Early civilizations’ discovery of gold and the possibilities it presented were nothing short of wondrous. Gold–its malleability and versatility to be molded into various shapes and sizes of jewelry made it (and still makes it) the most popular metal to work with. It was approximately 5,000 B.C when different civilizations all over the world discovered gold and began to work this metal into pieces to frame precious stones into. In Central and South America, China, India, and Egypt, gold became the metal of choice to make into elaborate or simple pieces of jewelry.
The Middle Ages had seen the utilitarian and functional use of jewelry. Gemstones like ruby, garnet, and sapphire found their way into the fashion of the time heavily incorporated into clothes, brooches, clasps, belts and hats. Strings of pearls and gold chains were used as popular belts during these times.
It was also during the middle ages when Poesy rings became a fad. These rings symbolized a token of affection or friendship. A short, personal sentiment–mostly about love and friendship–can be found as inscriptions on or inside poesy rings and were exchanged between lovers and friends. In Roman history, a cameo was introduced bearing the icons of nobility and popular political leaders of the time.
This period also saw the introduction of several designs that are still popular today. A couple of these are the Celtic and Byzantine designs. Intricate, elaborate and beautiful, these designs are still very sought after in present times.
Religious-themed jewelry also became popular during this period. Crosses and icons of Christianity i.e. papal rings, rosary beads, pendants with the saints and other religious figures were introduced around this era.
Inspired by the amount of gemstones and pearls traded all around, craftsmen and goldsmiths designed opulent, extravagant pieces of jewelry. And since it came with a hefty price, only the nobility and those in the upper strata could afford it. In addition, it was around this time that the Sumptuary Law (laws attempting to regulate consumption, especially of luxury items) was enforced. This was the law which governed who could wear what jewelry and was supposed to protect the top nobility’s status in the society.
If the medieval period saw the rapid development of jewelry making and its application to various situations, the Renaissance on the other hand, simply refined these changes. It was at this time that the Sumptuary Law was lifted and the nobility, being conscious of standing apart from the masses, sought master craftsmen and goldsmiths to customize and design jewelry for them. Beautiful pieces of jewelry became the object of desire. Quality became increasingly important. It was at this point that jewelry as a symbol of wealth and social status became a distinct and expensive truth.
This period saw the continued popularity of gemstones set in gold and silver. The European trade with the East had brought with it vast exposure to artists, goldsmiths, and jewelry craftsmen. The era also introduced the tradition of matching jewelry with clothes and other accessories. This practice was said to have been encouraged by Napoleon Bonaparte while he was King of France.
Truly we can say that these two eras ushered in a brilliant development for jewelry design, uses, and the craft as a whole. Many types of jewelry that were introduced in these periods are still very popular today.
(End of the Second in a Three-Part Series)
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Category: Jewelry History