettes, hairpins, hat ornaments, earrings, nose rings, earplugs, and lip rings; on the neck in the form of collars, necklaces, and pendants; on the breast in the form of pectorals, brooches, clasps, and buttons; on the limbs in the form of rings, bracelets, armlets, and anklets; and at the waist in the form of belts and girdles, with pendants such as chatelaines, scent cases, and rosaries. Current knowledge of ancient jewelry is derived largely from the preservation of personal objects in tombs. Information about the jewelry of cultures that did not bury valuables with the dead comes from portraits in surviving painting and sculpture.

II. Egyptian Jewellery

The ancient Egyptians were familiar with most of the processes of ornamenting metal that are still employed today. They produced skillfully chased, engraved, soldered, repoussé, and inlaid jewelry. They commonly worked in gold and silver and inlaid these metals with semiprecious stones such as carnelian, jasper, amethyst, turquoise, and lapis lazuli and with enamel and glass. Their jewelry included diadems; wide bead necklaces or collars; square pectorals; hoop, hinged, or bead bracelets; and rings. Many Egyptians wore two bracelets on each arm, one on the wrist and one above the elbow. An especially popular ornament was the signet ring. Jewelry motifs—the scarab (beetle), lotus, falcon, serpent, and eye, for example—were derived from religious symbols. Vast quantities of jewelry have been found in tombs. Especially notable are ornaments from the tomb of Tutankhamun (reigned 1333-1323 BCbc), of the 18th Dynasty, now in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo.

III. Middle Eastern Jewellery

Sumerian, Babylonian, and Assyrian tombs of the 3rd and 2nd millennia BC have yielded a great quantity of headdresses, necklaces, earrings, and animal amulet figures in gold, silver, and gems. A well-known example is a royal diadem from Ur made in the shape of thin gold beech leaves (British Museum, London).

Fine gold and silver jewelry was also made in ancient Anatolia, Persia, and Phoenicia. Techniques included granulation (in which surfaces are decorated with clusters of tiny grains of gold), filigree, inlaid gems, and cloisonné and champlevé enamel. Evidence of Egyptian influence on Phoenician work and of Mesopotamian styles on Persian work suggests widespread trade or other contact.

IV. Greek and Roman Jewellery

Trojan and Cretan artisans of the Minoan period, although working at opposite ends of the Aegean region, executed earrings, bracelets, and necklaces of a common type that persisted from about 2500 BC to the beginning of the Classical period of Greek art (479-323 BC). Typical work consisted of thin coils and chains of linked and plaited wire, and thin foil formed into petals and rosettes. Stamping and enameling were common. Free use was also made of gold granulation and filigree. Stone inlay was rare. Prevailing motifs were spirals and naturalistic patterns drawn from cuttlefish, starfish, and butterflies. Jewelry found at Mycenae and Crete (Kríti), and now in the National Museum in Athens, includes a great number of small gold disks, perforated so that they could be attached to clothing, and gold diadems made of long oval plates covered with repoussé rosettes.

Archaic Greek jewelry and Etruscan and other Italian jewelry made in the period between 700 and 500 BC was almost entirely inspired by Egyptian and Assyrian examples imported by Phoenician merchants (see Etruscan Civilization). The techniques remained fundamentally the same as in the preceding period; embossed or stamped plates were the basic element in the work; granulation continued to be employed and was refined by Etruscan artists to an extraordinary degree. Representative of the period is a handsome Greek necklace from Rhodes that consists of seven rectangular gold plaques bearing winged figures in relief and edged with gold balls (7th century BC, British Museum).

In the Classical period of Greek art, granulation fell out of use, enamel reappeared, and filigree was widely employed. The style was characterized by delicacy and refinement. Plaited gold necklaces were decorated with flowers and tassels; hoop earrings with filigree disks and rosettes became popular. In the succeeding Hellenistic period (323-31 BC), pendant vases, winged victories, cupids, and doves became common motifs. At the same time, an important innovation was the introduction of large colored stones, especially garnets, at the center of designs. This scheme was further elaborated by the Romans, who used a variety of stones and set them in rows bordered with pearls. In Rome, enameling was common, and the art of cameo cutting reached its peak of virtuosity. Cameos, often of great size, were produced in large numbers. A fashionable form of jewelry was the fibula, a brooch resembling a safety pin. Rings were extremely popular, and at the height of the empire they were often worn on all ten fingers. Exotic ornaments made of amber were also in great demand. Toward the end of the Roman Empire, beginning in the 3rd century AD, necklaces and bracelets were formed of gold coins set in elaborate mountings of arcaded patterns; the classical style died out.

