Sunday, December 13, 2009


Gold earring from Mycenae, 16th century BCE.

The Greeks started using gold and gems in jewellery in 1,400 BC, although beads shaped as shells and animals were produced widely in earlier times. By 300 BC, the Greeks had mastered making coloured jewellery and using amethysts, pearl and emeralds. Also, the first signs of cameos appeared, with the Greeks creating them from Indian Sardonyx, a striped brown pink and cream agate stone. Greek jewellery was often simpler than in other cultures, with simple designs and workmanship. However, as time progressed the designs grew in complexity different materials were soon utilized.

Pendant with naked woman, made from electrum, Rhodes, around 630-620 BCE.

Jewellery in Greece was hardly worn and was mostly used for public appearances or on special occasions. It was frequently given as a gift and was predominantly worn by women to show their wealth, social status and beauty. The jewellery was often supposed to give the wearer protection from the “Evil Eye” or endowed the owner withsupernatural powers, while others had a religious symbolism. Older pieces of jewellery that have been found were dedicated to the Gods. The largest production of jewellery in these times came from Northern Greece and Macedon. However, although much of the jewellery in Greece was made of gold and silver with ivory and gemstones, bronze and clay copies were made also.

Ancient Greek jewellery from 300 BCE.

They worked two styles of pieces; cast pieces and pieces hammered out of sheet metal. Fewer pieces of cast jewellery have been recovered; it was made by casting the metal onto two stone or clay moulds. Then the two halves were joined together and wax and then molten metal, was placed in the centre. This technique had been practised since the late Bronze Age. The more common form of jewellery was the hammered sheet type. Sheets of metal would be hammered to thickness and then soldered together. The inside of the two sheets would be filled with wax or another liquid to preserve the metal work. Different techniques, such as using a stamp or engraving, were then used to create motifs on the jewellery. Jewels may then be added to hollows or glass poured into special cavities on the surface. The Greeks took much of their designs from outer origins, such as Asia when Alexander the Great conquered part of it. In earlier designs, other European influences can also be detected. When Roman rule came to Greece, no change in jewellery designs was detected. However, by 27 BC, Greek designs were heavily influenced by the Roman culture. That is not to say that indigenous design did not thrive; numerous polychrome butterfly pendants on silver foxtail chains, dating from the 1st century, have been found near Olbia, with only one example ever found anywhere else

Europe and the Middle East [edit]Mesopotamia

By approximately 4,000 years ago, jewellery-making had become a significant craft in the cities of Sumer and Akkad. The most significant archaeological evidence comes from the Royal Cemetery of Ur, where hundreds of burials dating 2900–2300 BC were unearthed; tombs such as that of Puabi contained a multitude of artifacts in gold, silver, and semi-precious stones, such as lapis lazuli crowns embellished with gold figurines, close-fitting collar necklaces, and jewel-headed pins. In Assyria, men and women both wore extensive amounts of jewellery, including amulets, ankle bracelets, heavy multi-strand necklaces, and cylinder seals.[19]

Jewellery in Mesopotamia tended to be manufactured from thin metal leaf and was set with large numbers of brightly-coloured stones (chiefly agate, lapis, carnelian, and jasper). Favoured shapes included leaves, spirals, cones, and bunches of grapes. Jewellers created works both for human use and for adorning statues and idols; they employed a wide variety of sophisticated metalworking techniques, such as cloisonné,engraving, fine granulation, and filigree.[20]

Extensive and meticulously maintained records pertaining to the trade and manufacture of jewellery have also been unearthed throughout Mesopotamian archaeological sites. One record in the Mari royal archives, for example, gives the composition of various items of jewellery:

1 necklace of flat speckled chalcedony beads including: 34 flat speckled chalcedony bead, [and] 35 gold fluted beads, in groups of five.

1 necklace of flat speckled chalcedony beads including: 39 flat speckled chalcedony beads, [with] 41 fluted beads in a group that make up the hanging device.
1 necklace with rounded lapis lazuli beads including: 28 rounded lapis lazuli beads, [and] 29 fluted beads for its clasp

Early history

ears ago at Blombos Cave. In Kenya, at Enkapune Ya Muto, beads made from perforated ostrich egg shells have been dating to more than 40,000 years ago.

Outside of Africa, the Cro-Magnons had crude necklaces and bracelets of bone, teeth and stone hung on pieces of string or animal sinew, or pieces of carved bone used to secure clothing together. In some cases, jewellery had shell or mother-of-pearl pieces. In southern Russia, carved bracelets made of mammoth tusk have been found. The Venus of Hohle Fels features a perforation at the top, showing that it was intended to be worn as a pendant.

