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The History Of Jewellery Design
The possibility of tracing jewelry’s historic itinerary derives primarily from the custom, beginning with the most remote civilizations, of burying the dead with their richest garments and ornaments.
Plastic and pictorial iconography painting, sculpture, mosaic also offer abundant testimony to the jewelry worn in various eras.
It is probable that prehistoric humans thought of decorating the body before they thought of making use of anything that could suggest clothing.
Before precious metals were discovered, people who lived along the seashore decorated themselves with a great variety of shells, fishbones, fish teeth, and coloured pebbles.
People who lived inland used as ornaments materials from the animals they had killed for food: reindeer antlers, mammoth tusks, and all kinds of animal bones.
After they had been transformed from their natural state into various elaborate forms, these materials, together with animal skins and bird feathers, provided sufficient decoration.
This era was followed by one that saw a transition from a nomadic life to a settled social order and the subsequent birth of the most ancient civilizations.
Most peoples settled along the banks of large rivers, which facilitated the development of agriculture and animal husbandry. Indirectly, this also led to the discovery of virginal alluvial deposits of minerals, first among which were gold and precious stones. Over the years the limited jewelry forms of prehistoric times multiplied until they included ornaments for every part of the body.
For the head there were crowns, diadems, tiaras, hairpins, combs, earrings, nose rings, lip rings, and earplugs. For the neck and torso there were necklaces, fibulae (the ancient safety pin), brooches, pectorals (breastplates), stomachers, belts, and watchfobs.
For the arms and hands armlets, bracelets, and rings were fashioned. For the thighs, legs, and feet craftsmen designed thigh bracelets, ankle bracelets, toe rings, and shoe buckles.
The ornaments in Tutankhamen’s tomb are typical of all Egyptian jewelry. The perpetuation of iconographic and chromatic principles gave the jewelry of ancient Egypt which long remained uncontaminated in spite of contact with other civilizations a magnificent, solid homogeneity, infused and enriched by magical religious beliefs. Ornamentation is composed largely of symbols that have a precise name and meaning, with a form of expression that is closely linked to the symbology of hieroglyphic writing. The scarab, lotus flower, Isis knot, Horus eye, falcon, serpent, vulture, and sphinx are all motif symbols tied up with such religious cults as the cult of the pharaohs and the gods and the cult of the dead. In Egyptian jewelry the use of gold is predominant, and it is generally complemented by the use of the three colours of carnelian, turquoise, and lapis lazuli or of vitreous pastes imitating them. Although there was a set, fairly limited repertoire of decorative motifs in all Egyptian jewelry, the artist-craftsmen created a wide variety of compositions, based mainly on strict symmetry or, in the jewelry made of beads, on the rhythmic repetition of shapes and colours.
The concept of symmetry was utilized on the small pectoral or pendant (3.3 × 2.4 inches ) that belonged to Sesostris III in the 12th dynasty (1938–1756 BCE). The superbly rhythmic composition is framed by an architectonic design obtained by leaving open all of the nonfigurative part. The jewel is coloured with carnelian, turquoise, and lapis lazuli inlays, while the function of the gold separating these materials is limited to creating the design.The victorious pharaoh is represented by two lions with the plumed heads of falcons in a symmetric position in the act of trampling conquered Nubians and Libyans. Over the scene is the protective vulture of Upper Egypt with wings outspread (Egyptian Museum). These memorial or dedicatory pendants, as well as other small jewels such as earrings, bracelets, and rings, consist exclusively of symbols.
Necklace beads generally made of gold, stones, or glazed ceramic are cylindrical, spherical, or in the shape of spindles or disks and are nearly always used in alternating colours and forms in many rows. The necklaces have two distinct main forms. One, called menat, was the exclusive attribute of divinity and was therefore worn only by the pharaohs. Tutankhamen’s menat is a long necklace composed of many rows of beads in different shapes and colours, with a pendant and with a decorated fastening that hung down behind the shoulders. The other, much more widely used throughout the whole period, was the usekh, which, like the vulture-shaped necklace from the tomb of Tutankhamen, also has many rows and a semicircular form.
Of the many diadems made by Egyptian artist-craftsmen, one of the earliest was discovered in a tomb dating from the 4th dynasty (c. 2575–c. 2465 BCE). It consists of a gold band supported by another band made of copper, to which three decorative designs are applied. In the centre is a disk worked with embossing in the form of four lotus buds arranged radially. On the sides are two papyrus flowers linked horizontally at the base by a disk with a carnelian, while the upper line of the flowers comes together to create a kind of nest in which two long-beaked ibis crouch. The floral and animal symbology is carried out with a style that interprets and characterizes the theme.
