As a species, humanity has come a long way over the centuries. The same can be said for one of our most fascinating, dazzling and colorful inventions:
In early societies, jewelry was considered less a luxury and more of an “insurance policy” (which we’ll get to later) against bad luck, sickness, suffering and death. It was most often worn in amulet form around the wearer’s neck.
As humanity and understanding evolved and societies expanded all around the world, jewelry also came to signify something warmer — human connection and commitment. Engagement and wedding rings, specifically, have always been worn to illustrate a committed, betrothed bond that exists between two people.
Of course, people have been around for a long, long time now. Things change. People change. Styles change. Innovations occur. So let’s take a closer look at some of the key moments in the history of jewelry.
Way, way, way back in the day…
Of course, we have no way of knowing exactly when and where the first man or woman decided to start wearing something that could be considered jewelry. Not even close, really. But written records from many societies suggest that jewelry may be almost as old as humanity itself. According to a wealth of research, including the IGS, many ancient people wore jewelry made of feathers, bones, shells and colored stones — or what we refer to today as gems.
More functional objects than decorative or ornamental pieces, such rudimentary jewelry dates all the way back to around 25,000 years ago and includes a fishbone necklace discovered in a cave in what is now Monaco (later home to much more advanced and expensive jewelry). Historians believe pins and brooches originated from clasps that held primitive clothing together, while rings and pendants were first utilized as means of identification, including rank and societal authority.
From Functional to Emotional
Many scholars hold that the earliest examples of more decorative and symbolic jewelry hail from civilizations located in the Mediterranean and what is now modern-day Iran between 3,000 to 400 B.C. Primarily stone amulets, many of these primitive pieces held spiritual meanings, with star and floral designs common. This jewelry was typically offered to the gods of these civilizations, and many statues could be found adorned with these pieces. At the Royal Tombs in ancient Ur (in what is today Southern Iraq), Sumerian mummies were even found wearing jewelry.
Speaking of mummies, the ancient Egyptians were also known to wear talismans and amulets. Common designs and themes include the beetle-like scarab and the ankh, the Egyptian symbol of life. The Egyptians also crafted and wore bracelets made from multiple colored gemstones, including amethyst, feldspar and turquoise. Royal Egyptians jewelers used gold, silver, turquoise, amethyst, chalcedony and lapis lazuli, which was secured via trade with miners from what is now Afghanistan. They were also renowned for their use of faience, a glass-like glaze. Color symbolism played a prominent role in Egyptian jewelry design — with yellow and gold symbolizing the sun, the pharaoh and his priests; red signifying the heart and soul; and green signifying speech, including in the afterlife. More importantly and historically than anything else, however, Egyptian jewelers were credited with the first smelting of gold, sometime around 3600 BC. Using clay blowpipes, they heated the smelting furnace and fused ores, separating the metals inside the oven.
The Greeks are credited with creating and/or refining quite the range of incredible and vital societal pillars, including democracy, poetry, philosophy, debate, theater and the Olympic Games. Turns out they were pretty into jewelry, too. Dating all the way back to 1200 BC, Greek letters and lore speak of jewelry, which for them included everything from crowns and hairpins to earrings, bracelets, rings, brooches and necklaces. Greek women were even known to wear elaborate necklaces with as many as 70-80 miniature vases hanging from them. Heavily influenced by Eastern motifs, Greek jewelry eventually evolved into a more “ownable” entity of its own — and frequently fused the Eastern love of gemstones with the Etruscan affinity for gold. In fact, the Etruscans, whose Iron Age civilization peaked in the sixth century BC, perfected a method for producing small gold beads known as granulation.
Speaking of the Etruscans, their hold on what we now know as Italy eventually gave way to the Romans, who then absorbed many features and aspects of their well-developed culture. By the rise of the mighty Roman Empire (27 BC – 476 AD), most gemstones that we routinely incorporate into contemporary jewelry pieces had been discovered. Romans were fond of necklaces, cameos, bracelets, brooches, earrings and upper arm jewelry — made from gemstones such as opals, emeralds, topaz and pearls, as well as melded gold coins. Roman women were particularly fond of jewelry and often wore gem- and gold-encrusted hairpins that also doubled as weapons. Men wore less jewelry in Roman society, with finger rings, pendants and “fibulae” (a right-shoulder brooch) the most common pieces for men. Unlike Greek men, Roman men often wore multiple rings.
Now a staple of high-end jewelry, uncut diamonds first started appearing in exclusive royal jewelry in the 11th century — but didn’t really emerge until people learned how to cut them in order to truly display and highlight their dazzling brilliance. This happened in Europe of the Middle Ages, somewhere around the year 1300 AD. Initially a fairly superficial form of stone polishing, diamond cutting evolved over the next several decades and centuries — from the point cut to the rose cut to the Asscher cut to the emerald cut to the modern brilliant cut. As the cuts evolved and matured, so did peoples’ fascination with diamonds and diamond-encrusted jewelry.
In the Baroque era of 17th century Europe, colored gemstones fell out of favor to a good degree and diamonds began to captivate everyone and everything associated with jewelry more and more. Interestingly enough, some scholars believe the word “Baroque” stems from the Portuguese “baroca”, meaning “misshapen pearl”.
The Rise of Jewelry…Insurance
In the harsher times of ancient societies, protection was afforded only by the sword. Thankfully, things have changed a good bit since them. Since our founding, Zillion has existed to provide protection for your own treasured jewelry. Not in a magical, mystical way afforded by an ancient amulet, but in a much more practical, yet entirely affordable, manner.
Bolstered by our strong network, deep reservoir of experience, streamlined claims process and overall ease-of-use, we empower each of our customers and clients to enjoy true peace of mind when it comes to your jewelry. When your precious piece or pieces are protected by a Zillion jewelry insurance policy, you can trust you’ll be covered if anything unfortunate should befall your engagement ring, diamond brooch or magical amulet.
Start your own personal history with a fast, easy quote on our homepage today!