A Brief History of Statement Jewellery

Every piece of jewellery tells a story…

One particularly effective way to make a statement to people without uttering a single word is to put on some bold and beautiful statement jewellery. From bold and colorful necklaces to rings and bracelets with attention-grabbing ornamentation, statement jewellery has been gaining quite a lot of prominence recently. The major contribution to the wildly increasing demand for statement jewellery comes from celebrity endorsements. Statement jewellery also comes in handy when a chic millennial desire to become the center of limelight. When complemented with the right attire and a suitable personality, the effect that a piece of statement jewellery has is amplified manifolds.






A variety of statement jewellery has been popular at different times across different civilizations, a few of which have been discussed below.






Fisk Bones of Monaco






Some sources suggest that humans started decorating their bodies with ornament even before the invention of anything which could be considered as proper clothing. Before the discovery of metals, various kinds of bones were used by the early humans for making jewellery. Some prehistoric tribes even used colored pebbles as jewellery. The form of jewellery was prominent among the nomadic tribes. As the earlier nomadic tribes began to disappear, giving rise to settlements, which were mostly formed on the banks of large rivers, mineral deposits were found. The earlier civilizations found precious metals such as gold and silver among the mineral deposits, which replaced bone pieces as the primary material for the making of jewellery. Over time, there was a development in design leading to the creation of various kinds of jewellery for every part of the body. While the earliest pieces of jewellery can be traced back to the Neanderthals, which were simply bone pieces, a proper form of jewellery evolved much later.






One of the earliest pieces of jewellery discovered by the archaeologists is over 25000 years old. A simple necklace made of fish bones was excavated in a cave in Monaco. Some historians believe that the excavated necklace might have been a gift – a statement of affection to a loved one. In the pre-historic times, jewellery items made of bones and shell pieces adorned the bodies of hunters and other prominent members of society. One of the major reasons for bone being used as a material was its durability. A great number of the bone pieces have stood the test of time leading to their discovery by the archaeologists of the present.






The Headdresses of Sumer






One of the earliest civilizations where highly sophisticated jewellery was used is ancient Sumer. Apart from gold, several different gemstones were used for making jewellery in ancient Sumer, which was worn by the royalty and the common people alike. The richness of ancient Sumer made it possible for different materials to be imported from places across the world. While gold was imported from Turkey, lapis lazuli was imported from Afghanistan and a material like a carnelian was imported from South Asian countries. For the first time in human history, several materials were used as a substitute for gems, some of which are used even today. Several techniques in use presently had its origin in ancient Sumeria. The craftsmen of Sumer invented techniques such as filigree and granulation which were used to create jewellery pieces for royalty and ordinary persons alike. Bold jewellery pieces were popular among both genders in Sumer. The women of Sumer preferred a wilder form of ornamentation, such as large headdresses, big earrings, and necklaces.






Among Sumerian jewellery discovered to date, the most famous is the headdress of Queen Pu-abi, found at the present site of ancient Ur. The bold piece of jewellery was made up of 20 pieces of gold leaves, a pair of strings made of lapis-lazuli, a gold comb, and a carnelian. A great number of other jewellery, including a ring on each finger, chokers, necklaces, a pair of earrings in the shape of a crescent moon, adorned the cremated body of Queen Pu-Abi. The headdress is presently displayed in a Museum, not as a single artifact, but as many different artifacts. The purpose of the headdress and other ornaments found at the site of cremation was to make a statement about the wealth and prowess of Queen Pu-abi, not only to the people of ancient Sumer but to the entire human race.






The Collars of Egypt






Bold eye-catching jewellery was famous among the princes and princesses of ancient Egypt. Where statement jewellery is more famous among women nowadays; in ancient Egypt, both men and women preferred wearing jewellery. From long dangling earrings to shiny collar necklaces, the bold and the shiny pieces were popular among the ancient Egyptian royalty. Even today, some designs can be considered to be a mere imitation of those old Egyptian antiques which were in trend before thousands of years. The most famous of all ancient Egyptian jewellery was the collar. About nineteen collars have been found at Giza to date.






The collar as a statement jewellery in ancient Egypt

Ancient Egyptian royalty wore shiny collars made of beads, also called “Wesheks”. The collars had a religious significance, and in most cases had religious depictions painted on them. In many Wesekhs, the portrayal of the elite has also been made. In the local terminology, Wesekh also means a broad collar. In several cases, the weseks were made of stone beads and connected by gold clasps. The wesekhs were broad ornaments which were supported by the shoulders of an individual. It was largely believed in ancient Egypt that the collars had magical properties and protected the one wearing them from negative forces. While the broad collars were the most famous in ancient Egypt, some narrower round collars have also been discovered.






The collars were often coupled with other kinds of ornamentation such as large bracelets and long dangling earrings. Apart from gold, the most famous colors used in ornaments were blue, green, and black. The above colors were the most common ones used for the preparation of ceramic during the era of the old kingdom in ancient Egypt. The use of broad collars in Egypt was used from the era of the old kingdom until the Roman era.






The Herakles Knot of ancient Greece






The annexation of several empires by Alexander resulted in the rise of the influence of various civilizations on Hellenistic jewellery. Not only was the Hellenistic art exposed to the art forms of the world, but Hellenistic jewellery also had its influence around the world. After the conquest of Babylon by Alexander, a vast quantity of gold was added to the treasuries of Greece. The increase in the circulation of gold in the country led to an increase in demand for gold jewellery. A great number of craftsmen were associated with the royal courts of Greece. The demand for gold and other forms of jewellery thrived for centuries even after the demise of Alexander. A depiction of religion was common in Hellenistic Jewellery. Flora and fauna was also a common theme found in ancient Hellenistic Jewellery. Several jewellery pieces such as bracelets and rings were made in pairs because of the influence of Persian fashion on the Hellenistic culture. Jewellery also served as heirlooms and passed from one generation to another in ancient Greece. Jewellery also served as a form of offering to the Gods.




