Jewelry Guide - History of Jewelry

The history of jewelry is as old as human civilization and mirrors the growth and development process of human civilization.

Since the dawn of civilization jewelry has been an integral part of our culture and customs. We all love and use jewelry in some way or the other. Jewelry was in use long before clothing developed into fashion and is a cherished symbol of prestige and beauty.

Early History

The first signs of jewelry came from thousands of years ago and no other consumer item has such a long history. The use of jewelry began when early humans started to settle down in certain areas and began building communities. In this early period, minerals and metals were not in existence and jewelry items, such as preliminary forms of necklaces and bracelets, were made by using bone, animal teeth, shell, wood, and carved stone. After the discovery and extraction of minerals and metals, people started using gems and metals in jewelry items. Around 7,000 years ago, the first use of copper jewelry was seen.

Jewelry was used widely by almost all the early cultures and was an integral part of their customs. The first sign of crafted gold jewelry in ancient Egypt was around 3,000-4,000 years ago. In combination with gold jewelry, Egyptians mainly used colored glass instead of precious gems, as they preferred glass colors to the natural colors of gems. For nearly each gemstone available that time, there was a glass formulation used by the Egyptians to imitate it. In Egypt, jewelry was a symbol of power and wealth and worn by wealthy Egyptians throughout their lives and after their deaths these jewelry items were placed among the grave goods.

The Greeks started using gold and gems in jewelry in 1,400 BC. They mastered making colored stone jewelry by using various stones like emeralds, amethysts and pearls. Initially, designs in Greek jewelry were simple but attractive. Jewelry makers in ancient Greece mainly created two different styles of jewelry pieces; cast pieces and hammered pieces. In Greece, jewelry was worn on special occasions only. Women wore jewelry to display their beauty, wealth and social status. Jewelry was also worn for religious purposes and it was believed to provide a safeguard from bad luck.

The Romans borrowed styles from other cultures and created their own styles from them. They used a variety of materials for their jewelry from their extensive resources across the continent. They used mainly gold with more colored stones such as topaz, emeralds, rubies, sapphires and pearls in their jewelry than previous cultures. The most common artifact of early Rome was the brooch, which was used to secure clothing together. The other jewelry items they created were rings, necklaces, clasps, earrings, pendants and bracelets. In Rome, women wore a vast range of jewelry whereas men primarily wore rings. Like the Greeks, the Romans also wore jewelry as a safeguard from bad luck.

Jewelry in Asian countries, like India and China, has a history of around 5,000 years and it was an integral part of their culture. In China, silver jewelry was preferred over gold and often decorated with blue color. Chinese women wore all types of jewelry to show their beauty and wealth. The most common piece of jewelry worn by the Chinese was the earring, worn by both men and women.

India is considered the first country to mine diamonds, dating back 300 BC, and have continuously developed jewelry since that time. Before 2100 BC, the natives of the Indus Valley Civilization used to trade jewelry beads as at that time, metals were not widely used in jewelry items. These jewelry beads were made by using some simple techniques which also involved heating and polishing of a stone for color improvement. By 1500 BC, the natives of the Indus Valley were using metals such as gold to create earrings, necklaces, rings, bead necklaces and metallic bangles. Women wore jewelry items like gold rings, bracelets, earrings, necklaces, brooches, chokers, forehead bands etc. Unlike many other ancient cultures, Indus Valley jewelry was never buried with the dead and natives of Indus Valley used to pass these to their children or family members.

Recent Times

By the 17th century, the Renaissance and exploration had vital impacts on the growth of jewelry and it began to be established as one of the most important parts of fashionable clothing. By this time, wide ranges of gemstones were available due to the increase in exploration and trade. In the 17th century, craftsmen studied as well as explored many ancient cultures and made some important technical improvements in gemstone cutting, which helped to enhance the popularity of gemstone jewelry. Beautiful floral art was peaking at that time and flower designing became a dominant theme for fine jewelry.

By the 18th century, diamond jewelry became very popular and began to reflect changing trends in fashion. In this period, some new stone setting styles, including prong setting, was invented, which emphasized the brilliance of a diamond.

In the 19th century, the Industrial Revolution brought enormous change to the whole world including the jewelry industry. Mass production of jewelry and the inception of imitation stones made jewelry available to everyone. In this period, jewelry and jewelry accessories became very popular in the middle and lower classes.

In the 20th century and afterwards, jewelry design and development accelerated and is now available in more stylish and trendy forms. This century was characterized by the beginning of a new era in jewelry making. New technological improvements in stone cutting, polishing and setting were developed. New metals such as platinum and palladium were used in jewelry. In addition, new casting technologies along with new sophisticated machinery allowed to produce more versatile jewelry by using different patterns, shapes and styles.

In today's world, jewelry has become part of our day-to-day life and our culture. Jewelry making has improved exceptionally well due to involvement of computers and technology but most of the cutting, polishing and finishing work of a gemstone is done manually by experts.