History of Sterling Silver
Characteristics of Sterling Silver
The whitest of all of the precious metals, sterling silver has been heralded for centuries for its highly lustrous finish and versatile applications. Although harder than gold, sterling silver is still considered one of the more pliable and supple metals. Its malleability makes silver easy to hammer and mold into various forms and shapes. Silver melts at a slightly lower temperature than gold (1760 degrees F as opposed to 1960 degrees F).
Naming & History of Sterling Silver
Dating back to the time of primitive man, silver has been referred to by many different naming conventions. The story of how the word “sterling” was incorporated into the name is rooted in 12th-century lore. As payment for English cattle, an association of eastern Germans compensated the British with silver coins dubbed “Easterlings.” Eventually, the Easterling was widely accepted as a standard of English currency. The name was ultimately abbreviated to “Sterling,” which is now used to refer to the highest grade of silver metal.
The official designation of “sterling” to a piece of silver indicates that it contains at least 92.5% of pure silver. The remaining 7.5% can be comprised of any other metal alloy, most commonly copper. Although it may seem that an even higher silver content would be desirable, that’s not actually the case. Metal alloys with a silver content of more than 92.5% are too pliable to be used without suffering from dents and dings. The second alloy is required to ensure the metal’s stability and resilience.
Other Types of Silver
In addition to sterling silver, which contains 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper alloy, there are many different varieties and grades of silver in production throughout the world:
Fine silver: This type of silver has a silver content of 99.9% or higher. Fine silver is much too soft to be used in everyday applications, such as jewelry, d?r accents, or tableware. This premium class of silver is used to make bullion bars for international commerce.
Britannia silver: A higher grade than sterling silver, Britannia has a silver content of at least 95.84%. Originating as a standard in Britain as far back as 1697, Britannia silver is denoted by a hallmark stamp of “958” to indicate its silver content, sometimes accompanied by the symbol of Britannia.
Mexican silver: Another premium silver, Mexican silver consists of at least 95% pure silver and 5% copper. This elite form of the metal is not currently in wide circulation in Mexico; most of the silver jewelry and accents sold in Mexican marketplaces is forged from 92.5% sterling.
Coin silver: Comprised of 90% silver and 10% copper, coin silver is made from melting down standard silver coins. Lower in silver content than sterling, this metal was widely used as silver tableware in the United States between 1820 and 1868, and as common currency until 1964.
German silver: This term is usually used to refer to 800-standard silver, which consists of 80% silver and is commonly used for silverware, silver tableware, and decorative silver accents. 900-standard silver is another higher-grade version of German silver, and has a 90% silver content.
History of Sterling Silver in Fine Dining
If you’ve ever attended a very formal dinner party, you may have noticed the use of sterling silver tableware in some capacity. With its polished luster and timeless elegance, the addition of silver has the power to turn any ordinary meal into an elaborate event. Although used more sparingly today, the precious metal was historically a key component in setting a proper table.
The use of sterling silver in fine dining was most prevalent between 1840 and 1940, with the biggest surge between 1870 and 1920. During this time, the production and merchandising of silver ramped up considerably to accommodate the growing demand.
During the Victorian era, it was frowned upon to ever touch or handle food without the use of a utensil. The ultimate criterion for a fine dining table was sterling silver flatware, a must when setting a table for a formal meal in the United States and Europe. Silver flatware collections were extensive, often including up to 100 pieces. Formal dinners in the late 1800s and early 1900s were long, extravagant affairs, sometimes including up to 10 or more courses, each of which demanded its own set of silver utensils. It wasn’t uncommon to use several different types of sterling silver forks, spoons, and knives during a typical dinner.
Sterling silver was also used for serving pieces, such as large forks, cake knives, carving knives, soup spoons, and gravy ladles. In addition to its pleasing aesthetic properties, silver’s heft and stability made it a serviceable tool for cutting and serving food. Often, silver serving pieces were embellished with hand-carved designs and ivory accents.
And it didn’t stop there. Decorative table accents included sterling silver napkin rings, coasters, and elaborate silver candlesticks. After the meal, the precious metal was used for pots of hot water for tea, post-dinner liqueur goblets, sterling silver water pitchers, silver mint julep cups, and dishes of melted chocolate for topping desserts.
The prevalence of sterling silver in fine dining waned a bit in the mid-1900s, mainly due to rising costs of silver production. With modernity came a faster pace of life-people were busier and more rushed, and the elaborate, multi-course dinners that had once been the norm were relegated to only very special occasions among the upper class. Sterling silver dishes and tableware required a more time-consuming cleaning process than other materials, which also contributed to its diminishing popularity at the dinner table.
Today, although it’s not as widely used as it was during the Victorian era, there are many different ways you can revive the tradition of incorporating pure sterling silver tableware into a fine dining setting. Display hors d’oeuvres on a silver platter, or fill ornate silver cups with sugar and cream for coffee. Sterling silver flatware continues to make a grand impression, and serves as a luxurious wedding or housewarming gift. Accents such as silver candlesticks, vases, and sterling silver place card holders are also great ways to include the fine metal in your table decor.
Death Valley ’49ers
The Death Valley ’49ers were a group of pioneers from the Eastern United States that endured a long and difficult journey during the late 1840s California Gold Rush to prospect in the Sutter’s Fort area of the Central Valley and Sierra Nevada in California. Their route from Utah went through the Great Basin Desert in Nevada, and Death Valley and the Mojave Desert in Southern California, in attempting to reach the Gold Country.
The Gold Rush
On January 24, 1848, James W. Marshall and his crew found gold at Sutter’s Mill in Coloma, California. This discovery would lure tens of thousands of people from the United States and foreign nations. People packed their belongings and began to travel by covered wagon to what they hoped would be new and better life. Since the first great influx of these pioneers began in 1849, they are generally referred to as 49ers.
In the Fall of 1846, the Donner Party had pioneered the Hastings Cutoff of the California Trail through what would become, the next year, Salt Lake City. Blazing the new route had slowed the group, who reached the Sierra Nevada late in the fall. A storm trapped them in the mountains, a disastrous event. The stories of the Donner Party were still fresh on everyone’s mind when a group of wagons arrived at Salt Lake City in early fall, 1849. This was too late to reach the Sierra Nevada in time to cross the mountains without risk of being similarly trapped, so it appeared the group would have to wait out the winter in Salt Lake City. They heard about the Old Spanish Trail, a route that went around the south end of the Sierras and was safe to travel in the winter. It was not certain if wagons could take the route, but some had recently headed for the trail to try, so the group found a guide by name of Jefferson Hunt who had previously traveled the route and agreed to lead them. These individuals would become part of a story of human suffering in a place which they named Death Valley.
The first several days of travel from their gathering point near Provo, Utah went well at first. They traveled south along the present course of Interstate 15 to reach the Spanish Trail, which intersects I-15 at about present day Parowan, Utah but upon reaching the Beaver River about 30 miles north of Parowan, Hunt tried a route along which he had never personally traveled. He had previously traveled up the Spanish Trail from California with Porter Rockwell, and Rockwell had left the trail some miles west of where it intersected the I-15 corridor and taken a different route, presumably cutting off several miles from the trip. The party traveled west down the Beaver River, to present day Minersville, Utah, where they camped for two nights to rest and prepare for a long stretch with no water. They then turned south and traveled twelves miles and made a dry camp, from which Hunt continued southwest across the Escalante Desert to find the Spanish Trail and locate a water source along it, to which he could lead the train directly from their present position. While the group waited for Hunt, they ended up driving their stock back to the river for water. Hunt ultimately could not find water, he almost died from thirst trying, and the party ended up turning back. and continued down the I-15 corridor over the difficult Beaver Ridge to the Parowan Valley, where they camped near Little Salt Lake. The attempted shortcut had cost them seven days, which would strain their provisions for the rest of the trip.