Around 7,000 years ago, the first sign of copper jewellery was seen.[4]


Amulet pendant (254 BCE) made from gold, lapis lazuli, turquoise andcarnelian, 14 cm wide.
An 18th dynasty pharaonic era princess' crown

The first signs of established jewellery making in Ancient Egypt was around 3,000-5,000 years ago.[18]The Egyptians preferred the luxury, rarity, and workability of gold over other metals. Predynastic Egypt had Jewellery in Egypt soon began to symbolize power and religious power in the community. Although it was worn by wealthy Egyptians in life, it was also worn by them in death, with jewellery commonly placed among grave goods.

In conjunction with gold jewellery, Egyptians used coloured glass in place of precious gems. Although the Egyptians had access to gemstones, they preferred the colours they could create in glass over the natural colours of stones. For nearly each gemstone, there was a glass formulation used by the Egyptians to mimic it. The colour of the jewellery was very important, as different colours meant different things; theBook of the Dead dictated that the necklace of Isis around a mummy’s neck must be red to satisfy Isis’s need for blood, while green jewellery meant new growth for crops and fertility. Although lapis lazuli and silver had to be imported from beyond the country’s borders, most other materials for jewellery were found in or near Egypt, for example in the Red Sea, where the Egyptians mined Cleopatra's favourite gem, theemerald. Egyptian jewellery was predominantly made in large workshops attached to temples or palaces.

Egyptian designs were most common in Phoenician jewellery. Also, ancient Turkish designs found inPersian jewellery suggest that trade between the Middle East and Europe was not uncommon. Women wore elaborate gold and silver pieces that were used in ceremonies

Impact on society

Jewellery has been used to denote status. In ancient Rome, for instance, only certain ranks could wear rings;[14] Later, sumptuary lawsdictated who could wear what type of jewellery; again based on rank. Cultural dictates have also played a significant role; for example, the wearing of earrings by Western men was considered "effeminate" in the 19th and early 20th centuries. More recently, the display of body jewellery, such as piercings, has become a mark of acceptance or seen as a badge of courage within some groups, but is completely rejected in others. Likewise, the hip hop culture has popularized the slang term bling-bling, which refers to ostentatious display of jewellery by men or women.

Conversely, the jewellery industry in the early 20th century launched a campaign to popularize wedding rings for men — which caught on — as well as engagement rings for men - which did not, going so far as to create a false history and claim that the practice had Medieval roots. By the mid 1940s, 85% of weddings in the U.S. featured a double-ring ceremony, up from 15% in the 1920s.[15] Religion has also played a role: Islam, for instance, considers the wearing of gold by men as a social taboo,[16] and many religions have edicts against excessive display

Metal finishes

For platinum, gold, and silver jewellery there are many techniques to create finishes. The most common are high-polish, satin/matte, brushed, and hammered. High-polished jewellery is by far the most common and gives the metal the highly-reflective and shiny look. Satin, or matte finish reduces the shine and reflection of the jewellery and is commonly used to accentuate gemstones such as diamonds. Brushed finishes give the jewellery a textured look, and are created by brushing a material (similar to sandpaper) against the metal, leaving 'brush strokes'. Hammered finishes are typically created by using a soft, rounded hammer and hammering the jewellery to give it a wavy texture.

Some jewellery is plated to give it a shiny, reflective look or to achieve a desired colour. Sterling silver jewellery may be plated with a thin layer of .999 fine silver (a process known as flashing) or may be plated with rhodium or gold. Base metal costume jewellery may also be plated with silver, gold, or rhodium for a more attractive finish

Other gemstones

Many precious and semiprecious stones are used for jewellery. Among them are:

Amber: Amber, an ancient organic gemstone, is composed of tree resin that has hardened over time. The stone must be at least 1 million years old to be classified as amber, and some amber can be up to 120 million years old.

Amethyst: Amethyst has historically been the most prized gemstone in the quartz family. It is treasured for its purple hue, which can range in tone from light to dark.

Spanish emerald and gold pendant at Victoria and Albert Museum.

Emerald: Emeralds are one of the three main precious gemstones (along with rubies and sapphires) and are known for their fine green to bluish green colour. They have been treasured throughout history, and some historians report that the Egyptians mined emerald as early as 3500 BC.

Jade: Jade is most commonly associated with the colour green, but can come in a number of other colours as well. Jade is closely linked to Asian culture, history, and tradition, and is sometimes referred to as the “stone of heaven.”

Jasper: Jasper is a gemstone of the chalcedony family that comes in a variety of colours. Often, jasper will feature unique and interesting patterns within the coloured stone. Picture jasper is a type of jasper known for the colours (often beiges and browns) and swirls in the stone’s pattern.