V. Scythian Jewellery

The excavations of royal burial sites have provided the most complete record of the jewelry of the Scythians, a nomadic people of the Eurasian steppes who absorbed Middle Eastern and Classical Greek influences. Typical art objects of the 1st millennium BC were plaques in the form of stags or other animals, hammered or stamped out of gold and often inlaid with colored stones or glass. Large plaques were mounted on bridles or quivers; small ones were attached to clothing. Plaques, bowls, and personal jewelry of the 5th and 4th centuries BC were often made by Greek artisans and combined the richness of Greek composition and technique with Scythian motifs. The largest collection of Scythian jewelry is in the Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg.

VI. Byzantine Jewellery From Gold, Bronze, and Enamel

The Byzantine nobility wore jewelry in lavish profusion. This practice is evident in the 6th-century mosaic portrait of Empress Theodora in the Church of San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy. The dress is stiff with gold and set with jewels; pearls, rubies, and emeralds mounted in gold are worn at the neck and shoulders and hang in festoons from the temples to the breast.

A common type of Byzantine earring had a crescent shape executed in gold repoussé openwork with a central cross in a circle flanked by peacocks. The favorite breast pendant was the cross; another type was a jeweled pendant. Most finger rings bore Christian symbols, and the extant examples are more often made of gilded bronze than of gold. Enamel work, especially cloisonné enamel, was refined to a high degree in Byzantine culture and had a strong influence on European jewelry of succeeding periods. A fine example is the jeweled crown of Constance of Aragón (13th century, Palermo Cathedral, Sicily).

VII. Medieval Jewellery

After the fall of Rome, Roman jewelry forms and techniques remained in general use. Barbarian tribes from eastern Europe, who were skilled at metalwork, combined such elements of the Roman artistic tradition as gold filigree and the fibula form with the Byzantine cloisonné tradition. They also introduced their own regional variations. For example, the fibular, pinlike brooch style became a circular one; these revised-style brooches have been found in Gaul (France) and Scandinavia. Penannular brooches, in the form of a ring with a pin held in place by the weight of the cloth it pierced, were common in Ireland and Scotland. A famous example is the Tara brooch (National Museum, Dublin). The principal motifs were stylized animals and intricate interlacing.

An important technique in medieval jewelry was the use of garnet slices set, like enamel, into metal cells. Examples are garnet-inlaid buckles and clasps from the 7th-century Sutton Hoo ship burial in Suffolk (British Museum) and a crown inlaid with garnets and cabochon (rounded) gems (Real Amería, Madrid), which belonged to the Visigothic king Recceswinth. The famous Alfred jewel (9th century, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford) is an example of cloisonné. Quite different are Celtic gold torques, rigid bands that encircled the neck or arm of the wearer.

Beginning in the 11th century, brooches continued to be one of the chief forms of jewelry. They were usually penannular, such as the 12th-century Eagle brooch (Mainz Museum). Chased or enameled pendants of a crucifix or other religious emblem and pendants containing a holy relic were another characteristic adornment, as were rings. By the 14th and 15th centuries, jewelry increasingly became an integral part of dress and was worn in the form of necklaces and girdles, on hairnets, and sewn onto clothes.

