The history of jewellery is a long one, with many different uses among different cultures. It has endured for thousands of years and has provided various insights into how ancient cultures worked.
The first signs of jewellery came from the people in Africa. Perforated beads made from snail shells have been found dating to 75,000 years ago at Blombos Cave. In Kenya, at Enkapune Ya Muto, beads made from perforated ostrich egg shells have been dated to more than 40,000 years ago.
Outside of Africa, the Cro-Magnons had crude necklaces and bracelets of bone, teeth, berries and stone hung on pieces of string or animal sinew, or pieces of carved bone used to secure clothing together. In some cases, jewellery had shell or mother-of-pearl pieces. In southern Russia, carved bracelets made of mammoth tusk have been found. The Venus of Hohle Fels features a perforation at the top, showing that it was intended to be worn as a pendant.
Around 7,000 years ago, the first sign of copper jewellery was seen.
Amulet pendant (254 BC) made from gold, lapis lazuli, turquoise and carnelian, 14 cm wide.
An 18th dynasty pharaonic era princess’ crown
The first signs of established jewellery making in Ancient Egypt was around 3,000-5,000 years ago. The Egyptians preferred the luxury, rarity, and workability of gold over other metals. Predynastic Egypt had Jewellery in Egypt soon began to symbolise power and religious power in the community. Although it was worn by wealthy Egyptians in life, it was also worn by them in death, with jewellery commonly placed among grave goods.
In conjunction with gold jewellery, Egyptians used coloured glass in place of precious gems. Although the Egyptians had access to gemstones, they preferred the colours they could create in glass over the natural colours of stones. For nearly each gemstone, there was a glass formulation used by the Egyptians to mimic it. The colour of the jewellery was very important, as different colours meant different things; the Book of the Dead dictated that the necklace of Isis around a mummy’s neck must be red to satisfy Isis’s need for blood, while green jewellery meant new growth for crops and fertility. Although lapis lazuli and silver had to be imported from beyond the country’s borders, most other materials for jewellery were found in or near Egypt, for example in the Red Sea, where the Egyptians mined Cleopatra’s favourite gem, the emerald. Egyptian jewellery was predominantly made in large workshops attached to temples or palaces.
Egyptian designs were most common in Phoenician jewellery. Also, ancient Turkish designs found in Persian jewellery suggest that trade between the Middle East and Europe was not uncommon. Women wore elaborate gold and silver pieces that were used in ceremonies.
Europe and the Middle East
By approximately 4,000 years ago, jewellery-making had become a significant craft in the cities of Sumer and Akkad. The most significant archaeological evidence comes from the Royal Cemetery of Ur, where hundreds of burials dating 2900–2300 BC were unearthed; tombs such as that of Puabi contained a multitude of artefacts in gold, silver, and semi-precious stones, such as lapis lazuli crowns embellished with gold figurines, close-fitting collar necklaces, and jewel-headed pins. In Assyria, men and women both wore extensive amounts of jewellery, including amulets, ankle bracelets, heavy multi-strand necklaces, and cylinder seals.
Jewellery in Mesopotamia tended to be manufactured from thin metal leaf and was set with large numbers of brightly-coloured stones (chiefly agate, lapis, carnelian, and jasper). Favoured shapes included leaves, spirals, cones, and bunches of grapes. Jewellers created works both for human use and for adorning statues and idols; they employed a wide variety of sophisticated metalworking techniques, such as cloisonné, engraving, fine granulation, and filigree.
Extensive and meticulously maintained records pertaining to the trade and manufacture of jewellery have also been unearthed throughout Mesopotamian archaeological sites. One record in the Mari royal archives, for example, gives the composition of various items of jewellery:
1 necklace of flat speckled chalcedony beads including: 34 flat speckled chalcedony bead, [and] 35 gold fluted beads, in groups of five.
1 necklace of flat speckled chalcedony beads including: 39 flat speckled chalcedony beads, [with] 41 fluted beads in a group that make up the hanging device.
1 necklace with rounded lapis lazuli beads including: 28 rounded lapis lazuli beads, [and] 29 fluted beads for its clasp.
