The History of Jewelry

By: Robert Thomson


Jewelry has been a major part of human culture since the beginning of civilization. Jewelry is an art form, so it symbolizes the human spirit and allows people to express their individuality. The ancient Egyptians wore jewelry as a way to show their spirituality and was also a very important symbol of power for them, as well. Pharaohs and Egyptians of high rank in the kingdom lavished themselves with gold and precious stones to show their power through the gems and gold that they wore. On the mystical side, the Egyptians believed that jewelry was filled with magic powers that could be transferred to the people who wore it.

Many historians consider Egypt at its ancient peak, from 3000 B.C. to its conquest by Rome in the first century A.D., to be the period when making jewelry became an artistic profession. It had already been viewed, by Egyptians and other ancients like the Sumerians and Babylonians, as a craft requiring learned techniques and skills to make the many magnificent varieties and styles seen in those early ages. Colors from different gemstones were very important to these civilizations because it gave leaders a feeling of uniqueness, individuality and power. Interestingly, some of the stones that we consider precious today, particularly diamonds, were used very rarely because of their lack of color and brilliance to the ancient eye.

Jewelry through the ages

During the Renaissance period, the social role of jewelry began to change and adopt a newfound purpose. Sometimes even referred to as the "Jewel Age," the Renaissance era saw jewelry begin to take on an entirely different meaning. Once deemed a symbol of wealth, power and privilege, it began to be regarded as a way to improve one's personal appearance. Jewels were worn by anyone who could afford them as a means to brighten up their "presence." It clearly served the role of body adornment "for effect."

Over time, jewelry also became a form of "multinational currency" because it was easy to sell and jewels were increasingly popular. People longed for the luster and brilliant shine of precious stones and gems. It was during this time period that the diamond was popularized and many numerous cuts and shapes for the "girl's best friend" were created. Many of the extravagant royal gems we still see exhibited in today's top museums were commissioned by the French and the English monarchs during this time period.

Affordable luxury

During the 17th century, the growth of the merchant class (which eventually became what we call "the middle class") meant people in the general population could afford some of the gold, silver and gems that were previously available only to the rich and powerful. More and more people could afford to purchase gold and silver but diamonds, rubies and sapphires were still reserved for the wealthy, ruling class. Through the 17th and 18th centuries, though, the elite members of the world's societies became more interested in unique and diverse gems, while talented jewelers began experimenting with different shapes and styles.

There were many floral designs created, as well as animal ones, which included vividly colored stones and metals. Jewelry also became an important way of celebrating, communicating and accentuating the different seasons. Winter, summer, spring and fall would bring out all sorts of diThe art of enameling gained tremendous ground, too, introducing yet another way of adding bright colors and interesting contrasts. For winter there were many pieces designed using gold and warm colors, while jewelry worn in summer and spring varied completely form that of fall or autumn. Jewelry was being "democratized," and was beginning to be seen not so much as a mark of status, wealth and prestige, but as way to communicate individuality and personal style.

Jewelry into the future

Today, jewelry is viewed as a form of artistic expression, even as time has allowed for it to become increasingly affordable and available to anyone who enjoys wearing it. Piercing has also become quite popular in today's culture. People will pierce not only their ears but their noses, lips, eyelids, belly buttons, cheeks, nipples and other regions of the body, as well. It has become a part of people's identities, and wearing jewelry is a way to show a unique personality. Jewelry has been, and always will be, an attractive and alluring part of the human species as we instinctively draw close to the beauty and brilliance of the different metals, gems and precious stones that call to us.

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