The Significance Of Jewelry Through Time
What Gems and Jewelry Have Meant to Human History
Jewelry is more than just a decorative fashion item; it has held a distinctive and valuable place in the evolution of cultures and societies throughout human history, providing insight into the political, sociological and psychological elements of the times. Pretty impressive, right? Just say that to the next person who tries to criticize you for wearing too much jewelry.
The first signs of jewelry date back to Africa over 75,000 years ago. Jewelry has been used for power, protection, worship, status, and beauty, and continues to carry its very particular meanings throughout various cultures.
Early Traces Of Jewelry
When the Cro-Magnons migrated from the Middle East and settled into Europe, they made necklaces and bracelets out of bones, teeth and stone, which hung from animal sinew. As decorative trophies from a triumphant hunt, primitive jewelry was worn to recount stories: a means of communication. Carved bone was also worn at this time, however this was purely for practical use, in order to hold clothing together.
Ancient Egyptian Jewelry
The Ancient Egyptians were the first to establish jewelry-making as a profession. Egypt was a class-based society and Egyptians were divided according to wealth and profession. Jewelry makers were considered middle class and were highly regarded for their skills, though they worked long hours and lived mainly in poor communities.
Jewelry symbolized power and religious dominance and was believed to have magical properties, which protected Egyptian men and women from evil spirits, especially in the afterlife. When an Egyptian died, they would be buried with all their earthly possessions.
All social classes would wear amulets for protection, though the lower classes would wear ones made of cheap materials like clay.
Gold was the favorite metal of the pharaohs as it was considered the skin of the gods. The color of jewelry was also very significant. For instance, green jewelry meant new growth for crops and fertility. Notably, Cleopatra’s favorite gem was the emerald.
Jewelry in the Middle Ages
In the Middle Ages, only nobility had and wore jewelry. It denoted social rank and was religiously symbolic. Much of the jewelry was made by monks who were also skilled craftsmen. Jewels were created for the church as it was believed that “the creator might find an easier path to heaven”. Army knights would also wear jewelry as it protected them from evil spirits.
In the early 1400’s, it became customary to give precious stones as gifts for weddings, donations to the Church, or to bestow upon religious statues of saints. In terms of courtship, a lover would refrain from offering any jewelry gifts, so as not to expose a relationship or any dishonorable thoughts.
It was customary for jewelry to be worn on special occasions. Kings, queens, knights and noblemen always appeared in public with some form of jewelry.
Jewelry in the Renaissance
In the 15th and 16th centuries, jewelry transitioned from religious and symbolic to more modern and stylish. Whereas jewelry of the Middle Ages was inspired by ecclesiastical influences, Renaissance pieces were increasingly inspired by real-life and nature, offset by the discovery of the New World. The Renaissance marked a new era- and jewelry was allowed to be worn for beauty and fashion. The conquering of Peru and Mexico also brought about an abundance of gold and silver and opened up new possibilities and markets for jewelry.
The Renaissance is often called “the jewel age”. It was during this time that the royal jewels became of increasing importance and value. King Henry VIII had an enormous collection of gems and stones, with a personal collection of two hundred and thirty-four diamond rings and three hundred and twenty-four brooches.
Jewelry from the 17th to the 20th Century
Much of the jewelry in the Renaissance was lost due to the Thirty Years War throughout Europe. One of the poignant transitions from the Renaissance into the seventeenth century was that jewelry became a normal decorative accessory that was also worn by peasants.
In the eighteenth century, also known as “the age of gems”, jewelry-makers were in high demand, so much, that two types of jewelers evolved: the bijouterie (whom worked with gold and enamel and the joaillerie (whom mounted diamonds and precious stones).
In the 1880’s, synthetic stones began appearing on the market. Counterfeit jewelry became a flourishing trade eventually turning into a legitimate industry. Jewelers could replicate the styles worn by the most fashionable members of society, making it an available fashion item for all.
Jewelry is worn nowadays for all sorts of reasons, whether aesthetic, artistic, religious, symbolic, or to denote status. As science has ruled out a few of jewelry's more magical properties, it can still have a magical effect when given as a gift!
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