Jewelry, as an important aspect of people’s lives, has been around for longer than most of us probably realize. Although the first attempts of humans to decorate themselves manifested as body painting, jewelry came not long after and remained as one of the most prominent ways to express one’s individuality, self-identity and simply brighten up one’s looks.
The first ever attempts to make jewelry came in the form of shells, fish teeth and coloured pebbles – pretty much anything humans could get their hands on that didn’t require elaborate craftsmanship. As humans acquired more elaborate tools to help them with everyday tasks, the jewelry also became more detailed; they started carving and combining various natural elements, such as wood, animal tusks and bones, animal skins and bird feathers, to create impressive works of art to be worn. Limited forms of jewelry, such as necklaces and bracelets, transformed into crowns, earrings, brooches and belts, all of which added to the quality of life of most ancient civilizations.
As civilizations shaped themselves oftentimes in isolation from one another, many cultural aspects took diverse routes across the world. The Greek, the Egyptian, the Sumerian and the Roman, among many others, were some of the most prominent civilizations when it came to impressive jewelry making traditions. The jewelers got carried away when it came to decorating the tombstones or port-mortal clothing of queens, kings and pharaohs; Sumerian queen Pu-abi was found in her crypt, her entire upper body covered with a robe made out of gold, silver, agate and other precious stones and metals. And indeed, right after precious metals were discovered, with time more intricate and valuable jewelry became a more and more prominent addition among the wealthier members of society. Jewelry became a way to distinguish the wealthy and the poor, those with a high social status from those living in difficult conditions, to exhibit the ultimate power of those in charge.
The Middle Ages
Most of the previously mentioned civilizations conceded their roles as cultural hubs to others, most prominently the Byzantine, the Islamic, the Teutonic cultures. Religions, most notably Christianity and Islam, became significant influencing forces when it came to the jewelry people crafted and wore. Wide conquests and larger exposure to other civilizations brought about changes in jewelry-making in almost every corner of the world; trade allowed for more materials to be used everywhere and every culture was influenced by the newcomers, be that in the times of war or prosperous cooperation. This period is also classified by the prominent changes in how jewelry was seen in general; more and more men started adding accents to their looks on general basis, many artisans departed from classical styles, forms and shapes and instead began creating jewelry that to some extent made statements by their elaborate ornaments and non-conventional looks. It should also be mentioned that the mixing of cultures spread the tradition of burying the dead ones with their jewelry in many parts of the world.