Gold earring from Mycenae, 16th century BC.
The Greeks started using gold and gems in jewellery in 1600 BC, although beads shaped as shells and animals were produced widely in earlier times. By 300 BC, the Greeks had mastered making coloured jewellery and using amethysts, pearl and emeralds. Also, the first signs of cameos appeared, with the Greeks creating them from Indian Sardonyx, a striped brown pink and cream agate stone. Greek jewellery was often simpler than in other cultures, with simple designs and workmanship. However, as time progressed the designs grew in complexity different materials were soon utilised.
Pendant with naked woman, made from electrum, Rhodes, around 630-620 BC.
Jewellery in Greece was hardly worn and was mostly used for public appearances or on special occasions. It was frequently given as a gift and was predominantly worn by women to show their wealth, social status and beauty. The jewellery was often supposed to give the wearer protection from the “Evil Eye” or endowed the owner with supernatural powers, while others had a religious symbolism. Older pieces of jewellery that have been found were dedicated to the Gods. The largest production of jewellery in these times came from Northern Greece and Macedon. However, although much of the jewellery in Greece was made of gold and silver with ivory and gemstones, bronze and clay copies were made also.
Ancient Greek jewellery from 300 BC.
They worked two styles of pieces; cast pieces and pieces hammered out of sheet metal. Fewer pieces of cast jewellery have been recovered; it was made by casting the metal onto two stone or clay moulds. Then the two halves were joined together and wax and then molten metal, was placed in the centre. This technique had been practised since the late Bronze Age. The more common form of jewellery was the hammered sheet type. Sheets of metal would be hammered to thickness and then soldered together. The inside of the two sheets would be filled with wax or another liquid to preserve the metal work. Different techniques, such as using a stamp or engraving, were then used to create motifs on the jewellery. Jewels may then be added to hollows or glass poured into special cavities on the surface. The Greeks took much of their designs from outer origins, such as Asia when Alexander the Great conquered part of it. In earlier designs, other European influences can also be detected. When Roman rule came to Greece, no change in jewellery designs was detected. However, by 27 BC, Greek designs were heavily influenced by the Roman culture. That is not to say that indigenous design did not thrive; numerous polychrome butterfly pendants on silver foxtail chains, dating from the 1st century, have been found near Olbia, with only one example ever found anywhere else.
Roman Amethyst intaglio engraved gem, c. 212 AD; later regarded as of St. Peter.
Although jewellery work was abundantly diverse in earlier times, especially among the barbarian tribes such as the Celts, when the Romans conquered most of Europe, jewellery was changed as smaller factions developed the Roman designs. The most common artefact of early Rome was the brooch, which was used to secure clothing together. The Romans used a diverse range of materials for their jewellery from their extensive resources across the continent. Although they used gold, they sometimes used bronze or bone and in earlier times, glass beads & pearl. As early as 2,000 years ago, they imported Sri Lankan sapphires and Indian diamonds and used emeralds and amber in their jewellery. In Roman-ruled England, fossilised wood called jet from Northern England was often carved into pieces of jewellery. The early Italians worked in crude gold and created clasps, necklaces, earrings and bracelets. They also produced larger pendants which could be filled with perfume.
Like the Greeks, often the purpose of Roman jewellery was to ward off the “Evil Eye” given by other people. Although women wore a vast array of jewellery, men often only wore a finger ring. Although they were expected to wear at least one ring, some Roman men wore a ring on every finger, while others wore none. Roman men and women wore rings with a engraved gem on it that was used with wax to seal documents, an practice that continued into medieval times when kings and noblemen used the same method. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the jewellery designs were absorbed by neighbouring countries and tribes.
Merovingian fibulae, Bibliothèque nationale de France.
6th century bronze eagle-shaped Visigothic cloisonné fibula from Guadalajara, Spain, using glass-paste fillings in imitation of garnets.