Among the treasures discovered in the tomb of Queen Ashhotep (18th dynasty) is a typical Egyptian bracelet. It is rigid and can be opened by means of a hinge. The front part is decorated with a vulture, whose outspread wings cover the front half of the bracelet. The whole figure of the bird is inlaid with lapis lazuli, carnelian, and vitreous paste.
The Bronze Age civilization that flourished on the Mediterranean island of Crete is known as the Minoan. Because Crete lay near the coasts of Asia, Africa, and the Greek continent and because it was the seat of prosperous ancient civilizations and a necessary point of passage along important sea-trading routes, the Minoan civilization developed a level of wealth which, beginning about 2000 BCE, stimulated intense gold-working activities of high aesthetic value. From Crete this art spread out to the Cyclades, Peloponnesus, Mycenae, and other Greek island and mainland centres. Stimulated by Minoan influence, Mycenaean art flourished from the 16th to the 14th century, gradually declining at the beginning of the 1st millennium BCE.
Among the techniques used in Minoan-Mycenaean gold working were granulation and filigree, but the most widely used was the cutting and stamping of gold sheet into beads and other designs to form necklaces and diadems, as well as to decorate clothing. The kings from Period I of Mycenaean civilization (c. 1580–1500 BCE), discovered in their burial places, wore masks of gold sheet, and scattered over their clothing were dozens of stamped gold disks. The disks reveal the rich variety of decorative motifs used by the Mycenaeans: round, rectangular, ribbon-shaped including combinations of volutes, flowers, stylized polyps and butterflies, rosettes, birds, and sphinxes.
A pendant from a Minoan tomb at Mallia, Crete (Archaeological Museum, Iráklion, Greece), is one of the most perfect masterpieces of jewelry that has come down to us from the 17th century BCE. The Sun’s disk is covered with granulation and is held up by two bees, forming the central part of the composition. Ring bezels (tops of the rings), with relief engravings of highly animated pastoral scenes, cults, hunting, and war, are also fine. Like those of the other jewelry forms, the ornamental motifs of the necklaces are varied, including dates, pomegranates, half-moons facing each other, lotus flowers, and a hand squeezing a woman’s breast. During the late Mycenaean period, earrings appeared in the shape of the head of a bull, an animal frequently represented in early gold plate.
Phoenicia, a centre for both the production and exportation of jewelry, was not a source of great originality. It is to the trading done by this people throughout the Mediterranean, however, that we owe knowledge of the products of the most highly developed civilizations in the most remote lands northern Africa, Sardinia, Spain, and Italy. The period in the 8th and 7th centuries BCE, during which Scythian-Iranian Oriental objects with their animalistic motifs were spread and consequently imitated throughout the Mediterranean countries, especially in Greece and Italy, is called the Orientalizing period.
From 9th and 8th century BC we have some superb gold work from Athens, Corinth and Crete, it strongly resembles that of the Mycenaean and Minoan cultures, but soon jewelry showed evidence of strong Oriental stylistic influence. In Archaic period a shortage of gold caused a decline in jewelry production on the Greek mainland, while the Greek islands and colonies were producing more and more high quality jewelry. After the Persian wars gold became more plentiful again. At the beginning of the Classical period the Ionic style became predominant, the human figure replaced the oriental animals in wide oval ring bezels. Elaborate earrings featuring human figures, naked riders on galloping horses; seated and standing maidens, depicted both with clothes and naked; and deities and mythological figures started to appear around 350 BC. Complicated necklaces with acorns, birds and human heads became popular. Bracelets were produced in the form of spirals or nearly closed circles and rings were used not only as signets but as well as purely decorative jewelry.
The conquests of Alexander the Great in Persia, Asia Minor and Egypt changed the Greek world in a huge way. The Persian Empire was 'hellenised' by Greek culture; in return the Greeks were influenced by the Egyptians and Western Asians. Hellenistic jewelry met flourishing development in the art centres of the different regions under Greek rule and the technical ability of Hellenistic goldsmiths reached the highest levels ever attained. New decorative motifs were introduced such as: the reef knot from Egypt that stayed popular into Roman times, the crescent from Western Asia used as a pendant, the serpent motif used for bracelets and rings, also the gods Eros and Nike motifs knew a great popularity. In this great period new jewelry forms were introduced: straps with pendants of buds or spearheads, necklaces made of gold pieces, often hollow or filled with resin, into the shape of acorns, amphorae, and rosettes that sometimes alternated with stones or vitreous paste with animal head finials: they were worn from shoulder to shoulder; diadems with reef rigid elliptical shape with a Hercules knot, sometimes in garnet, in the centre (The Hercules knot was the most famous one used in ancient times, as it was considered a magic knot and, in jewels, took on the significance of an amulet.
