Jewelry has come a long way from shells and bones; its fascinating how the art of body adornment using decorative objects has evolved through time.
Purpose of Jewelry
Jewelry serves many purposes other than to serve as mere decorations. Over the ages, they have been used to symbolize wealth, used as currency, fashion accessory and also to serve as a form of artistic expression.
Precious metals and stones were used from very early ages as a sign of wealth and opulence. Royalty have always used jewelry as a means for securing and consolidating wealth and even to the present day, some of the most precious pieces of jewelry are antiques. Royal jewels rank among the most expensive and luxurious assets of all times.
Many forms of jewelry that we use today have their genesis as purely functional pieces. Pins, brooches and buckles were initially created to serve specific practical purposes, but they later evolved into more decorative versions and began to be considered as jewelry for adornment. Jewelry has also been an important part in religion and social groups, to signify membership in a group and the status within.
It would be apt to call Egypt the originating point of modern jewelry as we see it today. Many artisans in Egypt engaged themselves in perfecting the artistic skills and techniques involved in creating beautiful pieces of jewelry. While artistry was valued, the primary purpose of Egyptian jewelry was to serve as talismans and amulets that ward off evil.
Gold was extensively used to make jewelry because it was readily available and because of its color and dazzle. Egyptians placed prime value on color and gemstones in jewelry. Gemstones were believed to possess mystical powers which would transfer to the person wearing them.
Perhaps one of the most popular and well known symbols of Egyptian jewelry is the sacred Egyptian scarab. Several pieces of jewelry were made in the form of scarabs.
Tutankhamuns tomb, discovered in early 1900s, contained many gold funerary artifacts that speak eloquently of the craftsmanship of ancient Egyptian jewelry makers.
Greece and Rome
Beads shaped like flowers, shells and beetles were made extensively by the Greeks. They made multicolored jewelry using amethysts, garnets, pearls and other gemstones. Glass and enamel were also widely used. Filigree gold work was also recurring motif in ancient Greek jewelry.
Italians produced granulated and textured gold work as early as eighth century BC. They made necklaces, bracelets, earrings and perfume filled hollow pendants. The Romans also used 18 and 24 carat gold as currency.
Middle Age was the time when Christianity emerged as the prominent religion. Jewelry made during this time often carried motifs and symbols of Christian faith. The Christian monasteries were in fact responsible for producing most of the jewelry during this time. Monasteries then had to support themselves financially through trade, and jewelry making was one of the preferred crafts.
But Celtic cultures in Ireland, largely unaffected by Christianity, still continued to maintain their own unique style and manufacturing methods. Celtic designs are quite popular now though little is known about their culture due to unavailability of recorded history.
The Renaissance period was commonly known as the Jewel Age, and the role that jewelry played slowly began to be restricted only for adorning the body and not to symbolize cultural and religious beliefs. Jewelry was collected to protect wealth due to its inherent value and ease of converting to liquid cash. Since the focus was on enhancing the physical appearance of the wearer, intricate jewelry using attractive gemstones were created during this period. Diamonds became hugely popular during this period.
From 17th Century
Wealth held by the general public began to increase during this period and social norms were also relaxed. This meant that the jewelry that were earlier restricted only to the upper class and forbidden for the lower strata of the society could be freely worn by all. Popularity of diamonds continued and many new methods of cutting diamonds were perfected. It was during this time that floral and animal designs became quite popular. Many jewelry pieces were created in floral patterns using brightly colored gemstones and the trend continues to the present day.
The industrial revolution precipitated faster fashion and trends in jewelry, most of the Art Nouveau, Art Deco, retro and Edwardian jewelry crafted during this period are popular even to this day.
Now and the Future
Jewelry is now predominantly used for personal adornment, to make a unique style statement and for artistic expression. The tools and materials for producing jewelry are also available and affordable. Jewelry is mass produced and gemstones and precious metals are readily obtainable and reasonably priced now. Even synthetic materials which make artificial stones rival the beauty and appearance of the naturally occurring ones. Social barriers in wearing jewelry no longer exists, the melting pot of cultures that the world is today has also given rise to a wide variety of designs and styles.
Styles and trends change with lightning speed as jewelry designers vie to create better designs with every season. Jewelry is now a form of personal expression and the variety in styles and designs will only continue to grow in future.