Jewelry is often associated with treasure-gold, gemstones, valuable materials-and is considered to be objects of intrinsic beauty, though the early beginnings were very different. In prehistoric times, long before humans worked metals, jewelry was made of non-precious materials. Burials of 30,000 B.C.E. in Europe show that at the time people used local materials available to them, such as shells and pebbles, and, in hunting societies, also animal teeth and claws, to make jewelry. Existing examples reveal that pieces were engraved with intricate geometric patterns and, later, zoomorphic images. Thus, jewelry was an early form of decorative art. The study of some primitive cultures gives evidence that organic materials, which have since disintegrated, would have also undoubtedly been utilized in the past. It was not until a later stage of human development that people chose precious and possibly scarce materials from far-away for jewelry.
Jewelry is as old as humankind. Whether coming from a primitive culture or modern civilization of the West or East, and regardless of material and style, humans of both genders and all age groups have the need for self-adornment. The significance of jewelry transcends time limits and geographic boundaries; similarities in the use of jewelry for personal adornment become apparent in the study of various cultures.
In prehistoric times, as well as in contemporary cultures, jewelry is not only ornamentation for the body, but also a means of communication. Hierarchy, prestige, and power are expressed through jewelry, which can affirm the status of an individual in society. What initially appears to be an ornament can mark allegiance to a society or individual. Men and women can impress each other through jewelry. Yet possibly the most powerful qualities attributed to jewelry are the amuletic and talismanic functions of warding off evil or giving luck. These properties go back to the origins of jewelry and continue well into the nineteenth century. Even in contemporary cultures people carry good-luck charms. Jewelry also played an important role in protecting against the dangers of life, and was given in burials for the afterlife of the deceased. In addition, jewelry was also worn as a sign of personal affection and fidelity, and marked special occasions in life, such as coming of age, association to a religion through communion or confirmation, nobility, marital status, and motherhood. Jewels in their aesthetic expression are not only signs of wealth and taste, but also reflect-and communicate-the personal character and temperament of the wearer.
Jewelry as an Integral Part of Fashion
Throughout its history until about the mid-twentieth century, when jewelry experienced a radical change, it had been dependent on the fashions of the day, with the exception of finger rings. Varying necklines, sleeve lengths, hemlines, and fabrics determined the type of jewelry worn, while the choice of materials and symbolism determined its function and usage. The creativity of the goldsmith is boundless, as are the types and styles of wearable objects for the body.
If not passed on as a family heirloom or given for the person’s afterlife and found in excavations of burials, many types of jewels that are known to have existed have not survived. Jewelry made of precious materials, regardless of century or culture, have been destined to be dismantled, the gemstones reused and the metals such as silver and gold melted down for bullion, either to become a financial resource or to be remodeled in a new fashion. Jewels with enamel have withstood this destiny, as it was too complicated and costly to remove the enamel, whereas golden chains with a considerable weight in metal were the first to be melted down. Few images of jewelry types and how they were worn survive from antiquity. Mummy masks and wall paintings of the ancient Egyptian era, ancient Greek statues of gods and vase painting, Etruscan tomb sculpture, Roman tombstones, and the informative mummy portraits of Fayum from the Roman period all give valuable evidence. In the Middle Ages, tomb effigies and even religious paintings of the Virgin Mary and saints illustrate jewelry of the time. More importantly, the development of portrait painting and the depiction of the individual from the fifteenth century onwards (supplemented after the mid-nineteenth century by photography) enables a comprehensive study of jewelry, and makes possible the reconstruction of many types that are no longer in existence.
In prehistoric times people chose materials from their immediate environment. A statuette dating back to 20,000 B.C.E., the so-called “Venus of Willendorf,” shows a fertility statue wearing a bracelet, and burials give evidence of the use of necklaces made of snails and shells-both fertility symbols and a sign of motherhood. Men wore animal teeth and claws to signify their strength over the animal kingdom and their ability to hunt and, in turn, feed and protect their families. Such objects would possibly have marked their position within the community. In its early stages, jewelry was predominantly amuletic-its function was to guard its wearers in a life of hardships.
