Jewelry is an ornament that complements a particular dressing or fashion. Many kinds of jewelry have been around for eons and are often described as a fashion accessory. Some jewelry can also be regarded as collectibles, keepsakes or even investments. Some are made from shells, stone, etc. In those days, some regions of the world wore jewelry as a means of protection from the dangers of life or a mark of status.
In the past, those who worked with metals were very instrumental in the development of the art of jewelry making. Recently, techniques of manufacturing jewelry have become sophisticated and modernized. In those days, gold was rare and it was used to accompany dead people into the afterlife. This tradition was practiced in most countries and most archaeologists discovered jewelry from tombs. They disposed their pieces of jewelry in shrines or even gave them as gifts to their gods. Let’s look at the history of jewelry.
Medieval Era from 1200 – 1500
During the medieval era, the types of jewelry worn in Europe were inherited from one generation to another. It was reserved for a particular class of people. Only those from the royal family wore gold, silver and valuable ornaments. Those who were less regarded in society could afford silver or gold so they made do with metals like copper or pewter. Most jewelry was inscribed with words that were believed to protect the person wearing the gem. During this era there a lot of battles to be fought, so they wore them to wars as a protection offering to their gods. During this period, gems were cut instead of polished. In the 14th century, enamels were heated at a very high temperature and these made it possible for goldsmiths to add color to their jewelry. They made use of methods that added effects that are still used to date.
During this period there were a lot of exploration activities going on and it also increased the availability of other gemstones. There was a lot of trade-related activities and it provided the opportunity for people to exchange their commodities for jewelry or otherwise. When Napoleon Bonaparte was made an Emperor in France in 1804, his style and grandeur of jewelry were unique. He influenced jewelers who introduced parures, diamond tiara, rings brooch and necklaces. His wives were a site of beauty and they always wore their jewelry. Jewelers who made use of cheap materials to fabricate their jewelry were called bijoutiers while those who made use of expensive materials were called joailliers. It is good to note that this practice has continued to date.
Individual pieces of jewelry displayed the person’s religious belief. Religion was a very important part of everyday life during this era and same was replicated in their jewelry. Others wore theirs to show the political influence they had in the communities or kingdoms. Mythological figures were also enshrined in jewelry and it portrayed that the individual had an artistic awareness. The use of gem engraving was revived and another cultural trend was introduced with the use of portraits.
Some gems and stones were perceived to have protective powers while others were to protect the wearer against certain illnesses like blindness, toothache, and headaches. They carved the jewels to look like scorpions and other dangerous animals to protect them from various evil attacks. Amulets designed in the form of scorpions were believed to have special powers. They believed that the scorpion could heal people who were poisoned. Most of the remedies against poisoning than were prepared by infusing scorpions in oils with potent herbs.
The fashion world had changed and the new trends have also affected the style of jewels involved. Trade activities increased making jewelry more accessible unlike before. The gemstones sparkled more in candlelight because of the new innovations in the stonework.
The most popular then were big bodice or breast ornaments which were pinned to stiff material. Jean Toutin, a Frenchman developed painted opaque enamel. Colour combining was always used in enamels during this period.
The cutting techniques developed during the 17th century saw an improvement and diamonds sparkled more than ever before. Diamonds became the most valued stone during this era. Most of them were worn on the bodice, sometimes scattered smaller all over an outfit. Those who wore them were seen as well dressed, and other less valuable gemstones started to become available for civilians.
Small ceremonial fencing swords had some components of jewelry attached to them showing affluence and presented as awards – more as items of jewelry than weapons made by swordsmiths. During this period, jewelry showed a status of nobility and respect, which was vitally important to certain members of the culture. Swords denoted the status and influence the person had in the community. Jeweled swords were given out by the authorities as rewards for selfless service. This trend was more visible in Europe, London to be precise. Naval officers might receive a sword with an inscription for their conduct aboard a particular ship, for example.
