The earliest findings of jewelry were dated around 25,000 years ago. A simple necklace made of bones found in a cave near Eastern Mediterranean could signify many things. A trophy for hunting? A witch doctor’s secret wishing bones? Or maybe a wedding gift for the Village Chief’s daughter? Anyhow, this necklace was used to make a point for its wearer. To make a statement of power, love, or even magic abilities.
The need to feel accepted, to be part of a group or society, is one of the main aspects of our existence on earth. A sense of identity and self-esteem cover part of our inner needs but belonging reflects the rest of our basic needs. The first findings were derived from the hunt; teeth, claws, horns, and bones. Hunters believed that wearing trophies would bring them good luck for the next hunt. Remember, the village lived day to day by the success of a hunter and this person deserved respect and privileges. Of course, everybody was trying to be the best hunter in order to get all the benefits of the little social group they were part of.
In early societies, jewelry was worn as amulets to protect against bad luck and illness. Even today, we hear the tales and adventures of people long ago who somehow found luck and fortune because of gemstones and jewelry. From these myths evolves jewelry made into symbols thought to give the wearer control over fertility, wealth and love. Jewelry was worn for its magical properties.
Jewelry later evolved to express human connection and commitment. Pirates were all wearing earrings to distinguish themselves from the others. Wedding rings symbolized commitment and love. At one time in Europe only the wealthy were allowed to wear rings or necklaces with gemstones. This was a sign of wealth and power. The commoners would wear less expensive jewelry but with extra color to make up for the difference in value.
In particular, the earliest traces of jewelry can be traced to the civilizations that bloomed in the Eastern Mediterranean around 3,000 to 400 BC. These were usually simple stone amulets and seals. Many of these amulets and seals carried spiritual meanings, stars, and floral designs. Jewelry was offered to the gods and was used to dress up statues.
The Greeks often talked about jewelry and its impact on their day-to-day lives through poetry and theater plays. As far back as 1200 BC, Greek jewelry was rich and varied and reflected the prosperity of the society. At first, the Greeks copied Eastern Motifs but then later developed their own style following their beliefs in the gods and symbols. Greek jewelry included crowns, earrings, bracelets, rings, hairpins, necklaces, and brooches. Their jewelry combined the Eastern taste for gemstones and the Etruscan use of gold through tiny gold beads called granulation.
By the Roman era most gem stones that we use today had already been discovered. Myth and magic were the rule of the day and gemstones were treated with respect. Bracelets for the wrist and upper arms as well as necklaces became popular, as did jewelry made from gold coins.
However, the truth is that no other empire than the Byzantines demonstrated a richer tradition in jewelry. The Byzantines inherited this prestigious craftmanship after Emperor Constantine moved the capital to Constantinople in 330 AD. This empire merged the greatness and richness of Greece, Egypt, the Near East, and parts of Russia and North Africa. The combination of influences of this melting pot led to the use of rich colors, oriental symbolism, and it lasted through the Middle Ages. Their designs were carried west into Europe by trade, marriage, and war. The art of cloisonné enameling, where glass glaze is poured, set into pre-soldered patterns or cells, and then fired at a high temperature to melt the glaze into a permanent design, flourished during the Byzantine period.
When Rome fell, darkness fell over the lands that they ruled. Life was hard and luxuries like jewelry disappeared from Western European life. At this time, most of the wealth laid in the hands of the church and the Byzantine Empire was the only one to hold the trade, design and expansion of Jewelry craftmanship. It wasn’t until the first Crusades when soldiers traveled to the Holy Land and returned with precious gemstones and jewelry.
Then, people started discovering jewelry as a valuable trade again. It was the first real trade between East and West after several centuries and this opened up a new world of trade and communication between different cultures. It exposed the Western Europeans to new products and ideas. It was then that the Royal families of Italy, England and France were start discovering jewelry as an extreme expression of Wealth and Power. Later, in the seventeenth century, with the global expansion in trade and colonization by Western European countries on many African countries rich in precious metals (gold, white gold, silver), gemstones and diamond mines are when the Western Europeans evolved the craft of jewelry as we know it today.