Until recently, and even to a limited extent in the early 2000s, among traditional peoples who managed to resist the impact of Western religion and culture, it is possible to discern elements of these more traditional attitudes toward personal adornment. Tattoos, makeup, and jewelry were in many cases, in such societies, not simply matters of personal adornment, but also conveyed specific messages about social and gender roles; they were used to ward off disease and other evils, and sometimes also to work magic against opponents; and as acts and signs of prayer and devotion to divinities. A widespread, if attenuated, example of the magical power of jewelry can be found throughout the Middle East and in parts of Africa, where the wearing of blue glass jewelry beads as a means of warding off the “evil eye” is very common.
In some societies, Western-style jewelry has still not completely effaced the wearing of more traditional forms of jewelry. The use of natural materials in jewelry in ways that probably preserve a very long continuous tradition of craftsmanship can be found, for example, among the highland peoples of New Guinea, where shell, bird-of-paradise feathers, boar tusks, and other animal products are commonly employed in personal adornment. Until the second half of the twentieth century these elements of jewelry were ubiquitous in the absence of alternative materials (for example, metal objects); in the early twenty-first century their continued use represents a choice among a wide range of possibilities.
In other contemporary non-Western societies, jewelry can still be seen as fulfilling another of its ancient functions, that is, it acts as a repository of wealth while also retaining its amuletic properties. Among pastoral nomadic peoples in the steppelands of Asia, throughout the Middle East, and in North Africa, women commonly wear very heavy silver jewelry, including headdress ornaments, earrings, necklaces, bracelets, belts, and frontlets, sometimes including actual silver coins (of many eras and many countries) worked into the jewelry. These coins also had an amuletic function, because their jingling sound was believed to ward off evil. Such jewelry not only displays the status of the family to which the woman belongs, but also acts as a highly portable form of wealth that can be converted to monetary use at any time it is needed. Likewise, in cities and agricultural regions of the Middle East, India, and Southeast Asia, gold jewelry acts as a repository of wealth as well as being beautiful and prestigious. In many Indian communities, for example, the conspicuous wearing of gold jewelry by a bride is an essential element of a wedding ceremony.
Asia 5000 to 2500 B.C.E.
Jewelry found in western Asia in the cradle of civilization from about 5000 to 2500 B.C.E. illustrates a society with a taste for refined and decorative jewelry, as well as a trade network in supplying rare materials for their goldsmiths and differing local traditions. The earliest examples were necklaces made of obsidian from Turkey and cowrie shells with red stain from the nearby coastal areas. The most splendid jewels found in the area were from the royal graves of the Sumerian city of Ur in southern Mesopotamia, where the king and queen lay buried accompanied by their soldiers and attendants. Men wore beads to keep their headdress in place, whereas women’s jewelry was more elaborate with dress pins, headdresses, and necklaces made of embossed and repouseé gold, probably from the areas currently known as Iran and Turkey. The motifs were stylized flowers and foliage, interspersed with beads in varying geometric shapes cut from lapis lazuli imported from Afghanistan and carnelian from India. The designs are intricate with signs of inlay, filigree, and the use of alternating colors.
Ancient Egyptian Jewelry
Like the Sumerians, the ancient Egyptians from 3100 B.C.E. till the Graeco-Roman period in the first century B.C.E. showed a preference for lapis lazuli and carnelian, and typically, in Egyptian jewelry, turquoise is added to this combination. The resources in the area were vast and the choice of materials for the Egyptian jewelry-maker amazing as they also included a variety of organic materials. Gold and many other metals were found in the surrounding areas as were agates, amethysts, garnets, jaspers, malachite, and steatite, to name but a few. Glazed faience, and glass imitations in substitution, were applied to achieve colorful compositions, forming a contrast to the rather plain clothing the Egyptians wore, which was essentially made of white linen. Pectorals and necklaces were the most popular of jewelry types, but bracelets and head ornaments of all sorts are characteristic for the culture. The motifs ranged from the animal world (including fish and lions), the magical scarab, sphinxes, the udjat eye, and deities, either signifying rank or serving an amuletic purpose. Other designs are of a more decorative nature with vivid color combinations achieved through varied bead shapes and stones. Pharaohs, princesses, peasants, and artisans alike wore jewelry in life and in death, many surviving types were in fact funerary objects. The jewelry-making techniques were most sophisticated, such as inlaying in cloisons and granulation, and we even have pictorial records of craftsmen from ancient Egypt demonstrating technical processes in their workshops.