Post-Roman Europe continued to develop jewellery making skills; the Celts and Merovingians in particular are noted for their jewellery, which in terms of quality matched or exceeded that of Byzantium. Clothing fasteners, amulets, and to a lesser extent signet rings are the most common artefacts known to us; a particularly striking celtic example is the Tara Brooch. The Torc was common throughout Europe as a symbol of status and power. By the 8th century, jewelled weaponry was common for men, while other jewellery (with the exception of signet rings) seems to become the domain of women. Grave goods found in a 6th-7th century burial near Chalon-sur-Saône are illustrative; the young girl was buried with: 2 silver fibulae, a necklace (with coins), bracelet, gold earings, a pair of hair-pins, comb, and buckle. The Celts specialised in continuous patterns and designs; while Merovingian designs are best known for stylised animal figures. They were not the only groups known for high quality work; note the Visigoth work shown here, and the numerous decorative objects found at the Anglo-Saxon Ship burial at Sutton Hoo Suffolk, England, are a particularly well-known example. On the continent, cloisonné and garnet were perhaps the quintessential method and gemstone of the period.
Byzantine wedding ring.
The Eastern successor of the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, continued many of the methods of the Romans, though religious themes came to predominate. Unlike the Romans, the Franks, and the Celts, however; Byzantium used light-weight gold leaf rather than solid gold, and more emphasis was placed on stones and gems. As in the West, Byzantine jewellery was worn by wealthier females, with male jewellery apparently restricted to signet rings. Like other contemporary cultures, jewellery was commonly buried with its owner.
The Renaissance and exploration both had significant impacts on the development of jewellery in Europe. By the 17th century, increasing exploration and trade lead to increased availability of a wide variety of gemstones as well as exposure to the art of other cultures. Whereas prior to this the working of gold and precious metal had been at the forefront of jewellery, this period saw increasing dominance of gemstones and their settings. A fascinating example of this is the Cheapside Hoard, the stock of a jeweller hidden in London during the Commonwealth period and not found again until 1912. It contained Colombian emerald, topaz, amazonite from Brazil, spinel, iolite, and chrysoberyl from Sri Lanka, ruby from India, Afghani lapis lazuli, Persian turquoise, Red Sea peridot, as well as Bohemian and Hungarian opal, garnet, and amethyst. Large stones were frequently set in box-bezels on enamelled rings. Notable among merchants of the period was Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, who in the 1660s brought the precursor stone of the Hope Diamond to France.
When Napoleon Bonaparte was crowned as Emperor of the French in 1804, he revived the style and grandeur of jewellery and fashion in France. Under Napoleon’s rule, jewellers introduced parures, suites of matching jewellery, such as a diamond tiara, diamond earrings, diamond rings, a diamond brooch and a diamond necklace. Both of Napoleon’s wives had beautiful sets such as these and wore them regularly. Another fashion trend resurrected by Napoleon was the cameo. Soon after his cameo decorated crown was seen, cameos were highly sought after. The period also saw the early stages of costume jewellery, with fish scale covered glass beads in place of pearls or conch shell cameos instead of stone cameos. New terms were coined to differentiate the arts: jewellers who worked in cheaper materials were called bijoutiers, while jewellers who worked with expensive materials were called joailliers; a practice which continues to this day.
Mourning jewellery in the form of a jet brooch, 19th century.
Starting in the late 18th century, Romanticism had a profound impact on the development of western jewellery. Perhaps the most significant influences were the public’s fascination with the treasures being discovered through the birth of modern archaeology, and the fascination with Medieval and Renaissance art. Changing social conditions and the onset of the Industrial Revolution also lead to growth of a middle class that wanted and could afford jewellery. As a result, the use of industrial processes, cheaper alloys, and stone substitutes, lead to the development of paste or costume jewellery. Distinguished goldsmiths continued to flourish, however, as wealthier patrons sought to ensure that what they wore still stood apart from the jewellery of the masses, not only through use of precious metals and stones but also though superior artistic and technical work; one such artist was the French goldsmith Françoise Désire Froment Meurice. A category unique to this period and quite appropriate to the philosophy of romanticism was mourning jewellery. It originated in England, where Queen Victoria was often seen wearing jet jewellery after the death of Prince Albert; and allowed the wearer to continue wearing jewellery while expressing a state of mourning at the death of a loved one.
