Jewellery Through Time – 1
Jewellery Through Time: Prehistory to the Renaissance
Archeological evidence of jewellery dates back to the prehistoric ages, with bone, shell and stone all used to decorate the body. In this period, pieces appear to have doubled as a form of armour, too. As the metalworking ages (Bronze, Iron etc.) progressed, we can see evidence of metal jewellery’s rapidly increasing popularity. The idea that more elaborate accessories signalled a higher rank for the wearer seems to have already existed at this point, but was to really blossom as the mediaeval period dawned.
In a society more conscious of status than nearly anything else, jewellery materials were less a choice than a marker of social standing. A strict divide can be seen between silver, gold and bejewelled pieces, and those fashioned from baser metals like pewter and copper. Of course, even these cruder accessories were a luxury, and a large portion of the population would not have had access to jewellery at all during this era. Enamel, created by firing powdered, coloured glass onto a metal base, was pioneered in the mediaeval age, and allowed bright colours to really take over the jewellery scene.
As fine-working technologies and methods continued to improve, the jewels of the Renaissance are elaborate in a way which would have been difficult to fathom in the mid-mediaeval period. Pieces were often made to illustrate the wearer’s political strength and the idea of protective jewellery had moved away from the physical and towards the spiritual. Many gems and precious stones were believed to have the power to ward off evil, bad luck and sickness. As such, many pendants from this time period have settings with open backs, allowing the powerful stone to make direct contact with the wearer’s skin.
It’s interesting to note that, although much changed between the prehistoric bone adornments and the intricate jewelled pieces of the sixteenth century, the idea of protection and broadcasting rank continued through time, and in many ways still manifests itself in the jewellery of today.
Check back soon for our next instalment, taking us all the way up to the 1800s.