Minoans, Mycenaeans, Phoenicians and Etruscans
In the eastern Mediterranean of about 2500 B.C.E. there was the Minoan culture in Crete, which was taken over by the Mycenaeans in about 1450 B.C.E. The jewelry of that period and area is characterized by an abundance of gold; their styles were greatly influenced by the jewelry of the Babylonians and Egyptians. The Phoenicians were traders who colonized the eastern and western Mediterranean from Syria to Spain, and their choice of jewelry was influenced by the ancient Egyptians. Near Eastern designs also had influence on the later Greeks, as seen in the Orientalizing style of the Archaic period (700-480 B.C.E.), and in Etruscan jewelry (seventh to fifth centuries B.C.E.). The Etruscans were known for their technical perfection in goldsmithing and most of all for their outstanding technique of granulation with almost pulverized granules of gold. By the seventh century B.C.E., however, forms and decorative elements in jewelry were dominated by Greek designs and symbols.
Greek goldsmiths of the classical to Hellenistic periods were renowned for their technical skills and fine craftsmanship mainly in gold-a reputation that would be retained in future centuries. Greece was not rich in gold resources until its empire was extended as far as Persia in the fourth century B.C.E. In the classical period, from the Crimea to as far west as Sicily, Greek men wore more jewelry in some areas than others. In certain places it was even considered to be effeminate. Jewelry were gifts presented at birth, birthdays, and weddings, or even as votive offerings to cult statues. Rings and hair wreaths adorned men, both men and women wore rings, and the main forms of adornment for women were necklaces, earrings, bracelets on their upper arms or thighs, and diadems or golden nets in their hair. Fibulae were widespread and not only a decorative feature, but functional in as much as they held the drapery of the chiton on the shoulder. As the iconography of Greek jewelry confirms, it was intended for women, mainly to attract the opposite sex. This may explain the numerous images of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, in gold, as three-dimensional figures suspended from necklaces or earrings, possibly given at the birth of a child. Eros, symbolic of desire, was equally popular and given as a token of love. Deities such as Athena or Dionysus or other figures from mythology referred to religious beliefs and the power of the deities during life. Bracelets worn in pairs on the upper arm or rings with elaborately coiling snakes functioned as amulets, calling on the sacred creatures of the underworld to protect against evil. Antelopes and goats would attract the opposite sex, whereas lions were worn as emblems of fertility and royal power. These decorative motifs were all rendered in a naturalistic manner in gold sheet metal with intricate filigree wires and granulation, as were the interspersed motifs from nature such as seeds, nuts, and different shapes of foliage. Enamels, garnets, emeralds, and glass pastes became fashionable during the Hellenistic period as beads or inlay to add color to the previously predominantly gold jewelry.