The parties split up
The group’s confidence in Hunt was diminished by the gaff at the Beaver River, and while in camp, a man by the name of Orson K. Smith rode in with a group taking a pack train and showed some of the people a map made by Elijah Barney Ward, a former trapper who had trailed stolen horses from California over Walker Pass. The map showed a route from the Escalante Desert to the pass. After Smith and the pack train had left with the map, intending to take the trail themselves, discussion continued. Everyone agreed that the Ward route would cut off 500 miles from their journey so most of the 107 wagons decided to follow Smith. The party proceeded to the Spanish Trail and turned west, and when, at the end of October, they reached a point near present-day Enterprise, Utah, where the Jefferson Hunt Monument has been constructed to commemorate this historic event, most of the wagons continued west while a handful turned south to follow the Spanish Trail with Hunt. Those that struck out on Ward route soon found themselves confronted with the precipitous obstacle of Beaver Dam Wash, a gaping canyon on the present-day Utah–Nevada state line (Beaver Dam State Park, Nevada). Smith and the pack train had been able to traverse the canyon, but the wagons could not.
Most of the people became discouraged and turned back to join Jefferson Hunt, all but about 20 wagons decided to continue on. Despite the fact that the group didn’t have a reliable map, they decided to continue on thinking that all they had to do was go west and they would eventually find the pass. It took several days to find a route for the wagons around the canyon, after which the group passed through the area of present-day Panaca, Nevada, and crossed over “Bennetts Pass” to Del Mar Valley. Here they started having difficulty finding water but eventually found their way to Crystal Springs in the Pahranagat Valley. They continued over Hancock Summit into Tikaboo Valley and then on to Groom Lake, now encompassed by Area 51. At Groom Lake they got into a dispute on which way to go. One group—the Bennett-Arcan party—wanted to head south toward the distant, snow-clad Mt. Charleston in hopes of finding a good water source. The other group—the Jayhawkers—wanted to stay with the original plan of traveling west. The group eventually split and went their separate ways but they both were to have two things in common. They were both saved from dying of thirst by a snow storm and they both ended up meeting again at Ash Meadows in the Amargosa Desert of the Amargosa Valley located east of Death Valley. From here they continued on, following the Amargosa River bed to present-day Death Valley Junction, California, and then along the same route followed by current California State Route 190 past the Funeral Mountains.
Lost pioneers in Death Valley
The lost pioneers had now been traveling across the desert for about two months since leaving the Old Spanish Trail. Their oxen were weak from lack of forage and their wagons were in poor shape. They too were weary and discouraged but their worst problem was not the valley that lay before them. It was the towering Panamint Range mountains to the west that stood like an impenetrable wall as far as could be seen in both directions.
They decided to head toward what appeared to be a pass to the north near present-day Stovepipe Wells, but after discovering this was also impassable, decided they were going to have to leave their wagons and belongings behind and walk to civilization. They slaughtered several oxen and used the wood of their wagons to cook the meat and make jerky. The place where they did this is today referred to as “Burned Wagons Camp”, present day Burnt Wagons, and is located near the sand dunes of Death Valley. From here, they began climbing toward Towne Pass and then turned south over Emigrant Pass to Wildrose Canyon in the Panamint Range. After crossing the mountains and dropping down into Panamint Valley, they turned south and climbed a small pass into Searles Valley, with Searles Lake, before making their way into Indian Wells Valley near present-day Ridgecrest. It was here that they finally got their first look at the Sierra Nevada Mountains. They turned south, probably following a trail and traveled across Fremont Valley, close to the same route followed by current California State Route 14. Ironically, they walked right by Walker Pass, present-day California State Route 178 to Lake Isabella, the mountain pass they had set out to look for almost three months earlier. 
Passing by Walker Pass, they entered into what was to become the worst part of their journey, across the Mojave Desert and its Antelope Valley. This is a region with very few water sources to be found. The only things that saved them from dying of thirst were a few puddles of water and ice from a recent storm. Eventually they found their way over a pass in the Sierra Pelona Mountains near Palmdale, and, following the Santa Clara River, were finally discovered and rescued by Mexican Californios cowboys from Rancho Ex-Mission San Fernando, located near present-day Santa Clarita Valley.
In January 1848, James Marshall discovered gold in the American River northeast of Sacramento. By the end of the year, thousands of prospectors were dropping everything to bolt west. The gold rush peaked in 1852, when $80 million worth was mined, and ended with the discovery of silver in Nevada in 1859. Though most found only fool’s gold, the rush essentially minted the new state of California. Here are some amazing facts from the period.
1. It was one of the largest migrations in American history.
The Californian announced the discovery of gold in 1848 (via Wikimedia)
In early 1848, only about 1,000 non-Native Americans lived in California. Less than two years later, there were 100,000. People came from all 31 states and at least 25 countries, especially China. Historical newspapers on Ancestry are filled with breathless reports of land “richly impregnated with gold” (Gettysburg, PA) and men “nearly crazy with the riches suddenly forced into their pockets” (Prairie Du Chien, WI).
Ads touted wares for the traveling prospectors, as in the Bangor, Maine, paper above. Though the United States had only acquired the territory in 1848, its rapid growth accelerated its incorporation into the Union. California became the 31st state in just two years.
2. Two brothers mined $1.5 million worth of gold in a single year.
John and Daniel Murphy arrived in the Sierra Nevada in 1848 and struck gold within days. In a year, they mined $1.5 million worth of the precious metal, about $40 million today. (The town of Murphys, California, is named for them today.) Another legendary miner found $17,000 in gold in a week. But most didn’t have anywhere near that kind of luck.
3. At the start of the gold rush, California had no banks.
Due to American banking crises in the 1830s and 1840s, California passed a provisional constitution in 1849 that prohibited the creation of state or commercial banks. This left banking to private individuals, who operated without any government regulations. These private bankers became extremely powerful and could even change gold into currency. A government mint opened in 1854.
4. There were hardly any women.
In 1850, only 3 percent of California’s nonnative population was female. Saloons and theaters put the few women around on display. There were the so-called “model artists,” otherwise known as strippers, and “fancy ladies” who poured drinks and provided companionship at gambling halls. Gradually, wives and family members of the miners arrived, bringing a semblance of civilization to the rowdy West. By 1860, nonnative women made up 19 percent of the state’s population.
5. In a decade, it created the new metropolis of San Francisco.
At the start of the gold rush, San Francisco was a scrappy frontier outpost. In 1848, the population was 1,000; in 1850, it was 20,000. By 1861, San Francisco had over 56,000 people and was a bustling metropolis with soaring property values. The city directory from that year (above), viewable on Ancestry, describes the transformation with awe. In the previous year, it says, there were 1,455 wood and brick buildings, including hotels and theaters, constructed within the city limits. “It is easy to see that the accommodations for the multitudes have been vastly increased,” the directory said, “and living in San Francisco rendered more pleasant and inviting to the immigration that has given impetus to the rapid development.”
6. The city was built on top of gold rush ships.
Not all ’49ers came to California by covered wagon. Others arrived on ships, which passengers and crew quickly abandoned in their hunt for gold. With San Francisco growing rapidly, these boats were repurposed as shops or hotels, or torn apart for lumber. Others were left to rot and sink in the harbor, and the city was eventually built on top of them. Construction projects taking place as recently as 2001 have revealed ship remains buried underground.
7. Merchants, not miners, were the ones who really got rich.
San Francisco in 1851. (Courtesy of Library of Congress)
With thousands of prospectors flooding the frontier, cities and towns had to be built from scratch. That led to businesses to feed, clothe, supply, and entertain prospectors. Entrepreneurs who made a killing during the rush included Levi Strauss. A Bavarian tailor, he came to San Francisco in 1850 intending to manufacture tents and wagon covers. Instead, he made pants sturdy enough for the miners out of the durable material he brought with him. He eventually turned them into blue jeans.
8. If you struck gold, you ordered a Hangtown Fry.
An unusual delicacy emerged out of the gold rush: an omelette cooked in bacon fat and topped with fried oysters. This is supposedly what one lucky miner ordered when he sauntered into an eatery and realized he could order absolutely anything on the menu. The name came from its town of origin, known for its frontier-style justice. You can still find the dish at restaurants in San Francisco.
