History of Jewelry

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Ancient JewelryJewelry has always been part of human culture. From as early as 150,000 years ago, the times when humans first started using clothes and tools, jewelry was produced from any kind of material that was available – pebbles, animal skin, feathers, plants, bones, shells, wood, and natural made materials such as obsidian (volcanic glass). As time went on, better technology enabled artisans to start using metals and precious gems into works of art that influenced entire cultures and many modern jewelry styles. However, even with all advancements of metallurgy and gem processing, the purpose of wearing jewelry always remained the same – they enabled wearer to express themselves non-verbally, showcase wealth, rank, political and religious affiliation or love toward someone. This enabled jewelry to become timeless and something that required constant development and refinement.

Early jewelry can be roughly divided across three ancient civilizations – Egypt, India and China. Egypt and Mesopotamia set standards in metallurgy, gem collecting, and glass manufacture. Their several thousand year long tradition of jewelry production laid a solid foundation for all European civilizations that came after them, and their unique style affected fashion trends even four thousand years later.

India however, managed to develop such a connection to jewelry that it became integral part of their daily life and religion. Since they were the first who managed to figure out gold mining and processing, they develop art of jewel making much earlier than anyone in their environment. This made them one of the most sought destinations for trade, which eventually became driving force for the incredible expansion of European civilization during the Age of Discovery. On the far side of the world, China managed to become driving force in developing of arts and their influence slowly spread their unique style across entire Asia. Chinese style that is focused on scenes of nature, animals and dragons is today still in high popularity, and continues to be developed with each passing year.

After the fall of Ancient Egypt and Roman Empire, Europe became driving force of jewelry innovation. However, it took a long time until they managed to claim that position. After almost thousand years of isolation, famine, plagues and wars, Western Europe finally came into contact with distant civilizations during Crusades which enabled flow of new knowledge an ideas that enabled birth of Renaissance. As transfer of wealth from nobility, royalty and church continued to flow to middle classes during Renaissance, Age of Discovery and Industrial Revolution, jewelry designs and fashion trends changed dramatically. During those times world saw the appearance and disappearance of many styles, some new and original and some based on older designs found in the ruins of long gone civilizations (mostly Egyptian, which became one of the inspirations of Romanticism and Art Deco).

After more than 150,000 years of use of decorative items, and more than 6 thousand years of metallurgy and gem processing, we can surely say that jewelry will forever remain integral part of humanity and our civilization.necklace-ushabti-2471b

Author: Shawn

Indiana University Alumni

GIA Graduate Gemologist Student

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