VIII. Renaissance Jewellery

During the Renaissance (15th century to 17th century), jewelry became an even more important part of fashionable costume. Rich velvet and silk robes of both men and women were embroidered with pearls and sparkling gems. Separate pieces of jewelry demonstrated the close alliance between the decorative arts and those of painting, architecture, and sculpture. Renaissance jewelry is characterized by rich color and by sculptural or architectural design. Religious subjects were gradually replaced by classical and naturalistic themes. Typical of the period is the sculptural pendant in which irregular pearls, enameling, and colored gems were combined. Also popular were brooches or pendants containing a miniature portrait. Necklaces, chains, and girdles continued in fashion. Designs for jewels, some by such famous painters as Hans Holbein the Younger and Albrecht Dürer, were printed and circulated throughout Europe, creating an international style. Among artisans, the best known today is Benvenuto Cellini, but none of his jewels is believed to have survived. Notable examples of Renaissance jeweled pendants of the 16th century include the Phoenix jewel (British Museum) and the Canning jewel (Victoria and Albert Museum, London).

IX. Jewellery in the 17th and 18th Centuries

Jewellery of later periods falls into two main groups: diamond jewelry, which was usually conservative in design, and jewelry that reflected changing fashions in clothes and the arts. With the introduction in the 17th century of new methods of faceting gems to give them greater brilliance, the diamond became the preferred stone for precious jewellery, a reference that remains. At the same time, in the 18th and 19th centuries, industrial development brought mass production of more popular jewelry in cheaper materials. In addition to diamond tiaras, rings, and brooches of naturalistic design, there was less costly jewellery in the neoclassical style inspired by originals excavated at Pompeii, and in revivals of Gothic, Renaissance, and Egyptian styles (see Neoclassical Art and Architecture). The materials utilized, in addition to gold and semiprecious stones, included base-metal alloys, paste (for imitation gemstones), steel, and cast iron. Techniques included mechanical processes for stamping and cutting out patterns and settings.

In the case of both luxury jewellery and popular jewellery, a characteristic arrangement was a matched set, or parure. A woman's parure often included a tiara or ring in addition to the basic combination of necklace, earrings, and brooch. A man's parure, in the 18th century, consisted of buttons, shoe buckles, sword hilt, and the insignia of knightly orders. Many magnificent parures and other jewels were created for the royal houses of Europe, which for several hundred years have accumulated permanent collections of coronation regalia, state and personal jewellery, and important single stones like the Koh-i-noor and Hope diamonds. Many of the brilliant crowns have been reset, broken up, or lost, but a variety of impressive collections remain in the Tower of London, the Vienna Treasury, and the Kremlin. Jeweled accessories were also fashionable. These included watchcases, snuffboxes, seals, and thimble cases.

The jewellery worn in colonial America was mostly imported from Europe. Although records exist of simple jewels made in the colonies at the time, almost none has survived.

The most opulent jewellery was made during the Second Empire in France, when a demand for costly gems set the style for the lavish use of diamonds and pearls. With the emphasis on extravagant display and the intrinsic appeal of precious stones, the workmanship of the metal settings was neglected and became inferior. Only at the end of the 19th century did Peter Carl Fabergé reintroduce exacting craftsmanship in jewelry and in such accessories as boxes, cane handles, fans, and picture frames. Like the goldsmith-jewelers of the Renaissance, Fabergé specialized in the contrast of colors and materials, and his most original designs are those that combine gold, enamel, and various gems.

X. 20th-Century Jewellery

About 1900 in Paris, this revival of the goldsmith's art was carried further by the jewelers of the art nouveau movement, led by René Lalique. Ignoring historic styles, he took his themes from plants, birds, and insect forms. Emphasizing design more than the costliness of material, he used enamel, ivory, glass, and horn as often as semiprecious stones and gems. The art nouveau style was introduced in the United States by Louis Comfort Tiffany, one of the first important American jewellery designers.

Modern jewellery reflects important changes in fashions and technology. After World War I (1914-1918), the vogue for short hair for women resulted in the disappearance of formerly popular jeweled combs and hair ornaments. In the same period jeweled vanity cases, wristwatches, and cigarette cases came into style. Strong, lightweight metals such as platinum, iridium, and palladium permitted unconventional settings for gemstones, and new casting methods resulted in more sculptural designs and a greater use of different metallic textures and finishes. As in the Renaissance, painters and sculptors again designed jewels. The works of French painter Georges Braque and American sculptor Alexander Calder combine appropriateness with wearability.