California Gold Rush
Sailing to California at the beginning of the Gold Rush
|Date||January 24, 1848–1855|
|Location||Sierra Nevada and Northern California goldfields|
|Outcome||California becomes a U.S. state
The California Gold Rush (1848–1855) began on January 24, 1848, when gold was found by James W. Marshall at Sutter’s Mill in Coloma, California. The news of gold brought some 300,000 people to California from the rest of the United States and abroad. The sudden influx of immigration and gold into the money supply reinvigorated the American economy, and California became one of the few American states to go directly to statehood without first being a territory, in the Compromise of 1850. The Gold Rush initiated the California Genocide, with 100,000 Native Californians dying between 1848 and 1868. By the time it ended, California had gone from a thinly populated ex-Mexican territory to the home state ofthe first nominee for the Republican Party.
The effects of the Gold Rush were substantial. Whole indigenous societies were attacked and pushed off their lands by the gold-seekers, called “forty-niners” (referring to 1849). The first to hear confirmed information of the gold rush were the people in Oregon, the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii), and Latin America, and they were the first to start flocking to the state in late 1848. Of the 300,000 people who came to America during the Gold Rush, approximately half arrived by sea and half came overland on the California Trail and the Gila River trail; forty-niners often faced substantial hardships on the trip. While most of the newly arrived were Americans, the Gold Rush attracted tens of thousands from Latin America, Europe, Australia, and China. Agriculture and ranching expanded throughout the state to meet the needs of the settlers. San Francisco grew from a small settlement of about 200 residents in 1846 to a boomtown of about 36,000 by 1852. Roads, churches, schools and other towns were built throughout California. In 1849 a state constitution was written. The new constitution was adopted by referendum vote, and the future state’s interim first governor and legislature were chosen. In September, 1850, California became a state.
At the beginning of the Gold Rush, there was no law regarding property rights in the goldfields and a system of “staking claims” was developed. Prospectors retrieved the gold from streams and riverbeds using simple techniques, such as panning. Although the mining caused environmental harm, more sophisticated methods of gold recovery were developed and later adopted around the world. New methods of transportation developed as steamships came into regular service. By 1869 railroads were built across the country from California to the eastern United States. At its peak, technological advances reached a point where significant financing was required, increasing the proportion of gold companies to individual miners. Gold worth tens of billions of today’s dollars was recovered, which led to great wealth for a few. However, many returned home with little more than they had started with.
How did gold get its name?
The term “Gold” as we know it today, actually derives from Old English and Germanic origins.
Actually, gold is not the true name of this rare yellow metal although it is the commonly accepted name in use today. Almost every culture has had some experience with gold and there have been many names for this precious metal. The term “Gold” as we know it today, actually derives from Old English and Germanic origins.
The German Gothic language expressed gold with the word gulþa which later evolved into geolu in the Old English language. Geolu is translated to mean “yellow”, thus naming the metal for it’s most dominant characteristic; its golden yellow colour. In the twelfth century, Middle English brought another evolution to the word and our modern word, gold, came into existence.
The chemical symbol for Gold on the periodic table of elements is AU. This symbol is a tribute to the Latin word, aurum, loosely translated “glowing dawn” which was used to describe gold in Ancient Rome. The Ancient Romans were not the first civilization to encounter gold but they did invent improvements on the way gold was mined and extracted, thus increasing the availability of gold throughout their empire. Many of these improved methods invented by the Ancient Romans have stood the test of time and are still in use by gold miners today.
• Every American uses an average of 40,000 pounds of new minerals each year.
• Mining has touched less than one-quarter of one percent of all the land in the U.S.
• About 320,000 people work directly in mining throughout the United States and employment in
industries that support mining, including manufacturing, accounts for another 3 million jobs.
• Processed materials of mineral origins account for 5 percent of U.S. gross domestic product.
• Only 3 million acres of public land, about the size of a county in Nevada, have gone into private
ownership from mining, compared with 94 million acres granted to railroads and 288 million acres
as agricultural homesteads.
• Minerals account for U.S. exports of as much as $6 billion per year.
• A television requires 35 different minerals; 40 minerals are used to make telephones and 15
minerals are needed to make a car.
• The United States is the world’s second-largest producer of copper and gold.
• The United States has the world’s largest reserve of coal.
• Wyoming is the nation’s top coal-producing state.
• The average miner earns $43,653 per year in salary, not including overtime, bonuses and benefits,
making mining the highest-paying industrial sector.
• Investment in technology, training and equipment has made the U.S. mining industry the safest in
Source: National Mining Association
• The average American now consumes 37mil lbs. of minerals, metals and fuel, over the course of a
lifetime. That includes 2,000lbs of copper, 6,000lbs of aluminum, 1,000lbs of lead, 1,000 lbs. of
zinc and 1.8 oz of gold per person.
• Mining has touched less than one-quarter of one percent of all the land in the U.S.
• About 320,000 people work directly in mining throughout the US and employment in industries
that support mining, including manufacturing, accounts for another 3 million jobs.
• Only 3 million acres of public land, about the size of a county in Nevada, have gone into private
ownership from mining, compared with 94 million acres granted to railroads and 288 million acres
as agricultural homesteads.
• Minerals account for U.S. exports of as much as $6 billion per year.
• A television requires 35 different minerals; 40 minerals are used to make telephones and 15
minerals go into making a car!
• The U.S. is the world’s second-largest producer of copper and gold.
• The U.S. has the world’s largest reserve of coal.
• Investment in technology, training and equipment has made the U.S. mining industry the safest in
• Some believe that the reason policemen in the USA are nicknamed “cops” or “coppers” is to do
with their uniforms which used to have copper buttons.
• Slag dumps in Asia Minor and on islands in the Aegean Sea indicate that man learned to separate
silver from lead as early as 3000 B.C.
• Nevada lands directly affected by mining is one tenth of 1%. That is not bad considering that it is
110,561 square miles and ranks 7th in the United States in size. It ranks 43rd in population at
800,493 people (1980 census).
• In ancient times salt was traded ounce for ounce for gold. Salt was once made into ‘coins’ and
‘cakes’ in china and the Mediterranean for use as currency. Several cultures levied taxes on salt.
• Gold was first legalized as money as early as 1091 BC in China as an alternative to silk. Gold is
still the only universally accepted medium of exchange.
• Coal was used widely in England in the 1600’s because of wood shortages. Brewers had decided to
try to dry their malts with coal generated heat but the fumes were absorbed by the brew, ruining
the taste. The brewers found, however, that the undesirable gases could be eliminated if the coal
was first heated in an air tight oven. Thus the discovery of the coke making process that has since
been an essential part in the making of iron and steel.
• Gold is the most ductile (easily molded or shaped) of all metals, allowing it to be drawn out into
tiny wires or threads without breaking. As a result, a single ounce of gold can be drawn into a wire
five miles long. Gold’s malleability is also unparalleled. It can be shaped or extended into
extraordinarily thin sheets. For example, one ounce of gold can be hammered into a 100 square
• The greatest gold rush in U.S. History began when gold was discovered at Sutter’s mill in
California by a man named James Marshall on January 24th, 1848.
• Because of the California gold rush there were enough people there by 1850 for California to be
admitted into the Union as a state.
• The Pikes Peak gold rush in 1859 opened up Colorado and launched the city of Denver.
• Homestake mine, in Lead, South Dakota, is one of the largest gold mines in the US. Operations
began on April 9, 1876 and is the oldest continually operating gold mine in the world.
• 2000 years ago the Chinese used an alloy of nickel.
• Pure nickel was first isolated in 1751 by Axel Cronstedt, a Swedish scientist.
• The Soviet Union is the worlds top nickel producer weighing in at about a fourth of the world total
in nickel production.
• Nitric acid was one of the first acids known. Many alchemists of the Middle Ages used it in their
• Salts are taken from the ground and purified…and end up on your kitchen table. Deposits were
formed by the evaporation of large parts of oceans millions of years ago. In these natural
formations also occur calcium carbonate and potash. Underground salt deposits are found all
around the world.
• There are two methods of removing salt form the ground…room and pillar mining and solution
• Of the 50 states in the union ALL of them mine something.