Greek snake bracelet
Also worthy of high consideration are the magnificent diademsthat came into wide use as a result of the Persian conquests made by Alexander the Great. One type is a rigid elliptical shape with a Hercules knot in the centre and pendants hanging down over the forehead. (The Hercules knot was the most famous one used in ancient times, as it was considered a magic knot and, in jewels, took on the significance of an amulet. It also was used on bracelets, belts, and rings during this period.) Another type, decorated with jewellike enameled flowers, demonstrates the increasing use of colour during the Hellenistic Age. One type of necklace that was commonly worn at this time was made of gold pieces, often hollow or filled with resin, that were fashioned into the shape of acorns, amphorae, and rosettes that sometimes alternated with stones or vitreous paste. In the 3rd century BCE the bracelet in the shape of a serpent originated and remained popular through the Roman period. The serpent motif also was used for rings.
As gold was very scarce in Rome in the early centuries and it was needed for trading and warfare, the legislature passed two laws restricting the gold used for luxury. The Law of Twelve Tables limited the amount of gold that could be buried with the dead and because of Lex Oppia women could not wear more than half an ounce of gold. Because of the habit of cremating the dead in Rome, we do not have so many grave findings as by the Egyptians and Etruscan burials.The excavations of Herculaneum and Pompeii account for the largest part of 1st century Roman jewelry, we can dispose with, and the Naturalis Historia by Pliny the Elder gives us an excellent example of the use, history and properties of gold, jewelry and precious stones in his time.
Early Roman jewelry was influenced by the Greek, Etruscan art and Egyptian culture. The Romans imported from Orient the habit of wearing amulets: the Greek Herakles Knot was worn to protect the wearer from evil spirits; a phallic symbol, called bulla, in the shape of a gold chain, containing a pouch, was worn by young boys from the time of their birth as a shield against the evil eye, also rings with phallic symbol were supposed to bring good fortune. In imperial time the supply of gold incraised and Rome became a centre for goldsmiths’ workshops. The great patrician families possessed not only jewels but also magnificent gold and silver household furnishings, as shown by the objects found in Pompeii and nearby Boscoreale (Louvre). The Romans used Greek geometric and botanical motifs, palmettos, fleeting dogs, acanthus leaves, spirals, ovoli, and bead sequences.
From Etruscan gold jewelry the Romans took the strong plasticity of the bulla, which they transferred to necklace pendants sparely decorated with filigree or combined in completely smooth hemispheres in bracelets, headdresses, and earrings. The motif of a serpent coiled in a double spiral, copied from Hellenistic models, was frequently used for bracelets, rings, armbands, and earrings, because it symbolized immortality. Other than gold, the materials used in jewelry were bronze, Roman glass, bone beads and precious gemstones, such as diamonds, emeralds and sapphires, peridot, carnelian, jasper, lapis lazuli and pearls which arrived from Egypt, Persia, Far East, Indus Valley. Even if different designs from the Mediterranean region, North Africa, Europe and Egypt were incorporated into the Roman jewelry, it acquired distinctive features of its own, new decorative magical motifs such as the half-moon and the wheel with four spokes and greater use was made of coloured stones—topazes, emeralds, rubies, sapphires, and pearls.
Gems were often engraved and considered collectors’ items by wealthy people, including Caesar himself. The stones were set in bezels or supported by pins that passed through them. New techniques that came into use included opus interassile, with which a flat or curved metal surface was decorated with tiny pierced motifs, and niello, a method of enameling used primarily to decorate rings and brooches. The Romans gave volume great importance, in accordance with the rather pompous rhetorical spirit of the time. The Romans liked to wear big rings, the only piece of jewelry that was acceptable to be worn by men. Rings revealed the status of the wearer: upper class prominent males of the society, senators and bureaucrats often wore gold rings with a huge gemstone or Roman glass. They were used as “signet rings” to impress sigils with hot wax on important documents.