Statement jewellery in Hellenistic Greece




The depiction of the Herakles knot is a common theme found in a great number of jewellery pieces belonging to the Hellenistic period. Jewellery pieces with the Herakles knot were believed to have magical properties and were used to cure wounds in ancient Greece. The statement made by Herakles knot was the protection it offered against the evil forces. Gold armbands with the Herakles knot were a popular jewellery item in ancient Greece. Several other materials such as garnets and emeralds were used along with gold for making the armbands, and floral patterns were a common design used in the armbands. Apart from the Herakles knot, some other designs such as the beach-nut pendant and acanthus leaf were also common in Hellenistic statement jewellery.






The Rings of Rome






Colored gemstones and glass were common objects used in making ancient Roman jewellery pieces. Apart from aesthetic purpose, ancient Roman jewellery was used for communicating social status to other people. Bronze along with gold and silver was also a metal of choice among the ancient Romans for making jewellery. While gold and silver were preferred among the wealthy, bronze was preferred among the less wealthy people of the empire. Unlike Hellenistic jewellery pieces, a great number of pieces in the Roman civilization were mass-produced by the craftsmen of Rome. Various molding and casting techniques were used by the ancient Roman jewelers for mass-producing jewellery. Mass production of the pieces made jewellery affordable to the common public. The creative use of colors was preferred over-elaborate metalwork. Apart from aestheticism, several jewellery pieces also served a spiritual purpose in ancient Rome.






Rings, as a form of statement jewellery had a special place in the Roman world. The rings that Romans wore varied according to the seasons. While heavier and darker pieces were preferred for winter, the lighter ones were popular during the warmer seasons. The value of the statement rings was not derived from the material or the craftsmanship but heritage. The more the history attached to a particular piece of a statement ring, the greater was its value in the Roman world. Intaglio rings were a kind of ring that most businessmen used to wear in the Roman civilization. The intaglio rings were used to stamp documents with the use of hot wax. The intaglios were a statement of status and wealth in Rome, and many owners carved h mythological symbols on them to increase their significance.






The Celtic Torc






A torc is a large ring worn around the neck. Torcs are made of metal and either comprises of a single piece or two or more strands twisted together. Most of the torcs had an opening on the front, while a few had other mechanisms such as latches. A great many torcs were designed for permanent wear. The torcs were a popular ornament in Europe during the iron age. The rings were popular in some civilizations including the Thracian, Celtic and Scythian civilizations. Torc style necklaces made of silver were highly popular during the Viking ages in Europe.



A viking settlement




The torc was a major object of art among the Celts. During the iron ages when the availability of gold was limited, torcs made of gold were a symbol of wealth and status. Most Celtic torcs had a religious significance and carried the portrayal of various gods and goddesses of Celtic mythology.






One of the most famous torcs found in England was the Snettisham torc, also called as the great torc of Snettisham, which was discovered in Norfolk in the middle 20th century. The age of the torc can be traced back to 75 B.C. The cuts and bruises present on the torc suggest that it was a part of the votive offering by the Celts. The craftsmanship and artistry present in the torc are beyond comparison with any other torc belonging to the period. The great torc weighs over a kilo in weight and is made of an alloy of gold and silver, a major portion of the alloy being gold. Complex threads were grouped in threads which were then twisted to form the torc. Theories suggest that the torc might have belonged to the Iceni tribe belonging to the region.






The Lip Plates of Africa






Lip plates as ornamentation are popular among several African tribes. Evidence suggests that lip plates as a cultural practice have independently been invented about 6 times around the world. According to historians, in certain regions of Sudan, Ethiopia, and Eritrea the practice of using lip plates has been in practice since 8700 B.C. The plating is either done or the lower or the upper lip depending upon the region where the practice is followed. In a great many tribes, the size of the plate is a statement of the social status and the wealth of the person adorning the plate. In certain other tribes, the size of the lip plate is a statement of the bride price paid during the marriage, while at some places the size of the plate is also indicative of the strength and self-esteem of the person adorning them. In certain regions, the plate is crafted by the person adorning them. The plates are usually made of clay or wood and some amount of ornamentation of the plates is also common in most tribes.






While in most African countries, the practice of using lip plates is popular mostly among women; in some South American regions, cultural practice is equally popular among men. In the tribes of South America, the plates are a statement of skills in oratory and singing among the tribes. The practice is common among war chiefs of South America. In some places in the Americas, cultural practice has already lost its popularity. Unlike Africa, the lip plates in the Americas are made of light wood.






According to historians, in the Pacific Northwest, the practice of using lip plates is at least 5000 years old. While the cultural practice was equally popular among both the genders previously, it is most popular among the high-ranking women of the tribes at present. The lip plates are inserted when a woman reaches maturity.






In the modern-day, the practice of inserting lip plates is gaining popularity among the members of some groups in the western countries. Certain members of the Modern Primitive movement have inserted lip plates as a fashion statement. In cultural movements such as the Modern Primitive, primitive practices are usually associated with authenticity and are considered superior to the mainstream practices prevalent around the world at present.






From a statement of love and affection made by the fish bones of Monaco to the statement of wealth, social status, and other skills made by the lip plates of Africa and Americas, statement jewellery has always been a part of the different cultures around the globe. At present, in most modern societies, statement jewellery across the globe is popular as a statement of fashion or wealth. A statement of ideals and religious inclination is also communicated via statement jewellery. Statement jewellery has always been a trend across the world and will remain so until the very end of human civilization.






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