A newborn infant will need a lifetime supply of:
• 800 pounds of lead
• 750 pounds of zinc
• 1,500 pounds of copper
• 3,593 pounds of aluminum
• 32,700 pounds of iron
• 26,550 pounds of clays
• 28,213 pounds of salt
• and 1,238,101 pounds of stone, sand, gravel and cement
Source National Mining Association
Jewellery (British English) or jewelry (American English) consists of small decorative items worn for personal adornment, such as brooches, rings, necklaces, earrings, and bracelets. Jewellery may be attached to the body or the clothes, and the term is restricted to durable ornaments, excluding flowers for example. For many centuries metal, often combined with gemstones, has been the normal material for jewellery, but other materials such as shells and other plant materials may be used. It is one of the oldest type of archaeological artefact – with 100,000-year-old beads made from Nassarius shells thought to be the oldest known jewellery. The basic forms of jewellery vary between cultures but are often extremely long-lived; in European cultures the most common forms of jewellery listed above have persisted since ancient times, while other forms such as adornments for the nose or ankle, important in other cultures, are much less common. Historically, the most widespread influence on jewellery in terms of design and style have come from Asia.
Jewellery may be made from a wide range of materials. Gemstones and similar materials such as amber and coral, precious metals, beads, and shells have been widely used, and enamel has often been important. In most cultures jewellery can be understood as a status symbol, for its material properties, its patterns, or for meaningful symbols. Jewellery has been made to adorn nearly every body part, from hairpins to toe rings, and even genital jewellery. The patterns of wearing jewellery between the sexes, and by children and older people can vary greatly between cultures, but adult women have been the most consistent wearers of jewellery; in modern European culture the amount worn by adult males is relatively low compared with other cultures and other periods in European culture.
The word jewellery itself is derived from the word jewel, which was anglicised from the Old French “jouel“, and beyond that, to the Latin word “jocale“, meaning plaything. In British English, Indian English, New Zealand English, Hiberno-English, Australian English, and South African English it is spelled jewellery, while the spelling is jewelry in American English. Both are used in Canadian English, though jewelry prevails by a two to one margin. In French and a few other European languages the equivalent term, joaillerie there, may also cover decorated metalwork in precious metal such as objets d’art and church items, not just objects worn on the person.
- 1Form and function
- 2Materials and methods
- 3Impact on society
- 7Body modification
- 8Jewellery market
- 9See also
- 11Further reading
- 12External links
Form and function
Humans have used jewellery for a number of different reasons:
- functional, generally to fix clothing or hair in place, or to tell the time (in the case of watches)
- as a marker of social status and personal status, as with a wedding ring
- as a signifier of some form of affiliation, whether ethnic, religious or social
- to provide talismanic protection (in the form of amulets)
- as an artistic display
- as a carrier or symbol of personal meaning – such as love, mourning, or even luck
Most cultures at some point have had a practice of keeping large amounts of wealth stored in the form of jewellery. Numerous cultures store wedding dowries in the form of jewellery or make 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.
Jewellery can also symbolise group membership (as in the case, of the Christiancrucifix or the JewishStar of David) or status (as in the case of chains of office, or the Western practice of married people wearing wedding rings).
Wearing of amulets and devotional medals to provide protection or ward off evil is common in some cultures. These may take the form of symbols (such as the ankh), stones, plants, animals, body parts (such as the Khamsa), or glyphs (such as stylised versions of the Throne Verse in Islamic art).
Materials and methods
In creating jewellery, gemstones, coins, or other precious items are often used, and they are typically set into precious metals. Alloys of nearly every metal known have been encountered in jewellery. Bronze, for example, was common in Roman times. Modern fine jewellery usually includes gold, white gold, platinum, palladium, titanium, or silver. Most contemporary gold jewellery is made of an alloy of gold, the purity of which is stated in karats, indicated by a number followed by the letter K. American gold jewellery must be of at least 10K purity (41.7% pure gold), (though in the UK the number is 9K (37.5% pure gold) and is typically found up to 18K (75% pure gold). Higher purity levels are less common with alloys at 22 K (91.6% pure gold), and 24 K (99.9% pure gold) being considered too soft for jewellery use in America and Europe. These high purity alloys, however, are widely used across Asia, the Middle East and Africa. Platinum alloys range from 900 (90% pure) to 950 (95.0% pure). The silver used in jewellery is usually sterling silver, or 92.5% fine silver. In costume jewellery, stainless steel findings are sometimes used.
Other commonly used materials include glass, such as fused-glass or enamel; wood, often carved or turned; shells and other natural animal substances such as bone and ivory; natural clay; polymer clay; Hemp and other twines have been used as well to create jewellery that has more of a natural feel. However, any inclusion of lead or lead solder will give an English Assay office (the building which gives English jewellery its stamp of approval, the Hallmark) the right to destroy the piece, however it is very rare for the assay office to do so.
Beads are frequently used in jewellery. These may be made of glass, gemstones, metal, wood, shells, clay and polymer clay. Beaded jewellery commonly encompasses necklaces, bracelets, earrings, belts and rings. Beads may be large or small; the smallest type of beads used are known as seed beads, these are the beads used for the “woven” style of beaded jewellery. Another use of seed beads is an embroidery technique where seed beads are sewn onto fabric backings to create broad collar neck pieces and beaded bracelets. Bead embroidery, a popular type of handwork during the Victorian era, is enjoying a renaissance in modern jewellery making. Beading, or beadwork, is also very popular in many African and indigenous North American cultures.
Diamonds were first mined in India. Pliny may have mentioned them, although there is some debate as to the exact nature of the stone he referred to as Adamas; In 2005, Australia, Botswana, Russia and Canada ranked among the primary sources of gemstone diamond production. There are negative consequences of the diamond trade in certain areas. Diamonds mined during the recent civil wars in Angola, Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone, and other nations have been labelled as blood diamonds when they are mined in a war zone and sold to finance an insurgency.
Many precious and semiprecious stones are used for jewellery. Among them are:
- Amber, an ancient organic gemstone, is composed of tree resin that has hardened over time. The stone must be at least one million years old to be classified as amber, and some amber can be up to 120 million years old.
- Amethyst has historically been the most prized gemstone in the quartz family. It is treasured for its purple hue, which can range in tone from light to dark.
- Emeralds are one of the three main precious gemstones (along with rubies and sapphires) and are known for their fine green to bluish green colour. They have been treasured throughout history, and some historians report that the Egyptians mined emerald as early as 3500 BC.
- Jade is most commonly associated with the colour green but can come in a number of other colours as well. Jade is closely linked to Asian culture, history, and tradition, and is sometimes referred to as the stone of heaven.
- Jasper is a gemstone of the chalcedony family that comes in a variety of colours. Often, jasper will feature unique and interesting patterns within the coloured stone. Picture jasper is a type of jasper known for the colours (often beiges and browns) and swirls in the stone’s pattern.
- Quartz refers to a family of crystalline gemstones of various colours and sizes. Among the well-known types of quartz are rose quartz (which has a delicate pink colour), and smoky quartz (which comes in a variety of shades of translucent brown). A number of other gemstones, such as Amethyst and Citrine, are also part of the quartz family. Rutilated quartz is a popular type of quartz containing needle-like inclusions.
- Rubies are known for their intense red colour and are among the most highly valued precious gemstones. Rubies have been treasured for millennia. In Sanskrit, the word for ruby is ratnaraj, meaning king of precious stones.
- The most popular form of sapphire is blue sapphire, which is known for its medium to deep blue colour and strong saturation. Fancy sapphires of various colours are also available. In the United States, blue sapphire tends to be the most popular and most affordable of the three major precious gemstones (emerald, ruby, and sapphire).
- Turquoise is found in only a few places on earth, and the world’s largest turquoise producing region is the southwest United States. Turquoise is prized for its attractive colour, most often an intense medium blue or a greenish blue, and its ancient heritage. Turquoise is used in a great variety of jewellery styles. It is perhaps most closely associated with southwest and Native American jewellery, but it is also used in many sleek, modern styles. Some turquoise contains a matrix of dark brown markings, which provides an interesting contrast to the gemstone’s bright blue colour.
Some gemstones (like pearls, coral, and amber) are classified as organic, meaning that they are produced by living organisms. Others are inorganic, meaning that they are generally composed of and arise from minerals.
Some gems, for example, amethyst, have become less valued as methods of extracting and importing them have progressed. Some man-made gems can serve in place of natural gems, such as cubic zirconia, which can be used in place of diamond.
