History of Jewellery: From Prehistoric time to the Contemporary
The history of jewellery starts when people first came to Earth, which means prehistoric time. The form and concept of jewellery then were very distinctive from what it is now, in a way that the material they used as ornaments were not precious and they made their jewelleries from animal and fish bones, bird feathers and coloured pebbles which they knew to be beautiful and durable. The concept was also different as using different kinds of ornaments was a sign of people’s authority, identification and rank. Gemstones like Diamond that are now known to be precious, did not have such popularity, as ancient people did not know how to cut them to make the best brilliance out of them, until 1300 when European learned how to do so.
People then used to live mostly by the seashore and beside large rivers, therefore they used fish bones, fish teeth and shells to ornament their bodies. The first finding of jewellery goes back to around 25,000 years ago that is a simple fish bones necklace found in a cave located in Monaco. The other group of people that lived inland, had to kill animals for food and used different animal parts as decorations for their bodies, parts like claws, horns, mammoth tusks, animal’s bones, bird feathers and deer antlers. All these materials together were used as ornaments when they had lost their natural condition and turned to other elaborate forms. These ornaments were mostly worn by the hunters as they believed wearing trophies of their hunts bring them good luck as well as showing their courage and hunting skills to others.
Different types of jewellery were developed through the time until jewelleries were made for every part of the human body: bracelets, rings and armlets for hands, anklets and toe rings for feet, necklaces and collars for neck and chest, and combs, nose rings, lip rings, earrings and crowns for face and hair. The game changed as people changed their lifestyle from nomadic to a settled social manner and founded the first ancient civilizations. Through time, people settled along banks of rivers which led to the development of agriculture and later, the discovery of mines in which they found precious metals like gold and other gemstones.
The BC Jewellery
The Mediterranean and the land that is now called Iran were pioneers in jewellery through 3,000 to 400 BC. The jewellery items then included stone beads and seals that were signs to spiritual matters and stars. Jewellery as valuable items were offered to the gods and used to decorate statues. Egyptians were also one of the most important jewellery makers back then as many ancient jewelleries from then, used for dressing mummies and buried with them, are now found in buried temples. The Greeks also had various and rich types of jewellery back in 1200 BC. At first, they used to imitate eastern patterns but through time, they created their own style inspired by their belief in golds.
Jewellery in Medieval Times and Renaissance: 1200-1500
Different types of jewellery in that period were reflections of the society’s state and different social classes. Precious metals like gold and silver belonged to the royals and people from lower ranks were able to wear less valuable metals like copper and pewter. Coloured jewellery that were made of enamel and precious gemstones had high values back then and it was believed that some of these jewellery items provide magical powers and protect the wearer. The value of a gemstone was determined by its shiny colour and size and not by its cut and also Greek and Roman gems with carvings on them had high values.
After the dark years and by the arrival of the Renaissance, jewellery making was also affected and the most apparent changes it showed were a massive increase in using colours in both sides of jewellery items and developments in cutting techniques which led to more sparkling gems. Through this period, gem engraving which is considered an ancient art was revived and using portraits in jewellery became common.
Jewellery in 17th Century
By this time, jewellery fashion found a new shape and unlike the past decades, using soft and pastel coloured enamels in colouring metals became popular and stone cutting techniques were even more advanced. Big bodice and breast ornaments were very popular among people and usually had to be sewed or pinned to dresses. Since mid-17th, new fencing techniques were used to enhance the speed, therefore swords were made light and small with flexible, short blades. By the arrival of these new swords, ornamenting them became a popular male jewellery that well-dressed gents used.
Jewellery in 18th and 19th Century
It was a smart technique that during this century, diamonds were mostly mounted in silver to reflect the white colour of stone more than ever. Jewelleries had become an essential part of royalty life and wearing large items on the bodice was common. As jewellery owners from this century knew how highly valued their gemstones were, they used to either sell or re-set them into newer jewellery designs; Therefore, not much diamond jewellery has survived from these decades.
Through the first decades of the next century, the focus in jewellery was on classic designs from the past. Ancient Roman and Greek jewellery designs were also very considered in this period. Flower and fruit designs gained so much popularity since they were signs of friendship and love. At first, these designs were delicate and simple but over time, these designs turned to more complex combinations of flowers. Floral jewellery was so creative as jewellers used to choose the colour of the gemstones used in jewellery in harmony with the colours that are found in nature.
Jewellery in the contemporary era: 20th and 21st century
The contemporary era is full of new, challenging designs and jewellery is getting less limited day by day. Materials with very little value like clay, paper and plastic have found their way into jewellery market and changed the determined borders for traditional jewellery.
One of the most important changes made in this period is the enhance in using machines and technology in jewellery making. In the past most jewellery pieces were made by hand, while today jewellery making equipment has improved significantly and in modern methods, most of the jewellery making steps are done using machines and digital designing and only a small part requires manual work; As a result, the speed and quality of work has increased a lot. On the other hand, in the past, only beauty was considered in jewellery making, but today, the use of jewellery has gone beyond beauty, and conceptual and personalized jewellery have become very popular. The invention of various stone cutting techniques is also another fundamental advance in contemporary jewellery.