History of Jewellery

The word ‘jewellery’ can be traced back to the Latin word ‘jocale’ meaning ‘plaything’ but jewellery has been a part of our history long before the Romans.

Examples of Stone Age Beads and Hoops

Jewellery is arguably one of the oldest inventions of man. From the moment humans evolved into creative beings with a need to express themselves, all kinds of natural materials such as animal bone, stone and wood were gathered and formed into adornments. Some of the first known jewellery items include bangles made out of Woolly Mammoth tusks dating from the Stone Age and bead necklaces, made from shells, some 100,000 years old. As a result of jewellery’s long history and the nature of the materials used, archaeologists have been able to use items of jewellery to build up a good knowledge of our forbears.

Examples of Viking silver brooches, pins and clasps

In its many guises, jewellery became an important part of all societies. Even before the use of precious metals and gems, the beauty of a piece or the skill with which it was created gave it value and gave the owner status. Tribesmen could show their affiliation by wearing the same style of jewellery and a person’s role within the group could be identified by the type of necklace, bangle or brooch they wore.

Some pieces were created to ward off evil spirits or work as a good luck charm and, as well as the obvious use as artistic display, or they could simply have a functional purpose in holding clothing in place.

Examples of Ancient Egyptian pendants and earrings

Examples of copper jewellery dating from 7,000 years ago show the introduction of metal as a jewellery component whilst the Egyptians were using gold in their adornments as long ago as 5,000 years ago when it was very rare and a symbol of ultimate luxury. The malleability of gold married with the fact that it did not tarnish made it a preferred material and its popularity grew.

The Greeks widely used precious gems to embellish all jewellery from rings and bracelets to diadems and necklaces and by the 13th Century, the abundance of jewellery made from precious materials was so widespread across the social classes, that laws were introduced across Europe to curb the ownership of it and reserve it again as a symbol of wealth and power. These were known as the Sumptuary Laws.

Examples of 15th and 16th century rings and brooches

These laws led directly to the development of many processes used in the creation of fake gems such as pearls, the emergence of paste and an increased popularity in semi-precious stones. It also saw the rise in popularity of marcasite as a diamond substitute.

The opulent Napoleonic times saw the resurgence in precious materials being used. During this period, the ‘parure’ became popular. This was an entire suite of jewellery which could include coordinating necklace, comb, tiara, diadem, pairs of bracelets, brooches, rings, earrings and even belt clasp. All the pieces were cleverly designed so that they could be taken apart and worn in different ways for different outfits and looks. The individual componants of a necklace may later be worn as a brooch, hair ornament or pendant.

Replicas of parure jewellery

Today, jewellery design embraces all materials, methods and traditions. Everything from reclaimed materials – glass and tin cans, through stone and wood to the more aspirational platinum and diamond are regularly seen in jewellery pieces and are seen as an important finishing touch to an outfit and an expression of one’s individuality.

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