For platinum, gold, and silver jewellery, there are many techniques to create finishes. The most common are high-polish, satin/matte, brushed, and hammered. High-polished jewellery is the most common and gives the metal a highly reflective, shiny look. Satin, or matte finish reduces the shine and reflection of the jewellery, and this is commonly used to accentuate gemstones such as diamonds. Brushed finishes give the jewellery a textured look and are created by brushing a material (similar to sandpaper) against the metal, leaving “brush strokes”. Hammered finishes are typically created by using a rounded steel hammer and hammering the jewellery to give it a wavy texture.
Some jewellery is plated to give it a shiny, reflective look or to achieve a desired colour. Sterling silver jewellery may be plated with a thin layer of 0.999 fine silver (a process known as flashing) or may be plated with rhodium or gold. Base metal costume jewellery may also be plated with silver, gold, or rhodium for a more attractive finish.
Impact on society
Jewellery has been used to denote status. In ancient Rome, only certain ranks could wear rings; later, sumptuary laws dictated who could wear what type of jewellery. This was also based on rank of the citizens of that time. Cultural dictates have also played a significant role. For example, the wearing of earrings by Western men was considered effeminate in the 19th century and early 20th century. More recently, the display of body jewellery, such as piercings, has become a mark of acceptance or seen as a badge of courage within some groups but is completely rejected in others. Likewise, hip hop culture has popularised the slang term bling-bling, which refers to ostentatious display of jewellery by men or women.
Conversely, the jewellery industry in the early 20th century launched a campaign to popularise wedding rings for men, which caught on, as well as engagement rings for men, which did not, going so far as to create a false history and claim that the practice had medieval roots. By the mid-1940s, 85% of weddings in the U.S. featured a double-ring ceremony, up from 15% in the 1920s. Religion has also played a role in societies influence. Islam, for instance, considers the wearing of gold by men as a social taboo, and many religions have edicts against excessive display. In Christianity, the New Testament gives injunctions against the wearing of gold, in the writings of the apostles Paul and Peter. In Revelation 17, “the great whore” or false religious system, is depicted as being “decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand.” (Rev. 17:4) For Muslims it is considered haraam for a man to wear gold.
The history of jewellery is long and goes back many years, with many different uses among different cultures. It has endured for thousands of years and has provided various insights into how ancient cultures worked.
The first signs of jewellery came from the people in Africa. Perforated beads suggesting shell jewellery made from sea snail shells have been found dating to 75,000 years ago at Blombos Cave. In Kenya, at Enkapune Ya Muto, beads made from perforated ostrich egg shells have been dated to more than 40,000 years ago. In Russia, a stone bracelet and marble ring are attributed to a similar age.
Later, the European early modern humans had crude necklaces and bracelets of bone, teeth, berries, and stone hung on pieces of string or animal sinew, or pieces of carved bone used to secure clothing together. In some cases, jewellery had shell or mother-of-pearlpieces. A decorated engraved pendant dating to around 11,000 BC, and thought to be the oldest Mesolithic art in Britain, was found at the site of Star Carr in North Yorkshire in 2015. In southern Russia, carved bracelets made of mammothtusk have been found. The Venus of Hohle Fels features a perforation at the top, showing that it was intended to be worn as a pendant.
Around seven-thousand years ago, the first sign of copper jewellery was seen. In October 2012 the Museum of Ancient History in Lower Austria revealed that they had found a grave of a female jewellery worker – forcing archaeologists to take a fresh look at prehistoric gender roles after it appeared to be that of a female fine metal worker – a profession that was previously thought to have been carried out exclusively by men.
The first signs of established jewellery making in Ancient Egypt was around 3,000–5,000 years ago. The Egyptians preferred the luxury, rarity, and workability of gold over other metals. In Predynastic Egypt jewellery soon began to symbolise political and religious power in the community. Although it was worn by wealthy Egyptians in life, it was also worn by them in death, with jewellery commonly placed among grave goods.
In conjunction with gold jewellery, Egyptians used coloured glass, along with semi-precious gems. The colour of the jewellery had significance. Green, for example, symbolised fertility. Lapis lazuli and silver had to be imported from beyond the country’s borders.
Egyptian designs were most common in Phoenician jewellery. Also, ancient Turkish designs found in Persian jewellery suggest that trade between the Middle East and Europe was not uncommon. Women wore elaborate gold and silver pieces that were used in ceremonies.
Europe and the Middle East
By approximately 5,000 years ago, jewellery-making had become a significant craft in the cities of Mesopotamia. The most significant archaeological evidence comes from the Royal Cemetery of Ur, where hundreds of burials dating 2900–2300 BC were unearthed; tombs such as that of Puabi contained a multitude of artefacts in gold, silver, and semi-precious stones, such as lapis lazuli crowns embellished with gold figurines, close-fitting collar necklaces, and jewel-headed pins. In Assyria, men and women both wore extensive amounts of jewellery, including amulets, ankle bracelets, heavy multi-strand necklaces, and cylinder seals.
Jewellery in Mesopotamia tended to be manufactured from thin metal leaf and was set with large numbers of brightly coloured stones (chiefly agate, lapis, carnelian, and jasper). Favoured shapes included leaves, spirals, cones, and bunches of grapes. Jewellers created works both for human use and for adorning statues and idols. They employed a wide variety of sophisticated metalworking techniques, such as cloisonné, engraving, fine granulation, and filigree.
Extensive and meticulously maintained records pertaining to the trade and manufacture of jewellery have also been unearthed throughout Mesopotamian archaeological sites. One record in the Mari royal archives, for example, gives the composition of various items of jewellery:
- 1 necklace of flat speckled chalcedony beads including: 34 flat speckled chalcedony bead, [and] 35 gold fluted beads, in groups of five.
- 1 necklace of flat speckled chalcedony beads including: 39 flat speckled chalcedony beads, [with] 41 fluted beads in a group that make up the hanging device.
- 1 necklace with rounded lapis lazuli beads including: 28 rounded lapis lazuli beads, [and] 29 fluted beads for its clasp.
The Greeks started using gold and gems in jewellery in 1600 BC, although beads shaped as shells and animals were produced widely in earlier times. Around 1500 BC, the main techniques of working gold in Greece included casting, twisting bars, and making wire. Many of these sophisticated techniques were popular in the Mycenaean period, but unfortunately this skill was lost at the end of the Bronze Age. The forms and shapes of jewellery in ancient Greece such as the armring (13th century BC), brooch (10th century BC) and pins (7th century BC), have varied widely since the Bronze Age as well. Other forms of jewellery include wreaths, earrings, necklace and bracelets. A good example of the high quality that gold working techniques could achieve in Greece is the ‘Gold Olive Wreath’ (4th century BC), which is modeled on the type of wreath given as a prize for winners in athletic competitions like the Olympic Games. Jewellery dating from 600 to 475 BC is not well represented in the archaeological record, but after the Persian wars the quantity of jewellery again became more plentiful. One particularly popular type of design at this time was a bracelet decorated with snake and animal-heads Because these bracelets used considerably more metal, many examples were made from bronze. By 300 BC, the Greeks had mastered making coloured jewellery and using amethysts, pearl, and emeralds. Also, the first signs of cameos appeared, with the Greeks creating them from IndianSardonyx, a striped brown pink and cream agate stone. Greek jewellery was often simpler than in other cultures, with simple designs and workmanship. However, as time progressed, the designs grew in complexity and different materials were soon used.
Jewellery in Greece was hardly worn and was mostly used for public appearances or on special occasions. It was frequently given as a gift and was predominantly worn by women to show their wealth, social status, and beauty. The jewellery was often supposed to give the wearer protection from the “Evil Eye” or endowed the owner with supernatural powers, while others had a religious symbolism. Older pieces of jewellery that have been found were dedicated to the Gods.