In the United states, this period saw the founding in 1837 of Tiffany & Co. by Charles Lewis Tiffany. Tiffany’s put the United States on the world map in terms of jewellery, and gained fame creating dazzling commissions for people such as the wife of Abraham Lincoln; later it would gain popular notoriety as the setting of the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s. In France, Pierre Cartier founded Cartier SA in 1847, while 1884 saw the founding of Bulgari in Italy. The modern production studio had been born; a step away from the former dominance of individual craftsmen and patronage.
This period also saw the first major collaboration between East and West; collaboration in Pforzheim between German and Japanese artists lead to Shakudō plaques set into Filigree frames being created by the Stoeffler firm in 1885). Perhaps the grand finalé – and an appropriate transition to the following period – were the masterful creations of the Russian artist Peter Carl Fabergé, working for the Imperial Russian court, whose Fabergé eggs and jewellery pieces are still considered as the epitome of the goldsmith’s art.
In the 1890s, jewellers began to explore the potential of the growing Art Nouveau style and the closely related German Jugendstil, British (and to some extent American) Arts and Crafts Movement.
Art Nouveau jewellery encompassed many distinct features including a focus on the female form and an emphasis on colour, most commonly rendered through the use of enamelling techniques including basse-taille, champleve, cloisonné and plique-à-jour. Motifs included orchids, irises, pansies, vines, swans, peacocks, snakes, dragonflies, mythological creatures and the female silhouette.
René Lalique, working for the Paris shop of Samuel Bing, was recognised by contemporaries as a leading figure in this trend. The Darmstadt Artists’ Colony and Wiener Werkstätte provided perhaps the most significant German input to the trend, while in Denmark Georg Jensen, though best known for his Silverware, also contributed significant pieces. In England, Liberty & Co. and the British arts & crafts movement of Charles Robert Ashbee contributed slightly more linear but still characteristic designs. The new style moved the focus of the jeweller’s art from the setting of stones to the artistic design of the piece itself; Lalique’s dragonfly design is one of the best examples of this. Enamels played a large role in technique, while sinuous organic lines are the most recognisable design feature.
The end of World War One once again changed public attitudes; and a more sober style came in.
Growing political tensions, the after-effects of the war, and a reaction against the perceived decadence of the turn of the 20th century led to simpler forms, combined with more effective manufacturing for mass production of high-quality jewellery. Covering the period of the 1920s and 1930s, the style has become popularly known as Art Deco. Walter Gropius and the German Bauhaus movement, with their philosophy of “no barriers between artists and craftsmen” lead to some interesting and stylistically simplified forms. Modern materials were also introduced: plastics and aluminium were first used in jewellery, and of note are the chromed pendants of Russian born Bauhaus master Naum Slutzky. Technical mastery became as valued as the material itself; in the west, this period saw the reinvention of granulation by the German Elizabeth Treskow (although development of the re-invention has continued into the 1990s).
Jewellery has been a part of Jewish culture since Biblical times. There are references in the Bible to the wearing of jewellery, both as a decoration and as a symbol. Now, Jewish jewellery is worn to show affiliation with Judaism, as well as talismans and amulets.
One of the most common symbols in Jewish jewellery is the Star of David. Another popular symbol is the Hamsa, also known as the “Hamesh hand”. The Hamsa appears often in a stylised form, as a hand with three fingers raised, and sometimes with two thumbs arranged symmetrically. Its five fingers are said to symbolise the five books if the Torah. The symbol is used for protection and as a talisman to ward off the Evil eye in amulets and charms and can also be found in various places such as home entrances and cars. It is also common to place other symbols in the middle of the Hamsa that are believed to help against the evil eye such as fish, eyes and the Star of David. The colour blue, or more specifically light blue, is also considered protective against the evil eye and many Hamsas are in that colour or with embedded gemstones in different shades of blue.
The Chai is also a popular Jewish motif for necklaces.
