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At the beginning of XX century, Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon discovered amazing collection of Egyptian jewelry in the tomb of Tutankhamen. This rare collection featured strong colors and symbolism.
Jewelry was very important accessory for every Egyptian. It added colorful accents to simple white linen clothes and played very important role during different rituals, especially funerals. Dead usually wore jewelry and were buried in coffins covered and lined with gold. Egyptian jewelry was dominated by amulets which were believed to have protective and magical properties. The most popular motifs were scarab beetle, the eye of the sky god – Horus, lotus flowers, Hieroglyphs. Jewelry pieces were very colorful and often made with lapis lazuli, turquoise and cornelian.
Egyptians wore all typical elements of jewelry, i.e. necklaces, bracelets, earrings, pendants and rings.The most popular design for necklace was a wide collar made of vertically arranged cylindrical beads. This style was worn by both men and women during the entire Dynastic Period (2613-2494 BC). Amarna Period (1380-1350 BC) introduced flower and plant inspired motifs including leaves, flowers, fruits and vegetables.
Bracelets were usually worn in pairs with matching armlets on upper arm. At the beginning bracelets had a form of simple bangle but around 2000 BC clasps were introduced.
Rings appeared around 2000BC and played also a practical role. They were used as portable seals. They had a scarab beetle and hieroglyph signature engraved on its underside with hole drilled along its length. Later on more elaborate rings appeared with animals or flower motifs.
It was around 1600 BC when earrings became popular. At the beginning they were worn only by women and had usually form of hoops. Men started wearing earrings around 200 years later.
Many painting and sculptures also picture Egyptians wearing head ornaments, like wigs or diadems. Usual motifs included flowers, leaves and animals like e.g. cobras which symbolized the protector of kings.
Phoenicians usually followed designs and patterns set by Egyptian. They loved to wear jewelry and Phoenician women usually wore several necklaces, earrings and rings at once. Phoenician jewelers first introduced gold granulation technique which was later followed by future generations.
The first Greek civilization known as Minoan was established by 2500 BC. Skilled craftsmen were known for their diadems, pendants and hairpins made from imported gold. Unfortunately very few pieces survived often earthquakes and very little is known about Minoan jewelry. Greeks continued to improve their jewelry manufacturing skills throughout ages making more complex and sophisticated designs. One of the most significant examples of Greek jewelry were necklaces dated from IVth century, discovered in city of Taranto (southern Italy). The necklaces featured beads and pendants shaped as female heads, acorns, melons and rosettes. Earrings resembled boats were decorated with rosettes and beads or spiraling tubes of gold.
Hellenistic period was particularly rich in gold and jewelry. Greek empire extended over Egypt and Western Asia, giving access to new sources of precious metals and stones. Jewelry from Hellenistic times was characterized by use of colored stones, enamel and glass. Greeks liked to use garnets, amethysts, pearls and emeralds which were very often engraved in sophisticated ways.
The most famous contribution of Greeks to history of jewelry was the cameo. It features a raised (positive) relief image; contrast with intaglio, which has a negative image. At first cameos portrayed only Alexander the Great. Portraying other people with this technique was prohibited by law until the Emperor’s death. After his death, other persons were represented and the cameos began to portray more realism.
The cameo became very popular and spread to Rome where ladies wore them as hair decoration. Men also fell in love in cameos and started wearing them as shoulder fasteners.
Italy also played an important role in history and development of jewelry. Etruscans whose civilization was at its height between VIIth and Vth century BC created some of the most beautiful and finest ancient jewelry. They were known for using granulation technique. A difficult method used to create textured surface on the gold resulting in beautiful and delicate effect. Process was used to create simple geometric patterns or cover whole surface with what resembled fine gold dust. It took hundreds of years, until 1930s to unravel the secrets of the method. Etruscans also practiced filigree and embossing. Their finest work includes clasps, necklaces, bracelets, earrings, pendants and rings.
In IIIrd century BC Romans defeated the Etruscans and continued the art and history of jewelry. For centuries use of gold for jewelry making was very restricted due to heavy consumption by military campaigns. However during the Imperial Period significant amounts were released for other purposes. Starting from 27 BC Roman’s jewelry included more gold between 18 and 24 carats. Very often gold jewelry was combined with use of gemstones.
Romans first developed pierced technique - where a delicate fretwork pattern was punched and cut through the metal. They used a lot of color stones (garnets, emeralds, crystals, sapphires and amber) which were carefully rounded and polished. Amber was specially prized for necklaces and pendants. Main source of amber were Baltic regions in Europe (Baltic Amber).
Jewelry found during excavations at Pompeii indicated that Romans used lots of gold and precious stones. Very popular were serpent bracelets, necklaces, rings made of gold wire and set with stones. Romans were the first to give rings as the sign of the commitment at a betrothal.
The fundamentals of making jewelry had already evolved and jewelry making became a serious profession. Jewelers and goldsmiths organized themselves into guilds and were focusing their time and effort on work to further the beauty and design of jewelry.