The jewels of Spanish painter Salvador Dalí were more extravagant and were more representative of design for its own sake than as a function of the jewel to be worn. Although a great deal of modern jewelry is designed and made by large firms, the tradition of the artist-craftsman is strong in Scandinavia and the United States, where silver, semiprecious stones, hammered copper, and other less costly materials are commonly used. Plastics are often employed in inexpensive jewelry. Arts-and-crafts shops produce a vast selection of abstract and naturalistic designs in rings, bracelets, earrings, necklaces, and brooches. Although jewellery in the 19th and early 20th centuries was worn primarily by women, in the late 20th century some men were wearing jewelry such as neck chains, bracelets, and earrings.

XI. Asian Jewellery

In Asia, techniques and styles of jewellery have continued in unbroken traditions from remote antiquity to the present day. Indian jewellery—including gold fillets and earrings, bead necklaces, and metal and pottery bangles—was produced in the Indus Valley before 1500 BC. Later, medieval sculpture depicts men and women wearing heavy necklaces, bracelets, girdles, and earrings. Today Indian goldsmiths, expert in the techniques also common in the West, produce enameled, soldered, granulated, and filigreed work of great refinement. Some of the best work, especially silver filigree, is produced in Cuttack, Kashmir, and Bengal. Fine historic examples of Indian work shown at the Victoria and Albert Museum include a crescent-shaped gold brooch with granulated gold balls and pendants and gold and enameled turban ornaments from Jaipur, Rajputana. Other examples, especially from the south of India, bear in relief subjects from Hindu mythology.

Illuminated manuscripts indicate that in Persia both men and women wore rich jewelry—head-gear, necklaces, and earrings. The characteristic material was enameled gold; the main center for this work was Shiraz. The same technique is often employed today in the making of the charms and amulets common in Iran.

Silver was used in Chinese traditional jewelry more often than gold and was gilded to prevent tarnishing. Silver and gold were frequently enameled in blue, a favorite color, and often decorated with blue kingfisher feathers. Jade was the most valued among precious stones. Under the Chinese Empire, jeweled emblems such as the buttons on the hats of mandarins indicated rank, and extremely elaborate silver and gold filigree headdresses were worn by women of high position. Dragons, phoenixes, and many Buddhist symbols were used as decoration or charms on necklaces, rings, and bracelets. Outstanding examples of Chinese jewellery are exhibited at the Freer Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. The gold and silver jewellery of Nepal, Myanmar (formerly known as Burma), and Thailand is related to Indian and Chinese work and is also outstanding. The Japanese have excelled in lacquer and ivory ornaments such as combs, buttons, and purse toggles worn at the waist.

XII. Pre-Columbian Jewellery

The ready availability of gold accounts for the large amount of jewelry made in South America and Mexico before the Spanish conquest of 1532. South American metalworking began in the Andes and gradually spread north to Mexico. Intricate casting techniques were used for personal and ceremonial ornaments. The themes were almost exclusively religious, with an emphasis on masks. Mosaic inlays featuring turquoise originated in Peru before 700 AD and were common in Mexican jewelry by the 14th century. A characteristic object was the breast ornament, often constructed out of hammered and cast elements soldered or riveted together and enriched with cast thread decoration. A Chavin piece features a mask flanked by animal heads and pendants (Museum of the American Indian, New York City). Necklaces of turquoise, shell, and other beads and earrings and earplugs were also common. The Maya in Mexico preferred earplugs, pendants, and bracelets of jade.

XIII. African Jewellery

The vast continent of Africa has produced jewellery of great beauty and variety since prehistoric times. In addition to the work of the ancient Egyptians already discussed, northern Africa is noted for the silverwork, plain and enameled, of the Tuareg and other desert peoples. South of the Sahara, craftspeople in the great medieval kingdoms of Africa made rings, earrings, bracelets, and other ornaments out of gold (Ghana), amber (Songhai), ivory and brass (Benin), and bronze (Yoruba). Beads of shell and of glass have long been important elements of personal adornment all over Africa. Jewellery has also been used as a vehicle for religious symbols, as in the crosses of Ethiopia and the amulets of northwest Africa, and to indicate social or economic status. Today's African jewellery echoes many traditional themes, often with modern materials.

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