Other motifs found in Jewish jewellery are symbols from the Kabbalah, such as the Merkaba, a three-dimensional Star of David, and the Tree of life. Pieces of jewellery are decorated with parts or initials of known Jewish prayers and with 3-letters combinations, believed to represent different names of the Jewish God.
Royal earrings, India, 1st Century BC.
In Asia, the Indian subcontinent has the longest continuous legacy of jewellery making anywhere, with a history of over 5,000 years. One of the first to start jewellery making were the peoples of the Indus Valley Civilization in what is now predominately modern-day Pakistan. Early jewellery making in China started around the same period, but it became widespread with the spread of Buddhism around 2,000 years ago.
One of the earliest cultures to begin making jewellery in Asia was the Chinese around 5,000 years ago. Chinese jewellery designs were very religion-oriented and contained Buddhist symbols, a tradition which continues to this day.
The Chinese used silver in their jewellery more often than gold, and decorated it with their favourite colour, blue. Blue kingfisher feathers were tied onto early Chinese jewellery and later, blue gems and glass were incorporated into designs. However, jade was preferred over any other stone, and was fashioned using diamonds. The Chinese revered jade because of the human-like qualities they assigned to it, such as its hardness, durability and beauty. The first jade pieces were very simple, but as time progressed, more complex designs evolved. Jade rings from between the 4th and 7th centuries BC show evidence of having been worked with a compound milling machine; hundreds of years before the first mention of such equipment in the west.
Jade coiled serpent, Han Dynasty (202 BC-220 AD)
`Xin’ Shape Jewellery from Ming Dynasty Tombs, (1368–1644)
In China, jewellery was worn frequently by both sexes to show their nobility and wealth. However, in later years, it was used to accentuate beauty. Women wore highly detailed gold and silver head dresses and other items, while men wore decorative hat buttons, which showed rank, and gold or silver rings. Women also wore strips of gold on their foreheads, much like women in the Indus Valley. The band was an early form of tiara and was often decorated with precious gems. The most common piece of jewellery worn by in China was the earring, which was worn by both men and women. Amulets were also common too, often with a Chinese symbol or dragon. In fact, dragons, Chinese symbols and also phoenixes were frequently depicted on jewellery designs.
The Chinese often placed their jewellery in their graves; most Chinese graves found by archaeologists contain decorative jewellery.
India has the longest continuous legacy of jewellery making anywhere since Ramayana and Mahabharata times. While Western traditions were heavily influenced by waxing and waning empires, India enjoyed a continuous development of art forms for some 5000 years. One of the first to start jewellery making were the peoples of the Indus Valley Civilization (encompassing present-day Pakistan and northwest India). By 1500 BC the peoples of the Indus Valley were creating gold earrings and necklaces, bead necklaces and metallic bangles. Before 2100 BC, prior to the period when metals were widely used, the largest jewellery trade in the Indus Valley region was the bead trade. Beads in the Indus Valley were made using simple techniques. First, a bead maker would need a rough stone, which would be bought from an eastern stone trader. The stone would then be placed into a hot oven where it would be heated until it turned deep red, a colour highly prized by people of the Indus Valley. The red stone would then be chipped to the right size and a hole drilled through it with primitive drills. The beads were then polished. Some beads were also painted with designs. This art form was often passed down through family; children of bead makers often learnt how to work beads from a young age.
Jewellery in the Indus Valley was worn predominantly by females, who wore numerous clay or shell bracelets on their wrists. They were often shaped like doughnuts and painted black. Over time, clay bangles were discarded for more durable ones. In India today, bangles are made out of metal or glass. Other pieces that women frequently wore were thin bands of gold that would be worn on the forehead, earrings, primitive brooches, chokers and gold rings. Although women wore jewellery the most, some men in the Indus Valley wore beads. Small beads were often crafted to be placed in men and women’s hair. The beads were about one millimetre long.
A female skeleton (presently on display at the National Museum, New Delhi, India) wears a carlinean bangle (a bracelet) on her left hand.
India was the first country to mine diamonds, with some mines dating back to 296 BC. India traded the diamonds, realising their valuable qualities. This trade almost vanished 1,000 years after Christianity grew as a religion, as Christians rejected the diamonds which were used in Indian religious amulets. Along with Arabians from the Middle East restricting the trade, India’s diamond jewellery trade lulled.
