History of Jewelry

Posted by BarlowsGems on 7th Oct 2015

Jewelry is derived from the Latin word jocale, which means plaything”. That word evolved into the Old French word joeul, and eventually it evolved into jewel. The term Jewelry is a broad spectrum word to describe small decorative objects worn for personal adornment. This includes, but may not be limited to: necklaces, bracelets, rings, anklets, tiaras, brooches, pins, buckles, earrings, hairclips, etc. In some countries, such as the United Kingdom or Australia, the word is spelled jewellery.

The oldest known jewelry is believed to be 100,000 year old beads found in Morocco. Throughout history people have adorned themselves for many reasons, for functionality (to clip their hair up), for beauty, to mark status (a tiara or a wedding ring), for religious reasons, for metaphysical reasons (belief in the stones healing powers), and to express themselves. The early modern humans fashioned primitive jewelry from shells, sticks, teeth, stones, and seeds. But it wasn’t till about 7000 years ago the first metal jewelry, specifically copper, was introduced.

India was one of this first to develop the processes of collecting gold and working with it. At least 3000 years ago, but maybe up to 6000 years ago diamonds were being mined in India. In Ancient Egypt, about 3000-5000 years ago, gold jewelry was preferred and the Egyptians began working with semi-precious gemstones. About the same time in Mesopotamia they also began working with semi-precious gemstones, and developed many sophisticated forms of metal work:  such as cloisonné, engraving and filigree. Jewelry making also developed during this time period in the Americas. In Central and South America large amounts of gold was easily accessible, and the Aztecs, Mayans, and numerous other Andean cultures created beautiful pieces of gold jewelry. The Ancient Greeks started using gold and gems in jewelry in 1600 BC.

Jewelry design has changed often through the years. Many styles overlapped each other or reemerged in history.

Here is a list of the jewelry periods and popular jewelry design styles:

The Georgian Period (1714 to 1830)  Jewelry from this period was still typically handmade from 18k gold and silver.Leaves, birds, and skulls were common designs. Precious gemstones such as diamonds, rubies, sapphires, and emeralds were popular. Intaglios and engraved gemstones were popular in cabochon jewelry. When Napoleon Bonaparte was crowned as Emperor of the French in 1804, he revived jewelry and fashion in France. Under his rule, jewelers introduced suites of matching jewelry:  such as a diamond tiara, diamond earrings, diamond rings, a diamond brooch, and a diamond necklace. Another fashion trend resurrected by Napoleon was the cameo. This period also saw the early stages of costume or inexpensive jewelry.

The Victorian Period (1835-1890)  Inspired by Queen Victoria, jewelry often was very elaborate. Sentimental and romantic symbols were popular. Birthstones were more popular than diamonds in engagement rings. Pieces often included human hair. Mourning jewelry was introduced by Queen Victoria when her husband died in 1861 and, due to the Civil War, quickly became popular in America. Mourning jewelry included black onyx, black jet, or black glass.The 1880’s saw the rise of brooches, heavy chains and lockets. During this period diamond cutters in America actually developed higher cutting and polishing standards than those of Europe.

The Art Nouveau Period (1890-1910)  Art Nouveau means New Art in French. This jewelry design, often inspired by nature or animals, was more organic with more flowing lines. The naked female body was commonly used and considered scandalous. Enameling was developed during this period. Cabochon gemstone jewelry was common.

The Edwardian Period (1901-1914)  Queen Victoria’s son, Edward VII, took the throne in 1901. The upper class wore jewelry during this time period to demonstrate their wealth. Elegant jewelry made from the most expensive metals and rarest gemstones was in style. Platinum was introduced and was used heavily, along with white gold, diamonds and pearls. With platinum, jewelers could do very intricate work. Crescents, wings, starburst, feathers, leaves and butterflies were popular.

Art Deco Period (1920s-1935)  In 1914, because of the war, gemstones became rarer and some metals were reserved for the war efforts. During the war most jewelry consisted of just gold and diamonds. Colors were more muted and lines more rounded. But the Roaring Twenties brought the rise of the Art Deco period, which introduced jewelry of vibrant colors, filled with geometrical shapes, abstract designs, cubism, modernism and oriental art. Wristwatches became popular. During this time jewelry was often mass produced by machinery. More modern materials, such as plastic and aluminum were introduced. The Art Deco period slowed after the stock market crashed in 1929 and with the following great depression, and it ended with the start of World War II.

Retro Period (1935-1950)  Jewelry design began to pick up again due to Hollywood influence, with more elaborate designs and massive cut precious gemstones. During the Retro Period bright, highly polished yellow, rose, and green gold was popular. Jewelry was big, bold, and three dimensional. Large emerald cut precious gemstones were the star of this era, namely amethyst, aquamarine, and citrine. These large stones were often accented by small diamonds, rubies and sapphires. Due to the beginning of World War II in 1941, platinum became scarce again and gold was the metal of choice. Due to the lack of precious gemstones, synthetic stones were created. Common design themes from this era include big flowing ribbons and bows, as well as the use of flowers and even animals. Wide gold bracelets, oversized dress clips and earrings that were worn high up on the ear were all popular styles.

Modern (1950+)  Post-war 1950’s was a time of great economic growth that led to a rise in the upper middle class. Diamonds solidified its spot as the most popular gemstone. Designs were now more light and textural, as opposed to the solid, high polished look of Retro jewelry. Large chunky costume jewelry became popular. In the 1960’s druse cabochons and other unconventional cabochons were introduced. The Native American designs with silver and turquoise took off in the 1970’s. Also in the 1970’s wire wrapping and beading flourished for both the hobbyist and jeweler. More affordable jewelry made with silver and copper, or alternate metals and set with cabochons of coral, onyx, ivory and quartz became popular. In the 1980’s and 1990’s body piercing became common. Jewelry during this time became a personal taste. Some people preferred big and clunky, while others liked dainty and understated.

As we move forward the sky is the limit with jewelry design.  One can incorporate any of the older styles, or create a whole new one!  Be sure and check out our high quality line of designer cabochons for your creative and unique jewelry creations!