The earrings often consisted of a ring from which a series of pieces hung down with square bezels or bands of small bullas alternating with stones, which in turn supported pendants in different shapes. There was an extremely varied production of gold mesh and chains, often containing inserted bezels set with stones or half pearls, while others had ivy or laurel leaves attached to them. Although pendants were not used on necklaces at the beginning, later we have examples of pendants in the form of embossed medallions. Precious stones, vitreous pastes, and cameos with golden frames also served as pendants for necklaces. Towards the end of the 3rd century necklaces often bore medallions or gold coins with portraits of the end.
By the end of the 4th century CE, Roman civilization was in full decline, in 476 CE the barbarian king Odoacer deposed the last Emperor Romulus and the Western Roman Empire came to an end. However, Roman culture had imposed all over in the empire and the eastern empire, ruled from Constantinople, continued for another thousand years. The Byzantine Empire was wealthy. It had gold mines within its borders and its geographical position was perfect for trade between the East and West. In the Byzantine Empire jewelry played an important role. It acted as a way to express one's status and as a diplomatic tool. In 529 AD Emperor Justinian took up laws regulating the wearing and usage of jewelry in a new set of laws, later called the Justinian Code. He explicitly wrote that sapphires, emeralds and pearls were reserved for the emperor's use but every free man was allowed to wear a gold ring.
At the beginning Byzantine jewelry was a full continuation of the Roman traditions and, as the Roman Empire had embraced Christianity, Christian iconography in the form of crosses and enameled saints' images used as pendants were a common sight, but the wave of iconoclasm—the controversy in the 8th and 9th centuries about the depiction of images in religious art—gave the decoration of jewelry, too, a basically ornamental nature. A new style more closely related to that of the Middle East soon developed with a new spirit and its own distinctive characteristics. Byzantine artists used filigree and opus interassile for very complex decorations and arabesques, while enameling was favoured for representations of flowers and birds. Gemstones became more important than the gold in Byzantine times, they were often rounded (if not already done by nature), polished and then drilled. A gold wire was passed through the drill hole and bent into a loop on either side of the gem.
This way the gemstones could be attached to one another to form necklaces, pendant earrings, headwear or bracelets. Another typical Byzantine way of using gemstones was to cut them into polished cabochons and set them in collets. Typically Byzantine were the half-moon-shaped earrings that were in wide use up through the 12th century. There are examples with pierced decoration, with filigree basketwork, and with the figures of enameled birds facing each other on a golden half-moon. The people of the Byzantine Empire liked their jewelry colorful. In addition to gemstones the desired polychrome effect was achieved by the use of enamel. The Byzantine jewellers became experts in the execution of cloisonné enamel. After the fall of the western Roman empire the Italian city of Ravenna was in the hands of Germanic leaders until the Byzantine emperor Justinian defeated the Ostrogoths in 540 and conquered the city.
This way the gemstones could be attached to one another to form necklaces, pendant earrings, headwear or bracelets. Another typical Byzantine way of using gemstones was to cut them into polished cabochons and set them in collets. Typically Byzantine were the half-moon-shaped earrings that were in wide use up through the 12th century. There are examples with pierced decoration, with filigree basketwork, and with the figures of enameled birds facing each other on a golden half-moon. The people of the Byzantine Empire liked their jewelry colorful. In addition to gemstones the desired polychrome effect was achieved by the use of enamel. The Byzantine jewellers became experts in the execution of cloisonné enamel.
Islamism is a culture that encouraged men and women to wear jewelry, some jewels were designed to add sound as the wearer moved and to dazzle in the right light. Islamic art was influenced by different cultures over 10 centuries, so jewelry may seem radically different, ranging from the sparely wrought to the most elaborate. There are, however, ties that bind together the early and the later periods of Islamic jewelry, links from the Moslem religion and culture that united these people. A case in point is the absence of human imagery in Islamic jewelry until the 18th century, which reflects the dictates of its religion. After the Arab conquest the Iranian tradition of animal art persisted and most of the 9th- through 12th-century Islamic jewelry shows excellence in design and subtlety in decoration. The earliest examples are beads and rings, rooted in Roman designs. Glass beads were roughly cut, some like pebbles. A 12th-century gold pendant in the form of a lion is a highly schematic rendering of this animal; it is decorated with granulation. Other techniques were filigree, encrustation with precious and semiprecious stones, and the use of niello. Typical, too, from the 11th century through the 13th, are featherlight earrings - pierced metal circles, baskets, hoops or hemispheres, combining twisted wires, granules of gold, filigree and tiny gems.