With the loss of Greek independence and the victory of the Romans over Macedonia in 168 B.C.E., Rome became a strong military and political power. The wealth of the new empire attracted many Greek craftsmen to come to the capital, where they were most successful. Essentially the Romans followed Greek styles until about the first century B.C.E., when the aesthetics of their jewelry began to change. The jewelry became unpretentious, the gold techniques less elaborate, the designs simplified, and more emphasis was laid on the choice of stones and the use of color-a new taste had developed, it was the beauty of the material to which one aspired. Regional differences are evident: jet was fashionable in Britain, where it was found in Whitby, and amber from the Baltic Sea was cut in Aquileia in Roman Italy. Emeralds from the newly discovered mines in Egypt-what was then recently acquired Roman territory-became fashionable and their abundance led to the natural hexagonal crystal shapes being drilled, strung on thread, or connected with simple gold links to be worn as necklaces. Garnets were imported from the Middle East, and sapphires from Sri Lanka. Pearls were considered to be an expression of luxury and indulgence. Apart from the Romans showing a preference for gemstones, each has a special significance, described in the Historia naturalis by Pliny the Elder (23-79 B.C.E.). Specific gemstones were chosen for certain images, such as Bacchus on amethyst as a safeguard against drunkenness; the Sun god Sol is depicted on heliotrope; and Demeter, goddess of crops, on green jasper to symbolize growth and abundance.
Jewelry, Status and Power
Trade was flourishing in the vast empire with farreaching provinces, and jewelry was being produced in Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch. Roman goldsmiths had guilds and rules existed about who could wear certain types of jewelry, but these soon diminished. During the Republic gold jewelry was reserved for the aristocracy, but by the first century C.E. its significance soon depreciated and by the second century gold was worn by those who could afford it. With adornment becoming socially acceptable for a wider public, even slaves were permitted to wear jewelry made of iron-it was mass produced, and thus plenty has survived from the Roman period. With a thriving economy by the second century, Roman jewelry became more elaborate, even heavy and gaudy-a sign of wealth and status-yet at the same time the iconography suggests the jewelry was full of symbolism and personal messages for the wearer. Deities became symbols of wealth and good fortune, the gorgon Medusa destroyed evil powers, the phallus was a popular good luck charm, and cupids with Venus or cupids riding on dolphins tokens of love. Images of clasped right hands or husband and wife facing each other alluded to the marriage vows, and Latin inscriptions served as charms to protect life. Other types of jewelry such as the brooch were more decorative in character and, in fact, served a functional purpose of holding the drapery together.
By the fourth century the Roman Empire was in decline. With Christianity having been recognized by Constantine the Great, the iconography found in jewelry was relevant to the new religion, but often coded to protect the owner from being persecuted. The early Christians appear to have worn finger rings as a sign of their allegiance, and engraved on the bezels are symbols and ciphers of Christ the Saviour. In the fourth century the empire transferred to East Byzantium with its capital in Constantinople, which continued as an ecclesiastical and successful trading power until 1453 when the city fell to the Ottoman Turks. Greek goldsmiths were active there, and with their influence, despite the style being a continuation of late Roman jewelry with a love for gemstones and color, there was a greater emphasis on intricate gold-work with enamel or niello decoration. Except for bronze gilt or gold rings, the laws were strict about who could wear jewelry. Emeralds, pearls, and sapphires were reserved for the emperor, and all the splendor of their richly embroidered and bejeweled fabrics is documented in the mosaics of the churches in Ravenna, northern Italy, as are the elaborate necklaces, earrings, and brooches. Nevertheless, the iconography was religious and the cult of saints is confirmed by the use of pectoral crosses with their images and relic inserts.
Mutual artistic influence between the Byzantine world and the expanding world of Islam is evident from the mid-seventh century onward. Byzantine and Islamic influence can also be seen in the jewelry of the Germanic tribes that occupied much of Europe after the fall of the western Roman Empire. Germanic tribesmen acquired gold from Byzantium. The jewelry of these nomadic tribes tended to be restricted to basic types and was more functional in its application, but nonetheless the jewels were a statement of status. Men wore belts, buckles, and sword harnesses; both men and women needed clasps for their dress, and these are found in the form of disc brooches or fibulae. The tribes show distinctive styles in their goldsmiths’ work, but even they had many common elements, such as sophistication in the applied goldsmithing techniques, the lavish engraving, the use of garnet inlays, and the intricacy of patterns, including stylized animal themes.
