The History of Jewellery Fashions
Way before man could write, shells, bones and teeth were crafted into jewellery. The oldest findings are of shell beads in Israel believed to be from 100,000 years ago.
By the time of the Ancient Egyptians, jewellery-making was by comparison considerably refined. Tutankhamun’s tomb dating from the 14th century BC revealed a wealth of jewel-studded gold, including ornate collars and pectorals featuring a prized Egyptian motif, the scarab beetle.
Thousands of years later, in the 1920s, these Ancient Egyptian designs would re-emerge in the fabulously decorative creations of Art Deco jewellery.
In the ‘40s and ‘50s, costume jewellery, emulating the bejewelled pieces worn by the Hollywood stars, became the vogue. Post-war austerity gradually gave way to the frivolous sixties, with Mary Quant and Biba bringing affordable fashion to the high street, accessorised by the striking, chunky retro jewellery that is once again popular today.
From the 5th century in Britain the Celts flourished as master craftsmen, producing their distinctive and highly symbolic jewellery right up to the 12th century. A celebration of nature and life, Celtic jewellery incorporated the beautifully simple Celtic cross and intricately woven knots, symbols of everlasting life.
During Victoria’s 64-year reign the Queen had a massive influence on Victorian jewellery. The early years, when she was madly in love with the young Prince Albert, were filled with romance. Favourite motifs were hearts, bows and flowers, often accompanied by words of love. But dark days were to follow, and when Albert died in 1861 Victoria threw the country into a prolonged period of mourning. Jet and black enamel and lockets filled with a deceased’s hair all became popular. Victoria’s daughter-in-law, Princess Alexandra, gradually put the spirit back into England, and by the 1880s Victorian jewellery had become light and fresh, incorporating magical and often whimsical motifs.
Art Nouveau Jewellery
In Paris at the turn of the century, the swirling, naturalistic designs of Art Nouveau jewellery emerged. Key motifs included ethereal maidens, peacock feathers, dragonflies, butterflies and flowers. Plique-à-jour enameling enabled designers to capture the fantastic iridescence they admired all around them in nature.
What’s so fantastic about jewellery is its timeless appeal. Designs and motifs from tens and even thousands of years ago are replicated in modern jewellery to create striking pieces we all love to wear today. And original vintage jewellery is still a continuing vogue. At Past Times we all have our favourites – rings, brooches and necklaces inspired by some of the best designs of the past. Why not delve into your grandmother’s jewellery collection, pull out a family heirloom, or visit your local museum to see what you would like to wear today? We would love to hear about your favourite pieces, new or old, so why not send us a comment?