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A Brief History of Jewellery

Jewellery has been part of human culture and civilisation for tens of thousands of years. From the earliest pieces of jewellery recorded to the present day we have been obsessing over all things shiny, colourful and embellishing. Our fascination for the building blocks of jewellery has led to many discoveries all over the world, most of which have happened relatively recently with the help of modern machinery and new mining techniques.

Ancient Egyptians

Ancient Egyptian jewellery, dating as far back as 5550 BC

Although there is evidence to suggest that jewellery making has been around for over 100,000 years, the oldest civilisation which took the art of jewellery crafting to extraordinary heights was the ancient Egyptians. From as far back as 5550 BC the Egyptians fashioned jewellery items from pure gold using creativity beyond compare. The ancient Egyptian Gods, Pharaohs and animals have all been immortalised in solid gold Egyptian jewellery. Everything from earrings to necklaces and elaborately decorated headwear was churned out by the ancient Egyptian master goldsmiths and gem setters.

Medieval Era

An ancient ring from Medieval Europe

In bygone eras, jewellery was primarily worn to signify hierarchical status. As we turn the clocks forward to the Medieval period between AD 1200 and AD 1500, this notion becomes more prevalent. The status-conscious societies of Medieval Europe designed jewellery with one thing in mind: to boast of their social status and wealth. As a result, we have uncovered many fascinating jewellery artefacts from the Medieval age. New experimental techniques were resulting in exciting new ways of casting gold and changing the colouration of gems during this time. These included heat treatment and gemstone cutting, both of which are majorly responsible for the way in which jewellery is produced today.

Renaissance Era

Jewellery from the Renaissance era

The saying 'what goes around comes around' perfectly characterises the Renaissance era in Italy during the 15th Century. During this time general art styles stepped back a few thousand years and started incorporating Greek Gods and scenes from ancient Rome in everything from pottery to jewellery. Jewellery items from this period of time, although taking a few steps back in design themes, were making giant leaps forward in production techniques. Gemstones were being cut into many different shapes, each one with the goal of dispersing as much light as possible. From this period onwards engraving jewellery items and making them personal became very popular and important for illustrating social class and religious beliefs.

18th Century

The diamond boom of the 18th Century

The 18th Century marked the beginning of the diamond boom when the multifaceted brilliant cut diamond made its first appearance in France. This ultramodern scientific and mathematic approach to jewellery changed the way in which diamonds and other gemstones were cut and shaped forever.

During this time, a special bond between diamonds and women all over the world was born. Outfits would be laced with small brilliant cut diamonds whilst larger, more exuberant diamonds held prominent positions on rings, necklaces and bracelets. The 18th Century gave us the first intricate floral designs which were used in brooches and fancy pendants. Jewelled ribbon work replaced boring and plain looking fabrics on bodices. A new corner had been turned in the evolution of jewellery design; one which would ultimately lead us away from illustrating our beliefs and social classes and bring us closer to the modern way of thinking about jewellery and fashion.

19th Century

A beautiful red brooch from the 19th Century

Although the jewellery industry had embarked on a new path exploiting the latest stone cutting techniques in an attempt to set a more modern definition of fine jewellery, the past was not forgotten. In the 19th Century many jewellery designers were incorporating famous biblical and other historic scenes within their masterpieces. This inadvertently produced a mix of modern designs with ancient detailing, typical of the 19th Century approach to jewellery.

A period becoming increasingly fascinated with botany and romance has been expertly depicted in jewellery pieces of that time. Many floral items were layered with rows of the highest quality diamonds and colourful gemstones. Nature was very much the essence of the 19th Century jewellery industry, as patterned brooches and bracelets played host to perfectly decorated flower patters and designs. The flower brooch pictured is a beautiful example with marquise and round cut rubies forming the petals of the flower.

Arts & Crafts

English topaz Arts and Crafts necklace from the 1910s

The Arts & Crafts Era took its name from a design movement which swept across the globe between 1860 and 1910. The anti-industrial theme led jewellery designers to consider crafting jewellery with ancient techniques and using as little machinery as possible. Whilst sounding rather dismissive of all the hard work which had gone into refining jewellery design and production, the movement produced some outstanding pieces of fine craftsmanship. The slightly rough edges and crude finishing made the articles of this period characterful and distinct.

It had become vogue to flaunt pieces of naturally produced jewellery. The value and style of each piece became synonymous with world famous designers who spent countless man hours crafting each piece without the use of machinery. The significance of each jewellery item was held in the craftsmanship of the jeweller, as opposed to the precision of a machine.

Art Deco

An Art Deco brooch typifying the 1950s

The Art Deco period was partly responsible for making some of the previously lesser known gemstones more accessible and introducing them to mainstream jewellery manufacturing. In the 1950s, Art Deco styles were being pencilled by jewellery designers all over the world. A combination of top designers from London, New York and Paris went head to head to win over public opinion and acceptance of their designs. Packed full of gemstones rubbing shoulder to shoulder the designs proved to be highly attractive and decorative whilst following the angular structure that we have come to associate with the Art Deco period.

Modern Day Jewellery and Beyond

Jewellery in the modern day

A sophisticated soup of knowledge consisting of generations of design and technology changes has led jewellery designers down a winding path. Introducing meaning, religion, social class and the all-important aesthetics into their masterpieces, jewellery designers and gemologists alike have helped shape the way we see jewellery today.

Modern jewellery consists of many new advancements, due in part to precision cutting equipment and furnaces which can be used to superheat gemstones in an attempt to change their natural colour. Brand new materials have been introduced: tungsten, carbon fibre and titanium are now used in the manufacturing of rings, necklaces and bracelets to name a few.

At QP Jewellers we like to keep things simple. We believe good quality jewellery relies on three quintessential ingredients: solid gold, the highest quality gemstones, and master craftsmanship.

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