During the Middle Ages cities were enlarging, the merchant classes were gaining prominence and becoming a new economic force, and with the church losing power, society became more worldly. With the rise of the middle classes and increase in wealth, sumptuary laws became necessary to restrict who was allowed to wear jewelry. Fashions determined the types of jewelry worn: with the sleeves becoming wider and more lavish, bracelets were unnecessary; high collars did not allow for earrings; cape-like coats required brooches; and the high waistlines of women’s dresses made fancy belts necessary. Rings with signets or love messages were very popular.
European Styles Emerged
By the twelfth and thirteenth centuries an international style in jewelry had evolved. Shapes of stone settings, designs, and decorations showed astonishing similarities in England, France, Denmark, Germany, and Italy. This phenomenon presumably can be explained by the trade routes and import of gemstones from the Near and Far East. Paris was trend-setting in the manufacturing of jewelry, whereas the ports of Venice and Genoa were influential in trade. The inscriptions on jewelry were mostly in Latin or French, the international language of the courts. The pointed arches and tracery of Gothic architecture, naturalistic rendering of foliage in sculpture, and the colors of stained glass were mirrored in the jewelry designs of the time. Devotional and secular iconography were often interlocked, gemstones in cabochon were amuletic or reflected divinity, and the images of saints had protective and healing powers, as did the emerging use of the bones of saints in reliquary pendants. Flowers and animals decorate medieval jewels as a symbol of faith, and classical gems were given Christian interpretations. Medieval jewelry was largely heraldic, religious, or expressive of courtly love.
In Europe the transition to the Renaissance period differed according to country, beginning with Italy in the fifteenth century and spreading throughout Europe by the sixteenth century. Italy, with its discoveries of ancient monuments and sculpture, was all-important in the rebirth of the cultures of ancient Greece and Rome, whereas in northern Europe Gothic styles continued much longer. With an explosion of economic trade, in particular wool and banking, many wealthy families in Italy became patrons of the arts. Goldsmiths became known as individuals by name. In the fifteenth century, Florence and the Burgundian Courts established trends in dress and jewelry; by the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries Spain became a major European power with colonies all over the world, leading to a dominant Spanish style in dress and jewelry. Religious wars raged in Europe and, often due to the circumstances, artisans traveled from one country to another-at the same time following the wealth of emerging courts in Europe. Jewelry again developed into an international style with less regional distinctions. Another factor that led to this phenomenon was the newly discovered art of printing. Artists made ornamental drawings that were printed and distributed throughout Europe, and even as far as the Spanish colonies, where jewelry was made in the style of the day for trade with Europe.
Men, in fact, showed more adornment than women. However, the function of jewels was display, as the abundance of portraits of that period document. The merchant classes were following fashions of the aristocracy, the materials used, though, were usually less precious. The heavy and dark velvets or brocades with gold embroidery were covered with jewelry, either sewn on the fabric as ornaments, or worn on the body. Pendants were fashionable for all genders, and the images were either religious or from classical mythology; exotic birds, flowers, or marine themes were also displayed as symbols of status and new wealth. Gemstones were in open settings when on the body, so that the amuletic qualities would be more effective. Heavy gold chains worn by both men and women on the breast or across the shoulder and cascading in multiple strands were undoubtedly a sign of social ranking. Men wore hat jewels, belts with sword harnesses, and jeweled buttons. The custom of wearing bracelets in pairs was revived from antiquity, as was the fashion for earrings. Decorative chains encompassed ladies’ waists, often from which pomanders or pendants were suspended. Dress studs ornamented the already elaborate fabrics. To add to the display of color, Renaissance jewels often had polychrome enamels in combination with gemstones, such as rubies from Burma, emeralds from the New World, pearls off the coast of Venezuela, and diamonds from India. In contrast to the cabochon cuts of the Middle Ages, during the Renaissance table cuts were common. With the renewal of classical traditions the art of cameo cutting was revived and northern Italy was an important source for this form of lapidary arts.
