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Over the ages, jewelry served many purposes. Whether it was meant to protect a newborn or decorate a proud nobleman, it was always there, subtly shifting our perception of the person wearing it. From ancient times to modern age, jewelry evolved the same way we did. The art of jewelry adapted to our needs, and we now have a jewelry piece suitable for any situation. But how long did it take for it to evolve and become such a dominant part of our everyday life?

 

The ancient times

Back to where it all began. The first jewelry pieces were made of shell, rock, and animal bone, anything that could be fitted into a necklace, a bracelet, or an earring. It served the purpose of defining ranks of power, influence, but also as a sign of respect towards the wearer who probably hunted a fierce animal to make it. It was also used as a sign of protection against anything that threatened humans, whether it was from storms and floods, or dangerous predators.

It was the discovery of metal that defined a turning point in the development of jewelry. The art of jewelry developed alongside metalworking and became more and more delicate. These days, we usually discover jewelry from ancient times buried in long forgotten dig-sites when excavating ancient ruins, since it was believed that jewelry should accompany its owner to the next life.

The medieval times

The general meaning of jewelry changed significantly over the years. In the European aristocracy, jewelry represented nobility and wealth. The more complex and well-designed it was the more respect the wearer became. It was the nobility who wore gold and precious gems which were polished, while the common folk could only afford common metals such as copper for fashioning their own jewelry, and even that was uncommon. Jewelry often had inscriptions which were believed to protect the wearer.

The Renaissance period

With the discovery of ancient Greek temples and ruins in the early 16th century, the renaissance began, and with it, a return to classical art, literature, and jewelry. People were mesmerized by the ancient Greek ways of living and everyone wanted their own piece of Greece. The two dominant elements in jewelry design were religion and mythology, so the scenes from mythological stories and classical world elements all made their way into the design of jewelry. The last piece of innovation came from artists’ awareness of their clients; portraits made their way into jewelry.

The 17th century

With the more and more dominant over-sea trade, gemstones and precious metals became easier to acquire, and the ever-developing technology allowed artists to shape and form their designs like never before. Bow and botanical ornaments became a new norm in the 17th century. The most dominant pieces of jewelry were large breast pieces decorated with a bow, often worn in public as a status symbol.

The 18th century

This century marked a dominance of French jewelry designs. The only time it wasn’t so was during their Revolution. The two types of designs that were dominant were “bijouterie” which was developed using gold and enamel, and “joaillerie” which used diamond and precious stones. The 18th century also marked a beginning of jewelry rental, which meant that anyone could rent a piece of jewelry from a store and return it after it served it’s purpose, whether it was in court, in a wedding, or a celebration.

The 19th century

The 19th century marked a huge step forward in sciences and social change, but when it came to jewelry, people were more interested in the past. The first half of the century was dominated by renaissance pieces inspired by Rome and Greece, and this was further encouraged by the discoveries of ancient ruins that only sparked further interest. The artists gave it their best to capitalize on the current trends and focused on creating pieces inspired by medieval and renaissance ages.

The second half of the century was decorated in flowers, meaning that botanical and fruit ornaments were present in jewelry. The most elaborate jewelry was worn by women, and it was decorated in foliage, leaves, flowers and other symbols that were carved in precious metals.

The arts and crafts movement

Present at the end of the 19th century, it was a movement that discarded all of the technological advancement made in jewelry making and instead focused on hand-made pieces and the historic family crest signet ring. It was meant to invoke the soul of the artist and the piece he was making, instead of using machines. The repetitive nature of the jewelry was cast aside for more vivid and curved designs which were impossible to make with the technology of the time.

The art deco movement

What sets the jewelry of the first half of 20th century apart are dense concentrations of gemstones. Even though this is a time of war and depression, the jewelry pieces were inspired from international themes of East and West, and for the first time, both New York and Paris were fashion centers.

The definition of “jewelry” has been turned upside down in the modern jewelry crafting in the second half of the 20th century, predominantly because of the fact that now paper, plastic and similar materials are being used to fashion jewelry and it is available to everyone. Art schools and colleges are more present than ever. This allowed the jewelry industry to evolve and adapt into wearable art form, and only time will tell where it will go next, because it’s not stopping its evolution anytime soon.