Today, many of the jewellery designs and traditions are still used and jewellery is commonplace in Indian ceremonies and weddings.
Jewellery played a major role in the fate of the Americas when the Spanish established an empire to seize South American gold. Jewellery making developed in the Americas 5,000 years ago in Central and South America. Large amounts of gold was easily accessible, and the Aztecs, the Mixtecs, the Mayans and numerous Andean cultures like the Mochica of Peru created beautiful pieces of jewellery.
With the Mochica culture, goldwork flourished. The pieces are no longer simple metalwork, but are now masterful examples of jewellery making. Pieces are sophisticated in their design, and feature inlays of turquoise, mother of pearl, spondylus shell, and amethyst. The nose and ear ornaments, chest plates, small containers and whistles are considered masterpieces of ancient Peruvian culture.
Moche Ear Ornaments. 1-800 AD. Larco Museum Collection, Lima-Peru
Among the Aztecs, only nobility wore gold jewellery, as it showed their rank, power and wealth. Gold jewellery was most common in the Aztec Empire and was often decorated with feathers from Quetzal birds and others. In general, the more jewellery an Aztec noble wore, the higher their status or prestige. The Emperor and his High Priests, for example, would be nearly completely covered in jewellery when making public appearances. Although gold was the most common and a popular material used in Aztec jewellery, Jade, Turquoise, and certain feathers were considered more valuable. In addition to adornment and status, the Aztecs also used jewellery in sacrifices to appease the gods. Priests also used gem encrusted daggers to perform animal and human sacrifices.
Another ancient American civilisation with expertise in jewellery making was the Maya. At the peak of their civilisation, the Maya were making jewellery from jade, gold, silver, bronze and copper. Maya designs were similar to those of the Aztecs, with lavish head dresses and jewellery. The Maya also traded in precious gems. However, in earlier times, the Maya had little access to metal, so made the majority of their jewellery out of bone or stone. Merchants and nobility were the only few that wore expensive jewellery in the Maya Empire, much the same as with the Aztecs.
In North America, Native Americans used shells, wood, turquoise, and soapstone, almost unavailable in South and Central America. The turquoise was used in necklaces and to be placed in earrings. Native Americans with access to oyster shells, often located in only one location in America, traded the shells with other tribes, showing the great importance of the body adornment trade in Northern America.
Jewellery making in the Pacific started later than in other areas because of recent human settlement. Early Pacific jewellery was made of bone, wood and other natural materials, and thus has not survived. Most Pacific jewellery is worn above the waist, with headdresses, necklaces, hair pins and arm and waist belts being the most common pieces.
Jewellery in the Pacific, with the exception of Australia, is worn to be a symbol of either fertility or power. Elaborate headdresses are worn by many Pacific cultures and some, such as the inhabitants of Papua New Guinea, wear certain headresses once they have killed an enemy. Tribesman may wear boar bones through their noses.
Island jewellery is still very much primal because of the lack of communication with outside cultures; some areas of Borneo and Papua New Guinea are yet to be explored by Western nations. However, the island nations which were flooded with Western missionaries have had drastic changes made to their jewellery designs. Missionaries saw any type of tribal jewellery as a sign of the wearer’s devotion to paganism. Thus many tribal designs were lost forever in the mass conversion to Christianity.
A modern opal bracelet
Australia is now the number one supplier of opals in the world. Opals had already been mined in Europe and South America for many years prior, but in the late 19th century, the Australian opal market became predominant. Australian opals are only mined in a few select places around the country, making it one the most profitable stones in the Pacific.
One of the few cultures to today still create their jewellery as they did many centuries prior is the New Zealand Māori, who create Hei-tiki. The reason the hei-tiki is worn is not apparent; it may either relate to ancestral connections, as Tiki was the first Māori, or fertility, as there is a strong connection between this and Tiki. Another suggestion from historians is that the Tiki is a product of the ancient belief of a god named Tiki, perhaps dating back to before the Māoris settled in New Zealand. Hei-tikis are traditionally carved by hand from bone (commonly whale), nephrite or bowenite; a lengthy and spiritual process. The Hei-tiki is now popular amongst tourists who can buy it from souvenir or jeweller shops.