In the second half of the seventeenth century while Spain was in decline, France became the most important economic and cultural center. All luxury industries flourished in the France of Louis XIV. French silks from Lyon and dress fashions were exported and, with these, styles for jewelry. It was also a period when women were playing an increasingly significant role in society. For their dress, heavyweight brocades had been replaced by light silks in various pastel shades. The splendor and bright colors of the fabrics required a decrease of color in jewelry. Portraits of the period illustrate a passion for pearls, strung as necklaces or worn as pearl drops suspended from earrings, or from brooches worn on the breast, sleeve, or in the hair. Pearls were very valuable, and while pearls often were ostententiously displayed, it is likely that most of them were fake; fake pearls are known to have been produced since about 1400. Diamonds were favored. French-style enamelled settings and decorations were equally subdued in their color scheme: opaque white enamel was outlined with black, and pale pink or turquoise enamel was applied as highlights of the decoration. A source for the naturalistic floral designs of enamel decorations was the study of botany, a new science. Jewelry had the tendency of being less figural and more decorative with bows and clusters of gemstones. However, the Thirty Years War that ravaged Europe between 1618 and 1648, as well as the plague, resulted in a new type of jewelry, memento mori. The wearer was reminded of his or her transience and mortality, and skull’s heads and skeletons were featured in all types of jewelry, which lived on in mourning jewelry of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries with funerary ornaments and weeping maidens as motifs.
Designs in jewelry were in general more playful by the eighteenth century and the grand elegant court style of Louis XV of France was to influence the whole of Europe, even as far as Russia. The compositions of the jewelry were more naturalistic, and thus asymmetrical; flower sprays and baskets were gem-studded, as were feathers, ribbons, and bows. Eighteenth-century jewelry moved from monochrome to polychrome; metal foils placed under the gemstones enhanced their color. Indian diamond mines had been exhausted, but with new mines found by the Portuguese in Brazil the fashion continued, and by 1720 the rose-cut diamond had been developed, allowing more light reflections. Other fashionable stones were agates, mossagate, and marcasite. Pearl strands with ornate clasps were worn like chokers; large stomachers were attached to the narrow bodices, and aigrettes to the hair; and shoe buckles were also bejewelled. With the Industrial Revolution in its beginnings towards the end of the eighteenth century, new materials for jewelry had been discovered, including cut steel. This hard metal was facetted to look like diamonds. The industrialist, Josiah Wedgewood (1730-1795), the founder of Wedgewood pottery, designed porcelain cameos to be inserted into jewelry. A special formula for making glass paste was named after Georges Frédéric Strass (1701-1773). After Marie Antoinette of France wore strass at court, it became socially acceptable to wear paste jewelry, which would have shimmered splendidly in candlelight.
In 1789 the French Revolution had dramatic effects not only in the politics and life of France, but also on Europe as a whole. Outside France the market was flooded by the jewels and gemstones of those who managed to escape, and prices fell radically. In France anybody owning jewels of aristocratic origin faced death by guillotine; only jewelry made of base metals was permitted, and this jewelry had political and patriotic inscriptions or symbols.
Luxury was revived in France with Napoleon when he proclaimed his empire in 1804. His wife Josephine was a trend-setter and wore Greek fashion, which was reflected in jewelry. Cameos, the Greek key pattern, laurel wreaths, and filigree work were reminiscent of antiquity. However the Napoleonic Wars led to quite a different and innovative type of jewelry known as Berlin iron, first developed when ladies gave their golden jewelry to finance the wars and received iron jewelry in return. The fashion spread from Germany to Austria and France; the style of this jewelry was antique or Gothic, typical of the nineteenth century with its eclectic styles.