They worked two styles of pieces: cast pieces and pieces hammered out of sheet metal. Fewer pieces of cast jewellery have been recovered. It was made by casting the metal onto two stone or clay moulds. The two halves were then joined together, and wax, followed by molten metal, was placed in the centre. This technique had been practised since the late Bronze Age. The more common form of jewellery was the hammered sheet type. Sheets of metal would be hammered to thickness and then soldered together. The inside of the two sheets would be filled with wax or another liquid to preserve the metal work. Different techniques, such as using a stamp or engraving, were then used to create motifs on the jewellery. Jewels may then be added to hollows or glass poured into special cavities on the surface. The Greeks took much of their designs from outer origins, such as Asia, when Alexander the Great conquered part of it. In earlier designs, other European influences can also be detected. When Roman rule came to Greece, no change in jewellery designs was detected. However, by 27 BC, Greek designs were heavily influenced by the Roman culture. That is not to say that indigenous design did not thrive. Numerous polychrome butterfly pendants on silver foxtail chains, dating from the 1st century, have been found near Olbia, with only one example ever found anywhere else.
Although jewellery work was abundantly diverse in earlier times, especially among the barbarian tribes such as the Celts, when the Romans conquered most of Europe, jewellery was changed as smaller factions developed the Roman designs. The most common artefact of early Rome was the brooch, which was used to secure clothing together. The Romans used a diverse range of materials for their jewellery from their extensive resources across the continent. Although they used gold, they sometimes used bronze or bone, and in earlier times, glass beads & pearl. As early as 2,000 years ago, they imported Sri Lankansapphires and Indian diamonds and used emeralds and amber in their jewellery. In Roman-ruled England, fossilised wood called jet from Northern England was often carved into pieces of jewellery. The early Italians worked in crude gold and created clasps, necklaces, earrings, and bracelets. They also produced larger pendants that could be filled with perfume.
Like the Greeks, often the purpose of Roman jewellery was to ward off the “Evil Eye” given by other people. Although women wore a vast array of jewellery, men often only wore a finger ring. Although they were expected to wear at least one ring, some Roman men wore a ring on every finger, while others wore none. Roman men and women wore rings with an engraved gem on it that was used with wax to seal documents, a practice that continued into medieval times when kings and noblemen used the same method. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the jewellery designs were absorbed by neighbouring countries and tribes.
Post-Roman Europe continued to develop jewellery making skills. The Celts and Merovingians in particular are noted for their jewellery, which in terms of quality matched or exceeded that of Byzantium. Clothing fasteners, amulets, and, to a lesser extent, signet rings, are the most common artefacts known to us. A particularly striking Celtic example is the Tara Brooch. The Torc was common throughout Europe as a symbol of status and power. By the 8th century, jewelled weaponry was common for men, while other jewellery (with the exception of signet rings) seemed to become the domain of women. Grave goods found in a 6th–7th century burial near Chalon-sur-Saône are illustrative. A young girl was buried with: 2 silver fibulae, a necklace (with coins), bracelet, gold earrings, a pair of hair-pins, comb, and buckle. The Celts specialised in continuous patterns and designs, while Merovingian designs are best known for stylised animal figures. They were not the only groups known for high quality work. Note the Visigoth work shown here, and the numerous decorative objects found at the Anglo-SaxonShip burial at Sutton HooSuffolk, England are a particularly well-known example. On the continent, cloisonné and garnet were perhaps the quintessential method and gemstone of the period.
The Eastern successor of the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, continued many of the methods of the Romans, though religious themes came to predominate. Unlike the Romans, the Franks, and the Celts, however, Byzantium used light-weight gold leaf rather than solid gold, and more emphasis was placed on stones and gems. As in the West, Byzantine jewellery was worn by wealthier females, with male jewellery apparently restricted to signet rings. Woman’s jewellery had some peculiarities like kolts that decorated headband. Like other contemporary cultures, jewellery was commonly buried with its owner.
The Renaissance and exploration both had significant impacts on the development of jewellery in Europe. By the 17th century, increasing exploration and trade led to increased availability of a wide variety of gemstones as well as exposure to the art of other cultures. Whereas prior to this the working of gold and precious metal had been at the forefront of jewellery, this period saw increasing dominance of gemstones and their settings. An example of this is the Cheapside Hoard, the stock of a jeweller hidden in London during the Commonwealth period and not found again until 1912. It contained Colombian emerald, topaz, amazonite from Brazil, spinel, iolite, and chrysoberyl from Sri Lanka, ruby from India, Afghan lapis lazuli, Persianturquoise, Red Sea peridot, as well as Bohemian and Hungarian opal, garnet, and amethyst. Large stones were frequently set in box-bezels on enamelled rings. Notable among merchants of the period was Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, who brought the precursor stone of the Hope Diamond to France in the 1660s.
When Napoleon Bonaparte was crowned as Emperor of the French in 1804, he revived the style and grandeur of jewellery and fashion in France. Under Napoleon’s rule, jewellers introduced parures, suites of matching jewellery, such as a diamond tiara, diamond earrings, diamond rings, a diamond brooch, and a diamond necklace. Both of Napoleon’s wives had beautiful sets such as these and wore them regularly. Another fashion trend resurrected by Napoleon was the cameo. Soon after his cameo decorated crown was seen, cameos were highly sought. The period also saw the early stages of costume jewellery, with fish scale covered glass beads in place of pearls or conchshell cameos instead of stone cameos. New terms were coined to differentiate the arts: jewellers who worked in cheaper materials were called bijoutiers, while jewellers who worked with expensive materials were called joailliers, a practice which continues to this day.
Starting in the late 18th century, Romanticism had a profound impact on the development of western jewellery. Perhaps the most significant influences were the public’s fascination with the treasures being discovered through the birth of modern archaeology and a fascination with Medieval and Renaissance art. Changing social conditions and the onset of the Industrial Revolution also led to growth of a middle class that wanted and could afford jewellery. As a result, the use of industrial processes, cheaper alloys, and stone substitutes led to the development of paste or costume jewellery. Distinguished goldsmiths continued to flourish, however, as wealthier patrons sought to ensure that what they wore still stood apart from the jewellery of the masses, not only through use of precious metals and stones but also though superior artistic and technical work. One such artist was the French goldsmith François-Désiré Froment-Meurice. A category unique to this period and quite appropriate to the philosophy of romanticism was mourning jewellery. It originated in England, where Queen Victoria was often seen wearing jet jewellery after the death of Prince Albert, and it allowed the wearer to continue wearing jewellery while expressing a state of mourning at the death of a loved one.
In the United States, this period saw the founding in 1837 of Tiffany & Co. by Charles Lewis Tiffany. Tiffany’s put the United States on the world map in terms of jewellery and gained fame creating dazzling commissions for people such as the wife of Abraham Lincoln. Later, it would gain popular notoriety as the setting of the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s. In France, Pierre Cartier founded Cartier SA in 1847, while 1884 saw the founding of Bulgari in Italy. The modern production studio had been born and was a step away from the former dominance of individual craftsmen and patronage.
This period also saw the first major collaboration between East and West. Collaboration in Pforzheim between German and Japanese artists led to Shakudō plaques set into Filigree frames being created by the Stoeffler firm in 1885). Perhaps the grand finalé – and an appropriate transition to the following period – were the masterful creations of the Russian artist Peter Carl Fabergé, working for the Imperial Russian court, whose Fabergé eggs and jewellery pieces are still considered as the epitome of the goldsmith’s art.
18th Century / Romanticism/ Renaissance
Many whimsical fashions were introduced in the extravagant eighteenth century. Cameos that were used in connection with jewellery were the attractive trinkets along with many of the small objects such as brooches, ear-rings and scarf-pins. Some of the necklets were made of several pieces joined with the gold chains were in and bracelets were also made sometimes to match the necklet and the brooch. At the end of the Century the jewellery with cut steel intermixed with large crystals was introduced by an Englishman, Matthew Boulton of Birmingham.
In the 1890s, jewellers began to explore the potential of the growing Art Nouveau style and the closely related German Jugendstil, British (and to some extent American) Arts and Crafts Movement, Catalan Modernisme, Austro-Hungarian Sezession, Italian “Liberty”, etc.
Art Nouveau jewellery encompassed many distinct features including a focus on the female form and an emphasis on colour, most commonly rendered through the use of enamelling techniques including basse-taille, champleve, cloisonné, and plique-à-jour. Motifs included orchids, irises, pansies, vines, swans, peacocks, snakes, dragonflies, mythological creatures, and the female silhouette.
