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Jewelry: A Modern Story

Jewelry’s modern story begins in the late 19th century, which heralded many historic events affecting jewelry making and design, including:  

1. The birth and success of the industrial revolution;

2. The introduction of fashion and costume jewelry, and;

3. The launch of high-quality jewelry firms that have continued the tradition of fine jewelry into the 21st century.


The industrialization of this age led to more jobs for the masses, ergo, economic freedom for the majority. This social phenomenon somewhat diminished the reputation of jewelry as a symbol of social rank. The new wealth created by this economic boom afforded the working class the option of buying jewelry that mostly matches their tastes. It is also important to note that as a result of this new economic opportunity, we witnessed the birth of society’s Middle Class.


The demand for affordable and simple-design jewelry increased. For supply to keep up jewelry was mass-produced and this in turn cheapened the market price.  Usually made from imitation of precious stones and electro-plated gold and silver, this jewelry eventually became known as fashion/costume jewelry that is devoid of intrinsic value. But it became a hit with many in the populace as it could be versatile and very inexpensive.


Men, for the majority of history up to this point, wore an equal amount of jewelry as women. But in this period, men’s jewelry was greatly reduced to buttons, cufflinks, and rings. At the same time, threatened by middle class consumption of something previously and exclusively enjoyed by the nobility, the wealthy sought the services of master craftsmen and goldsmiths to design personalized and high quality jewelry for them instead.


Fortunately, the 19th century had provided for this particular need. There were several notable firms founded in this period that propagated the fine jewelry tradition well into the present times. Among them are by Peter Carl Faberge in 1900 Russia; Alfred and his son Louis Cartier in 1898, Paris; Charles Lewis Tiffany in 1851, New York; Bulgari in 1884, Rome; and Patek Philippe in 1851, Geneva (an acknowledged pillar of the timepieces industry).


Watches and matching jewelry were introduced in this period and have remained a significant part of jewelry ownership.


One thing we can affirm is that modern day jewelry is a thoroughly eclectic collection of various, differing cultures and religions; as well as from the artistry of craftsmen and goldsmiths who once upon their time, dabbled in the design and indulged the whims of their richer patrons.

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