Human Culture and Jewelry Over the Ages
Jewelry is a type of craft or human artifact that is worn to adorn the body. Necklaces, bracelets, headpieces, and rings are all types of jewelry. Pieces of jewelry can be made of organic compounds such as coral and pearl, or of inorganic compounds including gemstones or metals. Some jewelry is worn as a type of human body modification within a body piercing.
Jewelry has been used to symbolize social status, wealth, romantic love, or as a part of religious rituals.
Early Human History
Archeologists have found ancient jewelry in Middle Eastern excavation sites dating back to 5000 BC. These items of jewelry employed a variety of materials from numerous regions, as trade routes distributed materials throughout the area. Obsidian glass from Turkey, cowrie shells, gold, silver, steatite, and lapis lazuli were all used in bracelets, headpieces, rings, and other articles of adornment (Tait 2008, 22-8).
Etruscans were among the first civilizations to create jewelry out of gold. Some of these were inset with decorative jewels, while others were simpler in design (Hamlin 1916, 131-22).
Lock rings were a type of construction characteristic of the Bronze Age. These jewelry items had a slot to attach the item of jewelry. Other characteristic features include a triangular cross-section and a face plate that was customarily decorated. These rings were found in modern-day Ireland, France, and Great Britain (Eogan 1969, 4-5). This piece of jewelry was utilized to hold back hair or as earrings. The majority of lock rings were made of gold, with a few specimens constructed out of bronze, or clay, gold and bronze composites (Eogan 1969, 100).
Both Ancient Greece and Rome enjoyed the use of jewelry for personal adornment and as a marker of wealth. In Greece, jewelry was often used to adorn figures of gods and goddesses. The articles in question represented items from nature, such as pieces of fruit or leaves and vines (Bispham, 221). Jeweler increased in complexity through the Golden Age, including crafted garnets in the elaboration (Bispham, 221-2).
Rome, on the other hand, was more reticent to adopt jeweled adornment. However, it eventually adopted a Hellenistic aesthetic. (Bispham 222-3).
Jewelry was not as common in the Dark Ages as during later time periods. Ecclesiastical jewels, particularly rings, were commonly used to represent religious affiliation.
Jewelry in medieval times represented the wearer’s social status. Precious metals were reserved for the nobility, while those of lower classes were restricted to pewter and copper. The color of the gemstones or enameling was highly symbolic. Gemstones were generally polished as preparation for placement in jewelry. In the latter half of Medieval times, technology made possible the cutting of gems in addition to polishing (VAM 2013).
The Renaissance represented a change in jewelry style from the Dark Ages and Medieval times. In many ways, jewelry reflected trends in Renaissance painting and sculpture. Classical subjects, such as nymphs and satyrs, adorned jewelry. Classical architecture also replaced the Gothic architectural elements that were commonly depicted. However, ancient techniques for jewelry fabrication were not brought back to prominence (Evans, 82).
Jewelry represented social status and worldliness to upper class Renaissance individuals (Wardropper 2000). Enamels increased in complexity, and gem-cutting techniques increased in complexity (VAM 2013).
The 17th and 18th Century:
Gemstones and pearls featured prominently on jewelry in this time period. Cutting techniques again progressed, creating stunning pieces. Adorned bodices, made to be pinned to the outside of women’s’ clothes, became fashionable.
Parure, or sets of matched jewelry items, became fashionable in this time. Diamonds became prominent in the 1