René Lalique, working for the Paris shop of Samuel Bing, was recognised by contemporaries as a leading figure in this trend. The Darmstadt Artists’ Colony and Wiener Werkstätte provided perhaps the most significant input to the trend, while in Denmark Georg Jensen, though best known for his Silverware, also contributed significant pieces. In England, Liberty & Co. and the British arts & crafts movement of Charles Robert Ashbee contributed slightly more linear but still characteristic designs. The new style moved the focus of the jeweller’s art from the setting of stones to the artistic design of the piece itself. Lalique’s dragonfly design is one of the best examples of this. Enamels played a large role in technique, while sinuous organic lines are the most recognisable design feature.
Growing political tensions, the after-effects of the war, and a reaction against the perceived decadence of the turn of the 20th century led to simpler forms, combined with more effective manufacturing for mass production of high-quality jewellery. Covering the period of the 1920s and 1930s, the style has become popularly known as Art Deco. Walter Gropius and the German Bauhaus movement, with their philosophy of “no barriers between artists and craftsmen” led to some interesting and stylistically simplified forms. Modern materials were also introduced: plastics and aluminium were first used in jewellery, and of note are the chromed pendants of Russian-born Bauhaus master Naum Slutzky. Technical mastery became as valued as the material itself. In the West, this period saw the reinvention of granulation by the German Elizabeth Treskow, although development of the re-invention has continued into the 1990s. It is based on the basic shapes.
In Asia, the Indian subcontinent has the longest continuous legacy of jewellery making anywhere, with a history of over 5,000 years. One of the first to start jewellery making were the peoples of the Indus Valley Civilization, in what is now predominately modern-day Pakistan and part of northern and western India. Early jewellery making in China started around the same period, but it became widespread with the spread of Buddhism around 2,000 years ago.
The Chinese used silver in their jewellery more than gold. Blue kingfisherfeathers were tied onto early Chinese jewellery and later, blue gems and glass were incorporated into designs. However, jade was preferred over any other stone. The Chinese revered jade because of the human-like qualities they assigned to it, such as its hardness, durability, and beauty. The first jade pieces were very simple, but as time progressed, more complex designs evolved. Jade rings from between the 4th and 7th centuries BC show evidence of having been worked with a compound milling machine, hundreds of years before the first mention of such equipment in the west.
In China, the most uncommon piece of jewellery is the earring, which was worn neither by men nor women.Amulets were common, often with a Chinese symbol or dragon. Dragons, Chinese symbols, and phoenixeswere frequently depicted on jewellery designs.
The Indian subcontinent (encompassing India, Pakistan and other countries of South Asia) has a long jewellery history, which went through various changes through cultural influence and politics for more than 5,000–8,000 years. Because India had an abundant supply of precious metals and gems, it prospered financially through export and exchange with other countries. While European traditions were heavily influenced by waxing and waning empires, India enjoyed a continuous development of art forms for some 5,000 years. One of the first to start jewellery making were the peoples of the Indus Valley Civilization (encompassing present-day Pakistan and north and northwest India). By 1500 BC, the peoples of the Indus Valley were creating gold earrings and necklaces, bead necklaces, and metallic bangles. Before 2100 BC, prior to the period when metals were widely used, the largest jewellery trade in the Indus Valley region was the bead trade. Beads in the Indus Valley were made using simple techniques. First, a bead maker would need a rough stone, which would be bought from an eastern stone trader. The stone would then be placed into a hot oven where it would be heated until it turned deep red, a colour highly prized by people of the Indus Valley. The red stone would then be chipped to the right size and a hole bored through it with primitive drills. The beads were then polished. Some beads were also painted with designs. This art form was often passed down through the family. Children of bead makers often learned how to work beads from a young age. Persian style also played a big role in India’s jewellery. Each stone had its own characteristics related to Hinduism.
Jewellery in the Indus Valley was worn predominantly by females, who wore numerous clay or shell bracelets on their wrists. They were often shaped like doughnuts and painted black. Over time, clay bangles were discarded for more durable ones. In present-day India, bangles are made out of metal or glass. Other pieces that women frequently wore were thin bands of gold that would be worn on the forehead, earrings, primitive brooches, chokers, and gold rings. Although women wore jewellery the most, some men in the Indus Valley wore beads. Small beads were often crafted to be placed in men and women’s hair. The beads were about one millimetre long.
A female skeleton (presently on display at the National Museum, New Delhi, India) wears a carlinean bangle (bracelet) on her left hand. Kada is a special kind of bracelet and is widely popular in Indian culture. They symbolizes animals like peacock, elephant, etc.
According to Hindu belief, gold and silver are considered as sacred metals. Gold is symbolic of the warm sun, while silver suggests the cool moon. Both are the quintessential metals of Indian jewellery. Pure gold does not oxidise or corrode with time, which is why Hindu tradition associates gold with immortality. Gold imagery occurs frequently in ancient Indian literature. In the Vedic Hindu belief of cosmological creation, the source of physical and spiritual human life originated in and evolved from a golden womb (hiranyagarbha) or egg (hiranyanda), a metaphor of the sun, whose light rises from the primordial waters.
Jewellery had great status with India’s royalty; it was so powerful that they established laws, limiting wearing of jewellery to royalty. Only royalty and a few others to whom they granted permission could wear gold ornaments on their feet. This would normally be considered breaking the appreciation of the sacred metals. Even though the majority of the Indian population wore jewellery, Maharajas and people related to royalty had a deeper connection with jewellery. The Maharaja‘s role was so important that the Hindu philosophers identified him as central to the smooth working of the world. He was considered as a divine being, a deity in human form, whose duty was to uphold and protect dharma, the moral order of the universe.
Navaratna (nine gems)is a powerful jewel frequently worn by a Maharaja (Emperor). It is an amulet, which comprises diamond, pearl, ruby, sapphire, emerald, topaz, cat’s eye, coral, and hyacinth (red zircon). Each of these stones is associated with a celestial deity, represented the totality of the Hindu universe when all nine gems are together. The diamond is the most powerful gem among the nine stones. There were various cuts for the gemstone. Indian Kings bought gemstones privately from the sellers. Maharaja and other royal family members value gem as Hindu God. They exchanged gems with people to whom they were very close, especially the royal family members and other intimate allies. “Only the emperor himself, his intimate relations, and select members of his entourage were permitted to wear royal turban ornament. As the empire matured, differing styles of ornament acquired the generic name of sarpech, from sar or sir, meaning head, and pech, meaning fastener.”
India was the first country to mine diamonds, with some mines dating back to 296 BC. India traded the diamonds, realising their valuable qualities. Historically, diamonds have been given to retain or regain a lover’s or ruler’s lost favour, as symbols of tribute, or as an expression of fidelity in exchange for concessions and protection. Mughal emperors and Kings used the diamonds as a means of assuring their immortality by having their names and wordly titles inscribed upon them. Moreover, it has played and continues to play a pivotal role in Indian social, political, economic, and religious event, as it often has done elsewhere. In Indian history, diamonds have been used to acquire military equipment, finance wars, foment revolutions, and tempt defections. They have contributed to the abdication or the decapitation of potentates. They have been used to murder a representative of the dominating power by lacing his food with crushed diamond. Indian diamonds have been used as security to finance large loans needed to buttress politically or economically tottering regimes. Victorious military heroes have been honoured by rewards of diamonds and also have been used as ransom payment for release from imprisonment or abduction. Today, many of the jewellery designs and traditions are used, and jewellery is commonplace in Indian ceremonies and weddings.
North and South America
Jewellery played a major role in the fate of the Americas when the Spanish established an empire to seize South American gold. Jewellery making developed in the Americas 5,000 years ago in Central and South America. Large amounts of gold was easily accessible, and the Aztecs, Mixtecs, Mayans, and numerous Andean cultures, such as the Mochica of Peru, created beautiful pieces of jewellery.
With the Mochica culture, goldwork flourished. The pieces are no longer simple metalwork, but are now masterful examples of jewellery making. Pieces are sophisticated in their design, and feature inlays of turquoise, mother of pearl, spondylus shell, and amethyst. The nose and ear ornaments, chest plates, small containers and whistles are considered masterpieces of ancient Peruvian culture.