Quartz: Quartz refers to a family of crystalline gemstones of various colours and sizes. Among the well-known types of quartz are rose quartz (which has a delicate pink colour), and smoky quartz (which comes in a variety of shades of translucent brown). A number of other gemstones — like Amethyst and Citrine — are also part of the quartz family. Rutilated quartz is a popular type of quartz containing needle-like inclusions.

Ruby: Rubies are known for their intense red colour, and are among the most highly valued precious gemstones. Rubies have been treasured for millennia. In Sanskrit, the word for ruby is “ratnaraj”, meaning “king of precious stones.”

Sapphire: The most popular form of sapphire is blue sapphire, which is known for its medium to deep blue colour and strong saturation. Fancy coloured sapphires in various colours are also available. In the United States, blue sapphire tends to be the most popular and most affordable of the three major precious gemstones (emerald, ruby, and sapphire).

Turquoise: Turquoise is found in only a few places on earth, and the world’s largest turquoise producing region is the southwest United States. Turquoise is prized for its attractive colour — most often an intense medium blue or a greenish blue — and its ancient heritage. Turquoise is used in a great variety of jewellery styles. It is perhaps most closely associated with southwest and Native American jewellery, but it is also used in many sleek, modern styles. Some turquoise contains a matrix of dark brown markings, which provides an interesting contrast to the gemstone’s bright blue colour.

Some gemstones (like pearls, coral, and amber) are classified as organic, meaning that they are produced by living organisms. Others are inorganic, meaning that they are generally composed of and arise from minerals.[11]

Some gems, for example, amethyst, have become less valued as methods of extracting and importing them have progressed. Some man-made gems can serve in place of natural gems, an example is the cubic zirconia, used in place of the diamond


Diamonds were first mined in India.[7] Pliny may have mentioned them, although there is some debate as to the exact nature of the stone he referred to as Adamas;[8] In 2005, Australia, Botswana, Russia and Canada ranked among the primary sources of gemstone diamond production.[9][10]

The British crown jewels contain the Cullinan Diamond, part of the largest gem-quality rough diamond ever found (1905), at 3,106.75 carats (621.35 g).

Now popular in engagement rings, this usage dates back to the marriage of Maximilian I to Mary of Burgundy in 1477

Materials and methods

In creating jewellery, gemstones, coins, or other precious items are often used, and they are typically set into precious metals. Alloys of nearly every metal known have been encountered in jewellery -- bronze, for example, was common in Roman times. Modern fine jewellery usually includes gold, white gold, platinum,palladium, titanium or silver. Most American and European gold jewellery is made of an alloy of gold, the purity of which is stated in karats, indicated by a number followed by the letter K. American gold jewellery must be of at least 10K purity (41.7% pure gold), (though in England the number is 9K (37.5% pure gold) and is typically found up to 18K (75% pure gold). Higher purity levels are less common with alloys at 22 K (91.6% pure gold), and 24 K (99.9% pure gold) being considered too soft for jewellery use in America and Europe. These high purity alloys, however, are widely used across Asia, the Middle East, andAfrica.[citation needed] Platinum alloys range from 900 (90% pure) to 950 (95.0% pure). The silver used in jewellery is usually sterling silver, or 92.5% fine silver. In costume jewellery, stainless steel findings are sometimes used.

Bead embroidery design.

Other commonly used materials include glass, such as fused-glass or enamel; wood, often carved or turned; shells and other natural animal substances such as bone and ivory; natural clay; polymer clay; and even plastics. Hemp and other twines have been used as well to create jewellery that has more of a natural feel. However, any inclusion of lead or lead solder will cause an English Assay office (the building which gives English jewellery its stamp of approval, the Hallmark) to destroy the piece.[citation needed]

Beads are frequently used in jewellery. These may be made of glass, gemstones, metal, wood, shells, clay and polymer clay. Beaded jewellery commonly encompasses necklaces, bracelets, earrings, belts, and rings. Beads may be large or small, the smallest type of beads used are known as seed beads, these are the beads used for the "woven" style of beaded jewellery. Another use of seed beads is an embroidery technique where seed beads are sewn onto fabric backings to create broad collar neck pieces and beaded bracelets. Bead embroidery, a popular type of handwork during the Victorian era is enjoying a renaissancein modern jewellery making. Beading, or beadwork, is also very popular in many African cultures.

Advanced glass and glass beadmaking techniques by Murano and Venetian glassmasters developed crystalline glass, enamelled glass (smalto), glass with threads of gold (goldstone), multicoloured glass (millefiori), milk-glass (lattimo) and imitation gemstones made of glass.[citation needed] As early as the 13th century, Murano glass and Murano beads were popular.

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