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The History of Jewelry & Its Influence on Today’s Designs

historical gold necklace worn during the time of the Roman Empire

 

Jewelry has become an important piece of human culture. It is passed down from generation to generation. It is exchanged as symbols of love at weddings. But when exactly did jewelry make its debut in the world? We did some research on this topic to enlighten you about how daily adornment became a part of our lives as everyday jewelry. 

Anthropologists have dated the earliest piece of jewelry as a simple necklace made of fishbones found in a cave in Monaco, dated 25,000 years ago. Was this for a princess? Was it worn by a fisherman? Of course, we will never know for sure. 

What we do know about the history of jewelry, is that we can trace the evolution from its beginnings in Africa to empires along the Mediterranean Sea, into Europe, and finally to the United States. 

Jewelry Influences from Different Cultures in History

Egyptian Style Jewelry 

The Egyptians made bracelets of multiple colored gemstones: amethyst, carnelian, and turquoise were a few of their favorites. Every Egyptian, no matter their age or social status, wore some type of jewelry–be it rings, earrings, bracelets, pectorals, necklaces, crowns, girdles, or amulets. Egyptians saw jewelry as a form of protection and power, so they never left home without it. Of course, the richer the person, the more elaborate the jewelry materials. People of lower classes wore strings of clay beads while the Pharaohs were adorned in gold and gems.

Roman Jewelry

By the time of the Roman era, upper arm bracelets became popular, as were necklaces and other jewelry made from gold coins. Lower social classes in Rome would have worn jewelry made of bronze, copper, or other less-expensive metals. Higher classes would have worn solid gold necklaces, earrings, bracelets, and rings. Some bracelets were fashioned like snakes that wrapped around, while others used screws as fasteners. 

solid gold snake bracelets were popular types of Roman jewelry and were worn on the upper arm or wrist

Image Source: Walters Art Museum

Byzantine Jewelry

The Byzantine Empire, led by Constantine in 330 AD, merged the jewelry cultures of Greece, Egypt, and the Near East with parts of Russia. This melting pot led to new types of jewelry art calledcloisonne enameling” where glass glaze was poured, set into pre-soldered cells, and fired at a high temperature to melt the glaze into a permanent design.

Before the Roman invasion, the Celts didn’t use coinage but instead used “ring-money”. These rings were of silver, copper, bronze, or gold and weren’t intended for wearing but were solely used as a currency.

 

Various Metals Used in Jewelry Making

Silver Jewelry

Despite what one might think, there were times throughout history when silver was valued more highly than gold. If you examine the quantities of silver used in jewelry, even today, its use outweighs all other precious metals by a large factor. 

Silver can be cast, hammered into extremely thin sheets, engraved, embossed, and decorated with granulation. Silver is one of my favorite jewelry materials to work with, like in my “Swell” broken silver necklace. This versatile white metal has also triggered far more technological advances in the field of mining and metallurgy than other precious metals. Entire economies have depended on silver’s availability, and the access to silver deposits has swung wars and as a result, history. Silver was considered a “strategic war material” during WWII because of shortages of tin and aluminum. Silver is without doubt one of the most important metals in use by mankind.

Steel Jewelry

Steel is another one of my favored metals to work with; many of Zink Metals jewelry pieces are made of steel. 

To better understand the origins of steel jewelry, we must first look at the discovery of the metal itself. The earliest traces of steel can be traced back to artifacts dated around 1800 BC. But stainless steel, which is what we think of today as steel, was officially created in 1913 by English chemist Harry Brearly, who was trying to design a metal that was resistant to rust and corrosion. These same qualities also eventually drew jewelry makers to steel as well — and it all began with watches. French watchmaker Cartier began using normal steel in the 1840s in its men’s watches. The rich legacy of steel's incorporation into luxurious jewelry pieces, such as these iconic Cartier watches of the past, continues to inspire and shape the artistic vision behind contemporary artisan jewelry designs.

Blacksmith Jewelry

blacksmith making jewelry from metals such as steel and silver

Image Source: Jonny Gios

The unique hand-crafted pieces in Zink Metals’ collections are a major part of its appeal. The care taken in creating each piece is what brings them the most value. This can also be said about blacksmith jewelry throughout history. 

Dating back to ancient civilizations, blacksmith jewelry played an essential role in society. Forged with intricate designs and exceptional craftsmanship, silver and steel jewelry became a symbol of wealth and status. In diverse cultures such as Egypt, Greece, and Rome, blacksmiths adorned people with exquisite silver and steel jewelry, reflecting their craftsmanship and attention to detail.

This especially rang true in Russia with the Russian filigree, a jewelry technique for making elaborate openwork products from a very thin metal wire by connecting individual elements by soldering. This very complex and time-consuming technique involves the jewelry artist spending several weeks or even months to create a unique jewelry masterpiece. The filigree jewelry technique is one I implement in some of my pieces.

During the Renaissance, blacksmith jewelry-making experienced a renaissance of its own. Artisans began incorporating precious gemstones and intricate filigree work into their designs, creating breathtaking pieces that transcended mere functionality. The popularity of blacksmith jewelry soared as it became a coveted accessory for the upper classes.

The Rise of Everyday Jewelry

As time passed, blacksmith jewelry evolved to become accessible to people from all walks of life. The Industrial Revolution played a significant role in this transformation, as advances in technology allowed for mass production of silver and steel jewelry. Everyday individuals could now embrace the elegance of blacksmith jewelry, adorning themselves with exquisite pieces that reflected their personal style.

How the History of Jewelry Influences Jewelry Today

In today’s world, the jewelry we wear was likely influenced in some way by jewelry throughout history. From large gold statement necklaces influenced by the Romans to gemstone jewelry inspired by Eqyptians to enameled jewelry-making taken from the Byzantine Era, today’s jewelry reflects many of these techniques.

Today, blacksmith jewelry artisans continue to blend traditional blacksmithing techniques with innovative designs, creating unique pieces that blend the old with the new. The combination of silver and steel jewelry allows for striking contrasts, where delicate silver elements can be offset by the boldness of steel, resulting in visually captivating jewelry.

Zink Metals Blacksmith Jewelry Influences

The history of blacksmith jewelry using silver and steel showcases the evolution of an art form that has stood the test of time. From their origins as symbols of wealth to the democratization of everyday jewelry, blacksmiths have continued to shape the world of adornment. Today, this type of jewelry represents both a celebration of tradition and a medium for contemporary expression, capturing the imagination of jewelry enthusiasts across the globe. 

Trained in blacksmithing and metalsmithing techniques, Zink Metals jewelry uses a combination of steel and silver among other materials, including gold, fine silver, and gemstones. Many of the styles and techniques used in our jewelry pieces were influenced by the jewelry artisans from history. The next time you accessorize with a piece of jewelry, consider the historical influences that may have shaped its creation.