The use of gold jewelry can be dated back to Egypt 3000 BC. Gold was the preferred metal for jewelry making during ancient times. It was rare, it was easy to work with, and it never tarnished.
Magnificent bracelets, pendants, necklaces, rings, armlets, earrings, collars, and head ornaments were all produced in ancient Egypt, the land of the Pharaohs. In 1922 Howard Carter’s excavations led to the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb and many gold artifacts, all showing the art work of ancient Egypt.
In ancient Greece, gold beads in the shape of shells, flowers and beetles were very common. In Northern Greece beautiful necklaces and earrings have been excavated from burial.
By 300 BC the Greeks were using gems such as emeralds, garnets, amethysts and pearls. They also created colored glass stones and enamel stones. Carved agate cameos and gold filigree work were widely made.
The Italian Etruscans produced granulated textured gold work. They made very large, necklaces, bracelets and earrings. They were also known for producing hollow gold pendants that were filled with perfume. Even today the Italians are still known for the quality gold jewelry.
The Romans used 18 and 24 carat gold for their coins. Coinage gold was readily available so it was popular with craftsmen for decorative jewelry. Over 2000 years ago the Romans were using sapphires, emeralds, garnets, and amber in their jewelry.
During the 13th century the Medieval Sumptuary Laws were enacted which put a cap on luxurious jewelry and clothing. The town folk of France, banned from wearing girdles made from pearls or any other gemstone.
They were also banged from wearing gold or silver. Similar laws existed in England banning artisans from wearing gold and silver. These laws show how fine jewelry had spread beyond nobility to the town folk.
For as long as mankind has existed gems and jewels have been used as token of ones love for another. While many pieces of jewelry existed adorned with fine gems and made from precious metals, there was also some very good fake jewelry.
True gemstones and pearls originated in the east and they were bought mainly by the Italians. The Italian merchants then sold the jewelry to the Europeans.
High quality glass imitations were often used and sold with the intent to deceive. These high quality glass stones were often used in the Royal funeral robes and in children’s jewelry.
Valued more than gemstones, were the flawless, round, natural white pearls. South India provided some of the finest pearls. The Italians were able to make quality imitation glass gems and pearls that could only be identified by a gemologist.
There is historical proof that recipes for false pearls existed as far back as 1300. White powdered glass was mixed with albumen and snail slime to produce imitation pearls.
Earrings and Dress Jewelry
During the 17th century woman always wore earrings, whether they were dressed or undressed. It was very acceptable to wear faux pearls and paste gem earrings during the day saving fine diamond jewelry and gem jewelry for evening attire.
Dress ornamentation decreased in size. Sleeves or skirts were often decorated with matching brooches.
During the 16th it was very fashionable to wear large quantities of pearls. Both jewelry to clothing accessories were adorned with pearls.
During the 17th century Jaquin of Paris patented a method of making fake pearls. Hollow blown glass balls were coated with varnish mixed with iridescent ground fish scales. The hollow balls were then filled with wax to strengthen them. This discovery made Paris the main producer of faux pearls for well over 200 years.
Paste is a compound of glass containing white lead oxide and potash. Paste jewelry was very common in the later part of the 17th century. The highest quality and most long lasting paste jewelry was produced after 1734 by Georges Strass.
Paris lead the production of faux gems [paste] and faux pearls. Just about any kind of fake gem could be made, including fake opals.
After 1760 the production of fake jewelery spread to London and to Birmingham. During the industrial revolution steel was produced in large quantities so it was easily available. It was ues for setting marcasite and jasper ware cameos. Glass and Wedgwood porcelain paste cameos were made in English factories and were also very popular.
The fashion from this era also included ornate shoe buckles of paste, steel and tin, elaborate paste jewel buttons, as well as semi precious for day wear.
In 1804 Napoleon emerged as Emperor of France, resulting in a revival of jewelry and fashion as a new court of pomp.
‘Joailliers’ worked fine jewelry and ‘bijoutiers’ used less precious materials.
The members of the new French imperial family had the former French royal family gems re-set into the latest neo-classical style. The new trends soon found their way to Europe, particularly England. The main influence for design was the Greek and Roman.
Parures and Cameos
Parures were a matching suite of coordinating precious gems which could include a necklace, a comb, a tiara, a diadem, a bandeau, a pair of bracelets, pins, rings, drop earrings or and cluster stud earrings and possibly a belt clasp.
A full parure consisted of a minimum of four pieces. A demi parure consisted of three or less pieces. Both Josephine and Napoleon’s second wife had magnificent parures.
Once Napoleon’s cameo decorated coronation crown was seen, cameos became the rage. Cameos were carved from hard stone, conch shells and even from Wedgwood porcelain.
In 1837 when Queen Victoria came to the throne jewelry was romantic and nationalistic. It focused on European folk art, which later influenced the Arts and Crafts Movement. Until mid century most western jewelry came from Europe, with some jewelry being produced in North America and Australia.
Mass production of mid Victorian jewelry in Birmingham, Germany and Providence, Rhode Island resulted in lower jewelry standards. Victorian women rebelled when they saw some the poor quality of much of this machine made jewelry.