Industrial Revolution and Imitation Jewelry
The effects of the Industrial Revolution and the rise of the middle class became particularly evident in Britain. The middle class imitated the jewelry of the aristocracy, but instead of diamonds, rubies, sapphires, and emeralds, gemstones such as amethyst, chrysoprase, tourmaline, turquoise, and many other colorful substitutes were applied. Seed pearls were labor intensive, but as an inexpensive material replaced opulent pearl jewelry. As in dress fashions, evening and day jewelry was differentiated, the full parure consisting of necklace, bracelets, brooch, and earrings was intended for the evening, whereas the demi-parure, a brooch with matching earrings, for daytime wear. Sentimental jewelry was extremely popular: gifts with love or messages of friendship, and souvenirs of hair of the beloved or deceased were integrated in jewels. The newly acquired wealth of the middle class enabled travel, and souvenir jewelry was invented soon after, such as pietra dura work from Florence, coral from Naples, micromosaics from Rome, and the archaeological styles from Egypt, Assyria, and the Celtic lands. Not only were archaeological and exotic cultures rein-terpreted, but so were the Middle Ages and Renaissance. By the second half of the nineteenth century the famous jewelry houses of today opened branches in the capital cities of Europe; jewelry became global.
20th Century Innovation
The path to modernism in jewelry began around the turn of the twentieth century, during the belle Époque when there was a mood for renewal and individually crafted luxury items. Paris with its exhibition of 1900 was predominant in the new aesthetic movement. The jewelry expressed emotions, and winged women were symbolic of emancipation; nature was metaphorically interpreted: themes such as birth, death, and rebirth were expressed through plants in varying stages of their life. René Lalique laid the foundation for artists’ jewelry of the twentieth century and introduced novel material combinations, such as precious gold with non-precious glass. Diamonds were applied sparingly, plique-à-jour enamel allowed light to shine through, opals gave iridescence, and materials appeared to almost dematerialize. In contrast, silver with enamel and a few gemstones defined the Jugendstil in Germany and the Viennese Secession in Austria, both reducing nature to stylized geometric forms. Liberty of London chose Celtic inspirations, and Georg Jensen in Denmark a more sculptural rendering of nature. By 1910 platinum jewelry in the Louis XVI style with bows, tassels, and garlands enabled thin, almost invisible settings and linear designs. The costumes of the Ballets Russes in Paris were immensely inspirational for vivid color combinations in jewelry, such as emeralds with sapphires, turquoises, and coral.
Decisive innovations in jewelry were brutally interrupted by World War I. Many widows were obliged to gain employment to survive; dress and hair fashions became casual, and so did jewelry. In the golden twenties elegant lifestyle and lavish luxury prevailed again, mirrored in the jewels of the epoch. Diamonds and gemstones form stylized compositions in contrasting colors that are reminiscent of such art movements as Cubism, de Stijl and Futurism. The exoticism of Africa and Egypt attracted jewelers as well. Germany, struggling with political and economical concerns and following the artistic philosophies of the Bauhaus school of design, developed jewelry made of non-precious materials such as chrome-plated brass. Events such as the stock market crash on Wall Street in 1929 had a global economic effect in Europe, as did World War II, when materials for jewelry were scarce, but the desire for jewelry never ceased.
In the aftermath of the wars in the twentieth century, jewelry experienced a departure from its traditional values due to radical changes in society: housewives could no longer afford staff, and young people learned to be self-sufficient. Like fashion, jewelry designs followed the movements of youth culture. Women became more independent, and began buying their own jewelry rather than traditionally having it given to them by their husbands as had been traditional. Never before had jewelry been so diverse and so independent of dress fashions.
In the 1950s and 1960s the desire for luxury was epitomized by Hollywood with its make-believe world, mink stoles, and diamonds galore. During this time jewelers in Europe were experimenting with gold surfaces, designing unconventional settings, and, thus, transforming jewelry into a free art form. After the 1960s jewelry took an almost revolutionary turn with the freelance artist jewelers in their studios boldly setting out on the path of the fine arts-by the 1980s they broke existing boundaries of dimensions and materials and used materials from gold to rubber to paper.
More than any other time in its history, by the early twenty-first century, jewelry reflected the wearers’ moods and feelings, favorite colors, taste, understanding of the arts, and last, but not least, their individuality.