Jewelry – A Cultural Perspective
Jewelry is one of the many adornments that have evolved and changed over time. These changes, and even the use of jewelry, is not universal over different cultures. As a matter of fact, it seems to be completely opposite between different groups, times and even in different countries. Religions have also used jewelry or rejected jewelry as a personal adornment, often using the same text or scripture to reference why jewelry should or should not be worn.
In earliest recorded times in many different cultures jewelry was used as a sign of status and power. It is believed that that the Egyptians and Romans e were among the first to create and value jewelry as a fashion adornment, although other groups used jewelry for specific groups within the culture. This jewelry was typically gold and also large pieces, similar to the cuff bracelets and heavy pendants that are still very much in vogue today. The Greeks soon branched out into different forms of jewelry including beading, delicate gold earrings and chains and even the smaller, finer rings that featured gemstones such as garnets, amethysts, pearls and emeralds. This was all done before 1400 BC, meaning that these early Greek jewelers were already on the cutting edge of fashion.
At around 800 BC The Italians also created their own gold jewelry that included necklaces, bracelets and earrings. One of the unique and highly fashionable pieces of jewelry in that time period was a necklace with a hollow pendant that could have filled with a perfume of the wearer's choice, sometimes a necessity considering the conditions of the time. The Romans at this time were also using the same type of gold in their jewelry and coins as the Italians and this gold was all 18 to 24 carat, with various gems, including most of what are now considered precious gems within their jewelry creations.
In medieval times England and France passed what are known as Sumptuary Laws, which restricted the wearing of ornate jewelry by all but royalty. By the 17th century this tradition had completely reversed itself with everyone wearing as much jewelry as possible in these countries. Interestingly enough most of the daily jewelry was not even real, paste gems, fake pearls and even ornamental but artificial gemmed clasps to fasten clothing were all the rage, regardless of your position in society. Of course the wealthiest wore only the real thing for formal dress, however they still used faux jewelry for everyday.
From that point on jewelry became a significant part of Western culture. Everything from the cameo made famous by Napoleon to what is now known as Victorian jewelry from Queen Victoria's reign starting in 1837, jewelry has been in vogue as part of fashion and everyday dress.
Most cultures have used materials in jewelry making in two ways, easily available materials for daily wear and rare or valuable items in high end fashion pieces. Each culture has determined what is the style for the period, often resulting in marked differences between one fashion era to the next. The great news is that there is a considerable market in vintage jewelry and even older pieces are still highly valued and can make a terrific addition to anyone's jewelry collection.