One of those who received this honor was Francis Douglas who was a Royal Navy anchorage in the Thames Estuary in 1797. An eyewitness account was published in The Sheerness Guardian seven decades after. The sword was awarded for his role in fighting back a violent mutiny. One of the best enamel gold dress swords designers, James Morisset was contracted to produce the sword.
This period witnessed a more robust economic, industrial and social change. However, the jewelry designs were still focused on those produced in the 17th and 18th century. During the first decades, the classical styles of Rome and Greece were very popular. People became more interested in jewelry because of archaeological discoveries. Most of the goldsmiths at the time tried to remake or imitate the patterns and techniques used in the 17th and 18th century. They also developed an interest in jewels produced in the medieval and Renaissance era. Jewelers like Castellani and Giuliano worked to reproduce those styles and patterns of jewels used in those times. Jewels that portrayed a love for nature were also popular at the time. Some had flowers and fruits inscribed on them. This style became even more popular when there was an increase in the popularity of romantic novels and poetry. These jewels were given out by men to their female lovers as a sign of love and commitment to the relationship.
Around 1850, more complex designs had taken over the market. People requested for more complex and extravagant styles from jewelers and it called for a lot of creativity among the goldsmiths. Women wore most of the expensive jewels as compared to the previous periods.
Arts and crafts jewelry
During the last period of the 19th century, there was a rebellion against the increasing industrialization of society in the Arts and Crafts movement. The world became more industrialized and machines were introduced to increase levels of productivity. This movement encouraged many to insist on handcrafted jewels, believing that the end results would always turn out better and encouraging the joys of workmanship in the creators. Arts and craft jewelers focused more on using natural gems for their craft.
One of the notable and designers of this era is C.R. Ashbee who was one of the pioneers of the arts and craft movement. Around 1888, he established a Guild of Handicraft in the eastern part of London. His aim was to revive the arts and crafts skills and in the same vein provide employment for people. Ashbee was an architect and he also engaged in furniture, metalwork, and designing unique jewelry.
Ashbee’s favorite work was the peacock brooch, an intricately designed brooch that he created dozens of, modeled often by his wife.
Early 20th Century and beyond
During this period the trend shifted from arts and craft to art Nouveau jewelry and garland style. This new trend gained more ground when it performed very well at the Paris International Exhibition. Most of the jewelers during this era distanced themselves from making use of precious stones, rather they concentrated on the use of glass, enamels, and silver. Rene Lalique was among the talented jewelers at that time. The pattern of the design was radical and it was not fabricated for everyone and every occasion. The jewels were a combination of the 18th and 19th-century style. Rene got his inspiration from nature and this was also portrayed in a series of his designs. Another jeweler whose work was widely appreciated is Philippe Wolfers and he was based in Brussels.
During the ’20s for about 3 decades, the world was going through turbulent times of depression, financial turmoil and of course, the world wars. However, this did not disrupt the growth and development of several innovations in the jewelry industry. This period marked the beginning of the much-celebrated machine age, with jewelers began using machines to craft and design their jewels, and embracing mathematical pattering as would suit the modern era. Levels of production were increased, and new players in the USA and Europe began to compete with Britain. Jewelry became an international business and other countries clamored to become involved. Gold became part of the fashion world again from 1933 as platinum overtook it as the most expensive material. More artists and designers from other fields of work were also involved in the craft and design of jewels and the craft and art of jewelry making began to spread like wildfire.
From the ’60s forward, the developments in technology and affluence of the general public have seen an explosion in the possibilities of jewelry design. New patterns and styles of fabricating jewels have been introduced, making jewelry affordable to all. Due to new techniques, many new materials can be sued for jewelry, such as organics, plastics and many kinds of alloys. The increasing popularity of body piercing has opened up a whole new culture of jewelry to the public – from bone to stainless steel, a new take on tribal adornments for a modern population. Jewelry is now wearable art and the traditions have been overturned – a more connected society via the internet, and cheaper production combining to make jewelry a vast ocean of possibilities, catering to all shapes, sizes, styles and price levels.
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