Other than jewellery created through Māori influence, jewellery in New Zealand remains similar to other western civilisations; multi cultural and varied. This is more noticeable in New Zealand because of its high levels of non-European citizens.
The modern jewellery movement began in the late 1940s at the end of World War II with a renewed interest in artistic and leisurely pursuits. The movement is most noted with works by Georg Jensen and other jewellery designers who advanced the concept of wearable art. The advent of new materials, such as plastics, Precious Metal Clay (PMC) and colouring techniques, has led to increased variety in styles. Other advances, such as the development of improved pearl harvesting by people such as Mikimoto Kōkichi and the development of improved quality artificial gemstones such as moissanite (a diamond simulant), has placed jewellery within the economic grasp of a much larger segment of the population.
The “jewellery as art” movement was spearheaded by artisans such as Robert Lee Morris and continued by designers such as Gill Forsbrook in the UK. Influence from other cultural forms is also evident; one example of this is bling-bling style jewellery, popularised by hip-hop and rap artists in the early 21st century.
The late 20th century saw the blending of European design with oriental techniques such as Mokume-gane. The following are innovations in the decades stradling the year 2000: “Mokume-gane, hydraulic die forming, anti-clastic raising, fold-forming, reactive metal anodising, shell forms, PMC, photoetching, and [use of] CAD/CAM.”
Artisan jewellery continues to grow as both a hobby and a profession. With more than 17 United States periodicals about beading alone, resources, accessibility and a low initial cost of entry continues to expand production of hand-made adornments. Some fine examples of artisan jewellery can be seen at The Metropolitan Museum.
A Kayan girl in Northern Thailand.
Jewellery used in body modification is usually plain; the use of simple silver studs, rings and earrings predominates. Common jewellery pieces such as earrings, are themselves a form of body modification, as they are accommodated by creating a small hole in the ear.
Padaung women in Myanmar place large golden rings around their necks. From as early as 5 years old, girls are introduced to their first neck ring. Over the years, more rings are added. In addition to the twenty-plus pounds of rings on her neck, a woman will also wear just as many rings on her calves too. At their extent, some necks modified like this can reach 10-15 inches long; the practice has obvious health impacts, however, and has in recent years declined from cultural norm to tourist curiosity. Tribes related to the Paduang, as well as other cultures throughout the world, use jewellery to stretch their earlobes, or enlarge ear piercings. In the Americas, labrets have been worn since before first contact by Innu and First Nations peoples of the northwest coast. Lip plates are worn by the African Mursi and Sara people, as well as some South American peoples.
In the late 20th century, the influence of modern primitivism led to many of these practices being incorporated into western subcultures. Many of these practices rely on a combination of body modification and decorative objects; thus keeping the distinction between these two types of decoration blurred.
In many cultures, jewellery is used as a temporary body modifier, with in some cases, hooks or even objects as large as bike bars being placed into the recipient’s skin. Although this procedure is often carried out by tribal or semi-tribal groups, often acting under a trance during religious ceremonies, this practise has seeped into western culture. Many extreme-jewellery shops now cater to people wanting large hooks or spikes set into their skin. Most often, these hooks are used in conjunction with pulleys to hoist the recipient into the air. This practice is said to give an erotic feeling to the person and some couples have even performed their marriage ceremony whilst being suspended by hooks.
According to a recent KPMG study the largest jewellery market is the United States with a market share of 30.8%, Japan, India and China and the Middle East each with 8 – 9% and Italy with 5%. The authors of the study predict a dramatic change in market shares by 2015, where the market share of the United States will have dropped to around 25%, and China and India will increase theirs to over 13%. The Middle East will remain more or less constant at 9%, whereas Europe’s and Japan’s marketshare will be halved and become less than 4% for Japan, and less than 3% for the biggest individual European countries: Italy and the UK.