How has jewellery changed over the years?

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November 9, 2012 by ginafashionistar

Image via Johntisza at Flickr creative commons

Jewellery is one of the world’s biggest industries, with the website GIA stating that ‘today’s worldwide jewellery industry is conservatively estimated to be a $120-plus billion business’, which shows just how large this sector is. However, jewellery has also been in existence for over 100,000 years, as evidenced by archaeological discoveries, and this means that the trends and styles of jewellery have changed dramatically over the years.

In early history it’s thought that a lot of countries used jewellery as a form of currency, although it was also worn as an aesthetic adornment. The Wikipedia page for jewellery explains that ‘most cultures have at some point had a practice of keeping large amounts of wealth stored in the form of jewellery. Numerous cultures move wedding dowries in the form of jewellery or create jewellery as a means to store or display coins. Alternatively, jewellery has been used as a currency or trade good; an example being the use of slave beads’.

The website eHow has a very informative article on Egyptian jewellery, explaining that ‘ancient Egyptians generally wore jewelry for religious use, in particular for magical protection from evil. Jewelry was especially important in death, because it was considered a way to help usher the dead along their journey into the afterlife. In the beginning, Egyptians used available natural materials to make jewelry, weaving branches, shells or bones into flax threads or cow hair’. The article also goes into how Egyptians incorporated a lot of symbols relating to religion and superstitions within their jewellery, such as the famous ankh (a cross shape) which represented immortality.

In Ancient Rome, jewellery was a status symbol and, thanks to the Romans, we now have a number of items of jewellery which we would be otherwise without. For instance, explains that ‘during this time metal working techniques evolved and jewelry pieces became more intricate and delicate. These techniques resulted in the increased popularity of earrings and other pieces which required more delicate construction methods’. In order to create jewellery, the Roman’s relied on the use of trade goods and materials, such as metals, minerals and gemstones which could be inserted into the jewellery.

Throughout the Victorian era jewellery became an even more important trade, and Queen Victoria had a huge influence on the jewellery of the period. As website Extasia says, ‘the [Victorian] era officially starts in 1837 with the coronation of a very young Queen Victoria. It ends with her death at the age of 82, in 1901. This woman LOVED jewelry. She designed it, wore it, and gave it as gifts through the rise of British Global Empire, the inception of the industrial revolution, and the reaction to mass production that gave birth to the Arts and Crafts Movement (1870-1914)’.

Possibly the biggest trends of the Victorian era include cameo necklaces, chokers, broaches, charm bracelets and more. The trends for jewellery changed again when Prince Albert died in 1861, after which Queen Victoria went into mourning until she died. The British public took notice and trends emerged for black jewellery, and this was crafted using jet (fossilised driftwood). Extasia explains that Whitby in Yorkshire was home to one of ‘the finest Jet deposits of the world [and so] carved Jet chains, Jet Crosses, Jet pins and earrings- indeed every style heretofore offered in colorful gems, glass and metal, were now produced in Jet’.

Modern jewellery is thought to have boomed in the 1940s, and the jewellery Wikipedia page writes extensively on the modern jewellery movement: ‘the movement is most noted with works by Georg Jensen and other jewellery designers who advanced the concept of wearable art. The advent of new materials, such as plastics, Precious Metal Clay (PMC), and colouring techniques, has led to increased variety in styles’.

Today, wedding rings and engagement rings make up a huge aspect of jewellery production, but just as it has been for the past 100,000 years, jewellery is still an accessorising tool that can be used to improve one’s appearance.

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