Jewelry symbolism can be much more powerful than we imagine. A necklace, earring, ring, or any other piece can have powerful personal or spiritual meaning.
Hundreds of years ago, we formed and built our relationship with jewelry. And, since then, different cultures have incorporated the pieces into their rituals and important moments.
In this article, we will tell a little bit about the history of these beautiful pieces. We’ll also talk about some jewelry symbolism and its meanings. Keep reading to find that out!
Jewelry Symbolism: A Brief History of The Shining Pieces
The history of the jewel shows us the paths of humanity. Since we know, humans – and some animals as well – feels the need to adorn himself.
The first adornments were made with animal bones and teeth, shells, stones, and wood and symbolized status, power, or mysticism. Man has been exploring gold for over 6,000 years. Follow the history of humanity together with the arts, telling the story through beautiful jewelry. In each historical period, the characteristics of jewelry and the arts have changed.
Jewels through historical periods
Let’s take a few steps back in history to understand a little bit about the presence of jewels in each period.
Back then, to make jewelry, they used some materials such as stones, bones, seeds, and animal teeth. All cut in a rustic way.
Egyptians (3,500 BC)
Jewelry symbolism began here! The pieces back then have a lot of meaning and mysticism. Figuratively, these pieces had the shapes of scarabs, which represented the sun and creation; the eye of the god Horus, who protected against evil spirits or even snakes and scorpions.
They used many colors, which were also loaded with symbolism. Polychromy was achieved through gemstones such as lapis lazuli, green and turquoise feldspar, or even glazed enamel.
Gregos (1100 a.C.)
In the beginning, the Greeks utilized geometric shapes. However, with influence from other populations, they started producing methodological scenes in earrings, bracelets, and necklaces.
Etruscans (700 a.C.)
The filigree and granulation techniques were used with extreme perfection. Celtic jewelry was greatly influenced by foreign individuals. They adapted the techniques of other people to their art of working metal, using masterful techniques such as filigree, engraving, intaglio, casting, enamel, and granulation.
Romans (200 BC)
The Romans used gold to finance wars. So, it was only in 27 BC, that the Romans started using new sources of metal as part of jewelry. Slowly, jewelry became more popular.
In the Middle Ages, art suffered a great religious influence. Ecclesiastical jewelry was strong at that time. Man and women widely used scapulars, crucifixes, and shrines.
The first goldsmith society appeared, which settled into guilds (goldsmith corporations). The jewelry had a very strong symbolism, not only religious but also of status and class division.
Society back then also had laws for the use of jewelry. Enamel was one of the highlighted techniques. The ecclesiastical rings are still used today by cardinals, bishops, and the pope. The Bourgeoisie used rings engraved with monograms as instruments for authenticating documents. The belts and brooches, in addition to adorning, were functional. Clothing was also richly adorned.
Gold threads and gemstones were applied to the edges of the fabrics. Gemstones played a prominent role. In a technique to enhance their color, some of them received a thin layer of metal. Laws have been created restricting the use of this technique as a result of its indiscriminate usage. Pearls, rubies, sapphires, emeralds, and garnets were the most used gemstones. In addition to the cabochon format, stones with facets begin to appear. It is the period where stoning began to develop.
Byzantine Jewelry (500 AD)
The pieces at that time commonly used gemstones, polychrome, and delicate works of filigree and granulation. In a way, it expressed the fusion of eastern and western cultures. During this period, the main theme was the religious one as well. The main gemstones used were pearls and sapphires. Enamel decorated pieces rich in detail in the representation of saints, portraits, and abstract drawings. Cutting was still very primary. They only used it to round the edges, cut in the form of beads, and polish the natural facets of the gemstones.
Gothic style (1300)
Gothic architecture with its verticalism gradually influenced jewelry. This style appears at a time of growth in medieval cities. The Gothic architectural style was already emerging around 1150. But, it was not until the end of the 13th century, that society noticed its reflection in jewelry.
Then, new shapes appeared, more angular and pointed that results in elegant pieces. The architecture portrays the belief in the existence of a God who lives on a plane above humanity. This idea explains verticalism, where everything points to the sky. Its greatest representation is in the cathedrals.
With the anatomy and engineering studies that gained strength at this time, the goldsmiths were able to faithfully reproduce human forms represented in pieces inspired by mythology.
Jewelry stopped being sponsored by the clergy and started to be sponsored by the bourgeoisie. It was then that the craft of goldsmith began to gain status as an art as well as painting and sculpture.
With the navigations and Europe’s arrival in the Americas, Europeans were supplied with gold, silver, and gemstones. It was customary to wear several rings in the same hand, as well as many necklaces. It was also common to use pendants, earrings, brooches, and jewelry for the hair and hat. Hat adornments were made of enameled gold, with mythological or religious motifs. Camafeus also began to be introduced in the composition of these adornments.
Baroque Style (1600)
In baroque jewelry, what predominates is the emotion that contrasts with the rationalism of the Renaissance. France guided and had a major influence on fashion. Back then, people used jewelry more sparingly and it became more elegant. Religious themes lose space to naturalistic themes like birds and flowers.
