Jewellery facts

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18th dynasty pharaonic crown by John Campana
An eighteenth dynasty of Ancient Egypt princess's crown
Clasp-reliquary eagle MNMA Cl3292
Bohemia, 14th century jewelled clasp with eagle motif
Andhra Pradesh Royal earrings 1st Century BCE
Royal earrings, India, 1st Century BC.

Jewelery (British English) or jewelry (American English) consists of small decorative items worn for personal adornment, such as brooches, rings, necklaces, earrings, pendants, bracelets, and cufflinks. Jewellery may be attached to the body or the clothes, and the term is restricted to durable ornaments, excluding flowers for example.

For many centuries metal, often combined with gemstones, has been the normal material for jewellery, but other materials such as shells and other plant materials may be used. It is one of the oldest type of archaeological artefact – with 100,000-year-old beads made from Nassarius shells thought to be the oldest known jewellery.

The basic forms of jewellery vary between cultures but are often extremely long-lived; in European cultures the most common forms of jewellery listed above have persisted since ancient times, while other forms such as adornments for the nose or ankle, important in other cultures, are much less common.

Jewellery may be made from a wide range of materials. Gemstones and similar materials such as amber and coral, precious metals, beads, and shells have been widely used, and enamel has often been important.

In most cultures jewellery can be understood as a status symbol, for its material properties, its patterns, or for meaningful symbols. Jewellery has been made to adorn nearly every body part, from hairpins to toe rings. The patterns of wearing jewellery between the sexes, and by children and older people can vary greatly between cultures, but adult women have been the most consistent wearers of jewellery; in modern European culture the amount worn by adult males is relatively low compared with other cultures and other periods in European culture.

Form and function

Spanish jewellery-Gold and emerald pendant at VAM-01
Spanish emerald and gold pendant at Victoria and Albert Museum

Humans have used jewellery for a number of different reasons:

  • functional, generally to fix clothing or hair in place
  • as a marker of social status and personal status, as with a wedding ring
  • as a signifier of some form of affiliation, whether ethnic, religious or social
  • to provide talismanic protection (in the form of amulets)
  • as an artistic display
  • as a carrier or symbol of personal meaning – such as love, mourning, or even luck

Most cultures at some point have had a practice of keeping large amounts of wealth stored in the form of jewellery. Numerous cultures store wedding dowries in the form of jewellery or make jewellery as a means to store or display coins. Alternatively, jewellery has been used as a currency or trade good.

Many items of jewellery, such as brooches and buckles, originated as purely functional items, but evolved into decorative items as their functional requirement diminished.

Jewellery can also symbolise group membership (as in the case, of the Christian crucifix or the Jewish Star of David) or status (as in the case of chains of office, or the Western practice of married people wearing wedding rings).

Wearing of amulets and devotional medals to provide protection or ward off evil is common in some cultures. These may take the form of symbols (such as the ankh), stones, plants, animals, body parts (such as the Khamsa), or glyphs (such as stylised versions of the Throne Verse in Islamic art).

History

Intaille en améthyste
Roman Amethyst intaglio engraved gem, ~212 AD; later regarded as of St. Peter

The history of jewellery is long and goes back many years, with many different uses among different cultures. It has endured for thousands of years and has provided various insights into how ancient cultures worked.

Jewelry can be made from any material. The first jewelry was made from bone, animal teeth, wood or stone. Jewelry often uses gemstones and precious metals.

Fashion jewelry or costume jewelry is jewelry that is worn just for fashion, and is not made of expensive materials.

Common jewelry types

  • Earrings, which is any jewelry worn on the ears
  • Necklaces, worn aroung the neck
  • Finger rings and toe rings (finger rings are usually just called "ring")
  • Bracelets or bangles, worn on the wrists
  • Arm rings or armlets, worn on the upper arms
  • Pins or Brooches, worn on clothes for decoration or keeping clothes from undoing.
  • Piercings, which is jewelry that is put through holes in the skin

Images


Jewellery Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.