In North Africa the Berber and Arab tribes maintained an independent tradition. In design the jewelry of southern Morocco shows curious analogies to Byzantine jewelry—heavy silver plaques decorated with niello or cabochons that serve as diadems or headbands. In other parts of Morocco and in Algeria and Tunisia, popular forms of jewelry are headbands, breast ornaments, brooches, pendants, and a characteristic triangular-shaped shawl pin. In the 18th and 19th centuries jewelry, most of which is crafted in India, leaves the simple earlier style to quite the opposite - techniques and materials are spectacular and the decoration excessive. Jewels reflect the abundance of gems available and the delight in wearing such ornaments. Necklaces are weighty with a great variety of coloured gems. Many of the early motifs - the medallions, crescents and flowers – continue but the wire work, filigree, pierced metal and granulation are overshadowed by the quantity of precious stones. It is the glittery crust, so rich in rubies, emeralds, sapphires and rock crystal, that impresses and not the basic shaping, as in the early jewelry.
While in the Byzantine area a skillful class of artisans started producing jewelry only for decorative purposes, in the rest of Romanized Europe a huge complex movement of peoples was taking place. At the beginning of the 4th century CE Goths, Vandals, Huns, Franks, and Lombards emigrated into central, northern, and southern Europe where they remained until the 9th century. They were called barbarians that is, not Christians but foreigners but there was also a negative meaning in this name, because they were thought to have destroyed the Classical art of the Roman world. These Teutonic tribes produced gold ware that shared a common, well-defined style and a long tradition of polychrome decoration but it accorded to the tastes of the particular regions in which they settled. The blend of Teutonic and Iranian, Scythian, Sarmatian, or Celtic styles produced ornaments with a very little resemblance to those of the great Classical tradition. These nomadic peoples loved precious ornaments with faience (decoration made of opaque coloured glazes), jewels, and enamels. They also used braiding done with strips of embossing, with bands of stones or enamel set in bezels, and also with filigree.
They produced fibulae, and the most widely used was the so-called buckler variety, with a fan head, arched bridge, and flat or molded foot, with pierced work in various shapes. There were also disk fibulae, either flat or with concentric embossing, while S-shaped fibulae and belt buckles were rarer. In Pietroasa, Romania (National Museum of History, Bucharest, Romania) we found a very big fibula (14 inches) shaped as a bird , whose body is covered with sockets of different sizes and shapes in which they had set stones and enamel. In the Museum of National Antiquities, Stockholm we can admire some examples of rigid necklaces from the 6th century from Alleberg and Färjestaden, Sweden. They consist in several circles with much decoration. In the same region they found also a ring with zoomorphic braiding (Poldi Pezzoli Museum, Milan). This technique was most widely used in the Celtic and northern Germanic regions of Europe, while in the British Isles, as we can see in the magnificent jewels in the Sutton Hoo burial-ship treasure (British Museum, London), they preferred enameling. In northern Europe and Scandinavia the main gold-working techniques were filigree, embossing, and turning on a lathe. As time passed, the different products of barbaric gold-working art took on a more definite stylistic identification according to the various races and locations.
The custom of burying the dead with all their jewelry went to an end with Christian new burial rites. Since the beginning of the 8th century till the Romanesque period (c.950–c.1150) the habit of wearing jewels had deminished, as we can learn from the graphic and plastic sources of the period and even among the gold products preserved in abbey and cathedral treasures or by imperial and royal courts we have found only very few pieces of jewelry. In the 11th century, monastic workshops for the service of the church were replaced by secular workshops. Gold-working activities gradually got important to serve the numerous courts and noble families, and in the 12th century the first goldsmiths organized themsdelves in guilds. The ring was one of the most widely used ornaments in medieval Europe. It had a great symbolic and religious value, and it was also considered a talisman, good omen, and sign of office; and, as always, it served as a seal. People liked also the brooch, the most common was the round, star-shaped, or pentagonal medallion, while the diamond shape was less appreciated. Ring brooches, open in the centre, round, pentagonal, and star-, heart-, or wheel-shaped also were popular. The Founder's Jewel, given to New College Oxford by William Wykeham in 1404, is a jewel in the shape of a crown, composed of gold, emeralds, rubies, pearls, and enamel. The arches formed by a letter M look like Gothic windows, in which the expertly modeled figures of the Virgin Mary and the Angel of the Annunciation are standing.