Jewelry is as old as humankind and has served as a universal form of adornment since the beginning of history. Necklaces and bracelets made from shells, stones, and bones dating back to prehistoric times were likely worn for protection or as a mark of status or rank. Additionally, the custom of wearing jewelry has also been tied to warding off evil or giving luck. These ideas also date back to the origins of jewelry and continue into today as good-luck charms.
In the ancient world, metalworking capabilities gave way to new developments in the art of jewelry making. Over time, techniques became more sophisticated, and more intricate decoration was incorporated. Typically, adornments made from gold and other valuable materials were buried with the dead to accompany the person into the afterlife.
From the times of ancient history until today, jewelry and styles have undergone radical changes. With minor exceptions, jewelry of all kinds has been dependent on the fashions of the times. Changing necklines, sleeve lengths, hemlines, and fabrics have influenced the type of jewelry worn and the type and style of the material.
Jewelry is still seen as a symbol of family, heritage, and status as heirloom pieces are passed down from generation to generation. More than anything, however, today, jewelry for women is a fashion accessory that reflects moods, feelings, favorite colors, tastes, and individuality. Let’s take a look at the historical importance of women’s jewelry.
Jewelry, Status, and Power
As trends took hold in Rome, Alexandria, Antioch, and far-reaching provinces, rules governing who could wear certain types of jewelry were put in place. Around the Roman Empire, gold was set aside for the aristocracy. However, it declined in importance by the second century and was worn by all who could afford it. With adornment becoming more acceptable for the general population, even slaves were allowed to wear certain pieces made of iron.
During the fourth century, the Roman Empire was diminishing, and Christianity was taking hold throughout Europe. New jewelry trends and iconography became tied to the new religion. Early Christians wore rings to symbolize their allegiance and had engravings of symbols of Christ. Elegant pieces that included precious stones were reserved for the ruling class.
During the Middle Ages, the church was losing prominence, and societies were becoming more worldly. With increased wealth and the rise of the middle classes, laws restricting who could wear jewelry became popular again. Fashions dictated the types of jewelry worn and weren’t conducive for bracelets or earrings. Brooches became needed for capes and coats, and fancy belts were necessary for nice dresses. Rings with signets and love messages were also worn by the wealthy. Throughout later centuries jewelry remained a symbol of power and class.
In more modern times, jewelry pieces have become accessories for outfits and attitudes. From costume jewelry to a simple string of pearls to outrageously priced diamond bracelets on the red carpet, women from all areas of society wear jewelry as an accessory today. Since the early centuries, women have worn necklaces, bracelets, and other pieces to distinguish themselves as members of a particular class or status. Today, however, jewelry is continually being redefined, and materials such as paper, plastics, and textiles are being incorporated to create jewelry for anyone.
Today jewelry pieces are more about fashion than status. While works created from the most precious stones and materials are still out of reach for some, new arrivals of affordable luxury items are trendy and rival many of the most expensive pieces. From symbols of power to religious iconography to fashion pieces, jewelry and its significance have evolved. Adornments remain a very ingrained part of our culture today and continue to be an essential aspect of women’s history.