There was a great advancement in stoning. The designs of pieces for use throughout the day were different from those for use at night, as these should reflect more intensely the light from the chandeliers. Jewels are used as a display of power and wealth. The diamond was the preferred gemstone, but rubies, emeralds, and sapphires were also widely used.
Baroque turns into exuberance. Asymmetrical, the jewels from this period are seductive. Jewelry used to have many gemstones and diamonds with colors. Humanity started to improve cutting techniques. Thus, the pieces had a lot of shine and were more luxurious. Jewelry sets appear, pieces made with the same formal language and the same materials. Earrings, rings, pendants in the shape of bouquets and bows are widely used jewelry.
With the French Revolution, the reference is back to the Greek and Roman styles. In other words, cleaning the jewel from the excesses of previous styles.
Society used again cameos, medallions, and chains. Gemstones, used sparingly, were emphasized through a frame of diamonds, gold, or pearls surrounding the main gemstone. Back then, people used adornments such as tiaras, rings, and bracelets.
Art Nouveau (1900)
Nature inspired this style. Art Nouveau’s jewelry was the most beautiful representation of organic lines. They used materials such as ivory, horns, glass among others. Also on the Belle Époque, women used jewelry to adorn themselves and that showed power, beauty and richness. Trends started to gain force and women used to use a lot of pieces at once.
Art Decó (1920)
Cubism and Abstractionism, as well as the lines of the Bauhaus, had a strong influence in this period. The jewelers also used to produce geometric, necklaces, and long earrings in alternative (non-precious) materials, such as steel.
After World War II, Europe stopped dictating fashion to adopt the American way of life. Cinema is a great way to spread this style. Hollywood glamour starts to reign. With the war, there is a drop in the supply of gems for battle equipment. Then, fine jewelry saw a large door opening on the market!
The 60s and 70s
The style back then put value first, then the material. Plastic and even paper defined the new concepts. The concept is what values the design.
And slowly, the jewelry industry grew to become the one we know today.
As we saw, throughout history, jewelry symbolism changed a lot. It has new meanings and different representations and styles. But what kind of jewelry symbolism is there today?
Let’s take a look at some of the most known.
In these cases, sentimentality and history define the jewelry’s value. Family jewels mark great events and can bring up special memories from the past.
Regardless of the size, what really counts is what it represents. Are there any jewels in your family with meaning? Well then, this tradition can start for you.
Reliquaries are a beautiful way to add warmth and meaning to a piece of jewelry. Plus, they’re amazing gifts. What’s more meaningful than carrying a photo of loved ones around your neck while wearing fabulously designed jewelry?
Each family has a unique relationship with jewelry. Nonetheless, for the most part, tradition speaks louder and each chooses specific dates, ages, and times to give even more meaning to the jewelry that passes down from generation to generation.
Amulets & Charms
Some jewelry also has amulet features. Accessories that carry with them mystical properties are often based on religious syncretism, seeking protection. Furthermore, these pieces can be metal, some stones with holistic properties, or even precious stones.
These pieces that serve as amulets may also have come from heirlooms or may only have a strong meaning according to the person’s belief.
Nowadays, the jewelry market is plural and big. It has pieces for each and every taste and proposal.
Pieces From A Special Occasion
For multiple times, our society has the habit of relating pieces to special occasions, such as engagement rings and Sweet 16 necklaces. Either a birthday gift or a celebration of love, those pieces become an important matter for everyone because we relate them to an important date.
Meet Mazahri: Beauty and Culture Bonding Perfectly
“Mazahri is a purpose-driven conscious fine jewelry company. I founded it on the principle that business can and should be a force for good in the world”. That’s what Zulaikha Aziz’s brand stands for.
Aziz’s family fled to the United States as refugees from Afghanistan. Now, Zulaikha is a Human Rights Lawyer and the founder and designer of Mazahri. Furthermore, ancestral culture and heritage inspire the pieces.
In creating the brand, Zulaikha was most concerned with the impact of her actions on the people and communities that would be involved in the creation of the jewelry. From the miners to the artisans and the customers who wear her pieces, her goal was to ensure that the work of Mazahri added meaningful value to their lives. For that reason, she created Mazahri in a transparent and conscious way, with information on responsible sourcing, value added to diverse communities, and areas for improvement all made available on the Mazahri website. The process of making Mazahri’s pieces is ethical and sustainable at its heart.
Mazahri’s Production Process & Supply Chain
Skilled artisans in NYC make all the jewels in a fair way. Meanwhile, responsible gemstones from all over the world supply the stones. She prioritizes working with women and people of color suppliers and miners. The pieces are based on ancient Afghan motifs and symbols that celebrate womanhood and recognize women’s vital position in the world. Mazahri takes care of every step within their supply chain, from where the stones come from to who the people involved. Ten percent of all Mazahri profits go to supporting women’s rights initiatives in Afghanistan.
To sum up, the 5 main pillars that drive Mazahri are: Ethics and Sustainability; Women’s Empowerment; Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion; Cultural Preservation and Promotion of Cultural Heritage; and Accountability and Transparency. Each one of these pillars guides the brand’s actions. Honoring Transparency, they share all of their information on their website.
Don’t forget to check out our post about Enzo Barraco’s work and how art can be a catalyzer for social change.