Woman rebelled by wearing no jewelry at all, or buying from the emerging artist craftsman. Some jewelers like Tiffany recognized a niche market and began to make fine jewelry of a very high standard, opening shops in main European cities.
During the Victorian era mourning jewelry was very fashionable. The initial months of mourning were unadorned by jewelry of any kind. As the mourning rituals increased, mourning jewelry developed as a fashion item. Queen Victorian wore a great deal of jet mourning jewelry after Prince Albert’s death.
Jet from Whitby, North of England was set into mourning pieces. All types of material that were black were used and almost all included a lock of the dead loved one’s hair. Hair was also plaited, braided or twisted very tightly until it became hard and thread like.
Arts and Crafts Jewelry
During the 1870s the Arts and Crafts movement evolved as a reaction to mass produced shoddy goods and inferior machine made products which were a result of the industrial revolution.
William Morris and John Ruskin were both leaders of the arts and crafts movement in England. They promoted simple Arts and Crafts of designs based on floral, primitive or Celtic forms worked as wallpapers, furniture and jewelry.
The polished stones used in Arts and Crafts jewelry gave a medieval, simpler, gentler, tooled hand made look and feel to items.
The Art Nouveau followed the arts and crafts movement resulting in a new jewelry look. The movement began in Paris and its influence went throughout the Western world. Art nouveau jewelry had curves, sinuous organic lines of romantic and imaginary dreaminess.
It was very ethereal turning into winged bird and flower forms. French, René Lalique was the master goldsmith of the era of Art Nouveau producing exquisite one off pieces. Today, the Art Nouveau style is still admired, sought after, and copied.
Various combinations of pearl necklaces come in and out of fashion with regularity so pearls too are a must. Today pearls are still a wardrobe essential. Both faux pearls and cultured pearls are very affordable today.
Since the opening of trade with China in the 1990s, many pearls are imported from China dropping the price to about 1/3 of what it was prior to China entering the market.
The Japanese have suffered disease in their pearl beds as well as facing competition and are finding it hard to compete with China’s prices.
Pearl necklaces and pearl earrings can lift a complexion and bring light and radiance to the face taking years off a woman whatever her age. They have been a wardrobe staple for centuries, and a wedding attire tradition.
Cultured pearls have become very affordable, and faux pearls are very cheap and the quality can be excellent. Currently Pearls are a very “hot” fashion statement and with the modern twist of being interspaced on gold wire or floating on special synthetic cord they are essential to the millennium look.
During the 1920s Lalique mass produced and designed high quality glass jewelry. Fake, or costume jewellery was sometimes then called cocktail jewelry.
Costume or Cocktail jewelry was greatly influenced by designers such as Coco Chanel, and Elsa Shiparelli as well as a host of other designers. These two designers were particularly known for encouraging clients to mix their fine jewelry and costume jewelry. Both designers offered imagination and fun and both often sported fabulous fakes.
In the late 1930s Napier of the USA was at the forefront of manufacturing fake cocktail jewelry offer glamour and escapism. Today, Napier still produces excellent contemporary costume pieces.
By the 1940s and 1950s American culture was very dominant in Europe. The influence of movie films and the prominence of film stars set the fashion stage for womens make-up, hair and wardrobe.
People wanted copies of outfits and jewelry worn by the actresses. Women believed that the glamour of Hollywood would rub off on them if they dressed and looked like the glamorous Hollywood actresses.
During the Second World War metals were rationed, halting the production of fine jewelry. Quality costume jewelry picked up the now defunct fine jewelry market. Costume jewelry flourished becoming an acceptable alternative to fine jewelry.
1980’s Television Influences Jewelry
During the 1980s with the evolution of glitzy television soaps such as Dynasty and Dallas, costume jewelry once again became a “hot” fashion statement. With over 250 million viewers, it didn’t take long for costume jewelry to be reborn.
Glitz and sparkle by day was not only acceptable, it became the norm. Earrings grew to an unbelievable size, as did other pieces of jewelry. By the 1990s this sparkly dazzling jewelry phenomena was dead, replace with tiny real diamond studs or a fine stud pearls.
21st Century Jewelry
For the 21st century women believe a mix is good. Fine jewelry combined with costume jewelry are wardrobe essentials. The sophisticated women of this century know what they want from their jewelry and how to wear it to make their fashion statement.
They recognize that costume jewelry can liven up their wardrobe. The types and quality of costume jewelry has grown enormously. Today one can purchase what is classified as fine costume jewelry which is usually plated at least seven times with 10 22 ct gold.
Swarovski crystal set in gold are common accessories, and cubic zirconium, man’s imitation diamond, can be purchased for a fraction of the cost of real diamonds allowing every women to add diamond styled jewelry to their wardrobe.
Ciro, Adrian Buckley, Butler and Wilson, Swarovski Crystal Jewelry Napier, Joan Rivers, Joan Collins, Christian Dior, California Crystal, Property of A Lady and of course Kenneth J Lane to name just a few continue to produce high quality fashion jewelry for today’s women.