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Thursday, 6 March 2014

Shiny pieces of eternity - Part 1

Jewelry has always been synonymous with emotions. Take for instance the wedding band, always a sign of commitment, love and togetherness, it symbolises the coming together of two souls in the bond of holy matrimony. After man’s three basic needs of food,clothing and shelter were met, the emotional bonds that tied us together, needed to be symbolised and eternalised, at its very core, that became the function of jewelry. In our upcoming series, we will trace the origins of jewelry until the modern day and examine the style, the ethos and symbology of jewelry over the ages.

In the ancient times:

Jewelry has its roots in the ancient times. Millennia before the birth of Christ, bead jewelry in the cave systems of Europe and Africa have been unearthed. While most of these civilizations have long since vanished the very fact that they existed, is proven by the unearthing of their jewelry. Among the more civilised cultures of the Orient, metallurgy was practised and in combination with precious stones and pearls, jewelry, in the form of necklaces, rings, anklets and other ornaments (which are still in vogue today) were made.

In fact such was the prowess of the jewel smiths of India and China, that even Alexander the Macedon was captivated by their craft and is said to have commissioned a number of ornaments for his concubines and mistresses. Some historians believe that Alexander was among the first non-Westerners to have carried some of these designs home, from where the trend of jewelry is said to have spread to Europe.

While jewelry in India and China was widespread and even the common folk had some access to these baubles, jewelry was the prerogative of the wealthy in the Egypt. The Ancient Egyptians seemed to have taken jewelry to a whole new level. Their fascination towards ornamentation bordered on the obsessive. Many statues of the Gods and Pharaohs (who themselves became ‘Gods’ posthumously) were ostentatiously bedecked and swathed in ornaments of different metals and precious jewels.

Another important contribution of the Egyptians to jewelry was the custom of trading wedding rings. It is said that when an Egyptian of high birth took a woman to be his wife, he would gift his spouse a circlet of any metal (according to his status) and she in turn would do the same. This custom was then adopted by the Romans, who through their conquests spread this aspect of culture across Europe.

By the time of the decline of the Roman Empire, the practise of exchanging rings had become an accepted social custom which the Church gave credence to by blessing the rings of a couple on the altar before they were exchanged by husband and wife.

The Middle Ages:

The decline of the Roman Empire, saw Europe in chaos. By this time, many of the noble families in the region were great patrons of jewelry. Gold and diamonds from India, were regularly ferried to Europeans by the Arabs who had become the ideal go-in-betweens for this burgeoning trade. The Church in particular had become rich and jewels for the purpose of studding religious artefacts was a common practise. This practise gave rise to a class of artisans, who in turn were the modern precursors of jewelry design houses like Tiffany and Cartier.

We hope this post has shed some light on the evolution and distribution of jewelry over the ages. Do let us know about what you thought of it, in the comments below!    

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