Among the Aztecs, only nobility wore gold jewellery, as it showed their rank, power, and wealth. Gold jewellery was most common in the Aztec Empire and was often decorated with feathers from Quetzal birds and others. In general, the more jewellery an Aztec noble wore, the higher his status or prestige. The Emperor and his High Priests, for example, would be nearly completely covered in jewellery when making public appearances. Although gold was the most common and a popular material used in Aztec jewellery, jade, turquoise, and certain feathers were considered more valuable. In addition to adornment and status, the Aztecs also used jewellery in sacrifices to appease the gods. Priests also used gem-encrusted daggers to perform animal and human sacrifices.
Another ancient American civilization with expertise in jewellery making were the Maya. At the peak of their civilization, the Maya were making jewellery from jade, gold, silver, bronze, and copper. Maya designs were similar to those of the Aztecs, with lavish headdresses and jewellery. The Maya also traded in precious gems. However, in earlier times, the Maya had little access to metal, so they made the majority of their jewellery out of bone or stone. Merchants and nobility were the only few that wore expensive jewellery in the Maya region, much the same as with the Aztecs.
In North America, Native Americans used shells, wood, turquoise, and soapstone, almost unavailable in South and Central America. The turquoise was used in necklaces and to be placed in earrings. Native Americans with access to oyster shells, often located in only one location in America, traded the shells with other tribes, showing the great importance of the body adornment trade in Northern America.
Native American jewellery is the personal adornment, often in the forms of necklaces, earrings, bracelets, rings, pins, brooches, labrets, and more, made by the Indigenous peoples of the United States. Native American jewellery reflects the cultural diversity and history of its makers. Native American tribes continue to develop distinct aesthetics rooted in their personal artistic visions and cultural traditions. Artists create jewellery for adornment, ceremonies, and trade. Lois Sherr Dubin writes, “[i]n the absence of written languages, adornment became an important element of Indian [Native American] communication, conveying many levels of information.” Later, jewellery and personal adornment “…signaled resistance to assimilation. It remains a major statement of tribal and individual identity.”
Metalsmiths, beaders, carvers, and lapidaries combine a variety of metals, hardwoods, precious and semi-precious gemstones, beadwork, quillwork, teeth, bones, hide, vegetal fibres, and other materials to create jewellery. Contemporary Native American jewellery ranges from hand-quarried and processed stones and shells to computer-fabricated steel and titanium jewellery.
Jewellery making in the Pacific started later than in other areas because of recent human settlement. Early Pacific jewellery was made of bone, wood, and other natural materials, and thus has not survived. Most Pacific jewellery is worn above the waist, with headdresses, necklaces, hair pins, and arm and waist belts being the most common pieces.
Jewellery in the Pacific, with the exception of Australia, is worn to be a symbol of either fertility or power. Elaborate headdresses are worn by many Pacific cultures and some, such as the inhabitants of Papua New Guinea, wear certain headdresses once they have killed an enemy. Tribesman may wear boar bones through their noses.
Island jewellery is still very much primal because of the lack of communication with outside cultures. Some areas of Borneo and Papua New Guinea are yet to be explored by Western nations. However, the island nations that were flooded with Western missionaries have had drastic changes made to their jewellery designs. Missionaries saw any type of tribal jewellery as a sign of the wearer’s devotion to paganism. Thus many tribal designs were lost forever in the mass conversion to Christianity.
Australia is now the number one supplier of opals in the world. Opals had already been mined in Europe and South America for many years prior, but in the late 19th century, the Australian opal market became predominant. Australian opals are only mined in a few select places around the country, making it one of the most profitable stones in the Pacific.
Nowadays a wide range of such traditionally inspired items such as bone carved pendants based on traditional fishhooks hei matau and other greenstone jewellery are popular with young New Zealanders of all backgrounds – for whom they relate to a generalized sense of New Zealand identity. These trends have contributed towards a worldwide interest in traditional Māori culture and arts.
Other than jewellery created through Māori influence, modern jewellery in New Zealand is multicultural and varied.
Most modern commercial jewellery continues traditional forms and styles, but designers such as Georg Jensen have widened 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. Other advances, such as the development of improved pearl harvesting by people such as Mikimoto Kōkichi and the development of improved quality artificial gemstones such as moissanite (a diamond simulant), has placed jewellery within the economic grasp of a much larger segment of the population.
The “jewellery as art” movement was spearheaded by artisans such as Robert Lee Morris and continued by designers such as Gill Forsbrook in the UK. Influence from other cultural forms is also evident. One example of this is bling-bling style jewellery, popularised by hip-hop and rap artists in the early 21st century, e.g. grills, a type of jewellery worn over the teeth.
The late 20th century saw the blending of European design with oriental techniques such as Mokume-gane. The following are innovations in the decades straddling the year 2000: “Mokume-gane, hydraulic die forming, anti-clastic raising, fold-forming, reactive metal anodising, shell forms, PMC, photoetching, and [use of] CAD/CAM.”
Also, 3D printing as a production technique gains more and more importance. With a great variety of services offering this production method, jewellery design becomes accessible to a growing number of creatives. An important advantage of using 3d printing are the relatively low costs for prototypes, small batch series or unique and personalized designs. Shapes that are hard or impossible to create by hand can often be realized by 3D printing. Popular materials to print include Polyamide, steel and wax (latter for further processing). Every printable material has its very own constraints that have to be considered while designing the piece of jewellery using 3D Modelling Software.
Artisan jewellery continues to grow as both a hobby and a profession. With more than 17 United States periodicals about beading alone, resources, accessibility, and a low initial cost of entry continues to expand production of hand-made adornments. Some fine examples of artisan jewellery can be seen at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The increase in numbers of students choosing to study jewellery design and production in Australia has grown in the past 20 years, and Australia now has a thriving contemporary jewellery community. Many of these jewellers have embraced modern materials and techniques, as well as incorporating traditional workmanship.
More expansive use of metal to adorn the wearer, where the piece is larger and more elaborate than what would normally be considered jewellery, has come to be referred to by designers and fashion writers as Metal Couture.
Freemasons attach jewels to their detachable collars when in Lodge to signify a Brothers Office held with the Lodge. For example, the square represents the Master of the Lodge and the dove represents the Deacon.
Jewellery used in body modification can be simple and plain or dramatic and extreme. The use of simple silver studs, rings, and earrings predominates. Common jewellery pieces such as, earrings are a form of body modification, as they are accommodated by creating a small hole in the ear.
Padaung women in Myanmar place large golden rings around their necks. From as early as five years old, girls are introduced to their first neck ring. Over the years, more rings are added. In addition to the twenty-plus pounds of rings on her neck, a woman will also wear just as many rings on her calves. At their extent, some necks modified like this can reach 10–15 in (25–38 cm) long. The practice has health impacts and has in recent years declined from cultural norm to tourist curiosity. Tribes related to the Paduang, as well as other cultures throughout the world, use jewellery to stretch their earlobes or enlarge ear piercings. In the Americas, labrets have been worn since before first contact by Innu and First Nations peoples of the northwest coast.Lip plates are worn by the African Mursi and Sara people, as well as some South American peoples.
In the late twentieth century, the influence of modern primitivism led to many of these practices being incorporated into western subcultures. Many of these practices rely on a combination of body modification and decorative objects, thus keeping the distinction between these two types of decoration blurred.
In many cultures, jewellery is used as a temporary body modifier; in some cases, with hooks or other objects being placed into the recipient’s skin. Although this procedure is often carried out by tribal or semi-tribal groups, often acting under a trance during religious ceremonies, this practice has seeped into western culture. Many extreme-jewellery shops now cater to people wanting large hooks or spikes set into their skin. Most often, these hooks are used in conjunction with pulleys to hoist the recipient into the air. This practice is said to give an erotic feeling to the person and some couples have even performed their marriage ceremony whilst being suspended by hooks.
According to a 2007 KPMG study, the largest jewellery market is the United States with a market share of 30.8%, Japan, India, China, and the Middle East each with 8–9%, and Italy with 5%. The authors of the study predict a dramatic change in market shares by 2015, where the market share of the United States will have dropped to around 25%, and China and India will increase theirs to over 13%. The Middle East will remain more or less constant at 9%, whereas Europe’s and Japan’s marketshare will be halved and become less than 4% for Japan, and less than 3% for the biggest individual European countries, Italy and the UK.