Updated: Jul 21
Adorning oneself with jewelry is a custom that spans cultures across the world and throughout history. But the reasons that an individual might wear jewelry can differ based upon a variety of factors, from symbolism and tradition, aesthetics and beauty, and more. For an overview of the history of jewelry, as well as why people continue to wear it today, keep reading!
T H E H I S T O R Y O F J E W E L R Y
Oldest recorded jewelry
The first piece of created jewelry can be dated back more than 135,000 years ago, when neanderthals walked the earth. In 2013, archeologists discovered an eagle talon necklace made by this species that radically changed the way they were viewed historically, as being able to make and appreciate jewelry was a cultural trait previously thought absent in neanderthals. Other examples of ancient jewelry include using shells to make beaded necklaces, the chlorite to make bracelets, and even ostrich eggs punctured to make donut-shaped beads. The fascinating thing about all of these jewelry discoveries was that they indicated social value, aesthetic appreciation and potentially the concept of status and self-image among our ancestors.
As humanity began to grow more and more cultural, jewelry began to hold even more symbolic value. In ancient Mediterranean culture, most jewelry consisted of amulets and seals, boasting designs found in nature that often held spiritual meaning. In Egyptian society, the colors yellow and green jewelry held great spiritual significance, and was reserved for the priests and pharaohs who ruled the land, though those in the lower class were still allowed access to colorful gemstones such as amethyst, carnelian, green feldspar, and turquoise. The Greeks and Romans lavishly incorporated jewelry into their cultures, as crowns, earrings, bracelets, rings, hairpins, necklaces, and brooches were ingrained into their everyday lives.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, there was little jewelry to be seen in society, outside of the gemstones used to decorate churches and their icons. But during the Crusades, trade between the East and the West provided a surge in jewelry wearing once again, though it was primarily reserved for the upper classes of society. Many European nobles became enthralled with the idea of adorning themselves--and their courts--with jewelry, with rulers such as Henry VIII owning least 234 rings, 324 brooches, diamond and pearl studded necklets.
Unfortunately, it was still uncommon for the working classes to possess jewelry, until manufacturers were able to produce affordable imitations that allowed them to mimic the trends of the nobility--a practice that is still seen today as royals, celebrities, and influencers set the styles for each season. The 1900's probably saw the quickest evolution of jewelry. In the 1920's, jewelry was vibrant and abstract, but due to World War II, most jewelry was synthetic, as well as thematically patriotic. But after the war, the 1950's brought back the use of color as a form of self-expression that was seen throughout the classes, and morphed into the jewelry industry we see today.
S Y M B O L I S M
Throughout history, and even in today's society, jewelry can be seen as a status symbol. As previously discussed, often the wearing of jewelry was restricted to the upper class, as the nobles wished to communicate their wealth and social status to all they met by wearing opulent jewelry and lavish clothing. The more valuable a gemstone was, the more difficult it was to come across it in the lower classes. In modern culture, this concept is still somewhat present, though the widespread manufacturing of jewelry made with imitation gemstones has made adorning oneself more accessible. However, authentic gemstones that are of great size and quality still remain reserved for those who can afford them, or bought to celebrate special milestones like an engagement, a wedding anniversary, or a special birthday.
The first wedding rings were found in Egyptian culture, as the pharaohs believed rings to symbolize eternity, as well as a gate to the unknown. In addition, they began the tradition of placing rings on the fourth finger, as they believed it to possess a "vein of love" that led straight to the heart--a practice that has perpetuated all the way into modern culture. The custom of gifting rings to one's lovers was then picked up by the Greeks and Romans, who used primarily iron or gold to cast the jewelry for weddings.
Many have heard the phrase "Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue" in reference to a person's wedding day, but not many may know why this is a symbolic saying. The something old refers to a family heirloom, such as a bracelet passed down for generations. Something new encourages brides to celebrate this new chapter of her life, represented by the rings they will exchange during the ceremony. Something borrowed is meant to be an item lent by a friend or family member, such as a pair of blue earrings that will also fulfill the final item. This loaned gift should be from someone who is happily married, provided in the hopes that their joy will be transferred to the new couple. And something blue traditionally symbolizes the love, purity, faithfulness, and modesty of the bride.
W H Y W E W E A R I T T O D A Y
Many pyschologists have claimed that jewelry is a great way for individuals to express their personalities and communicate who they are purely through their appearance. For instance, if someone wears minimalistic jewelry, such as a pair of studs or a delicate necklace, they are portraying that they are confident and fashionable, but do not wish to attract excessive attention to themselves. On the other hand, people who wear large statement pieces, such as hoops or bold necklaces enjoy attention and see their jewelry as an extension of their personality.
Research has shown that wearing jewelry can remarkably increase an individual’s self-esteem, no matter their age or social status. One study actually proved that nursing home patients who suffered from memory disorders were noticeably more confident and happy when they were wearing some form of jewelry! By taking the time to adorn yourself with even the simplest of earrings or the boldest of necklaces, you are investing in yourself. This form of self care is guaranteed to make you feel confident enough to tackle anything life may throw your way!
As you can see, there are many reasons why we wear jewelry, from valuing the symbolism behind certain pieces, to wanting to show off our class and status, to simply appreciating the appearance of a sparkling gemstone. Whatever your reason for wearing jewelry, we want to help you find the perfect piece! Come see us here at Dacels for all your jewelry needs.