Jewelry has been around about as long as mankind. If you think that Eve didn’t weave some leaves and berries together to go with her fig leaves, you better think again. I’m betting that she did! Early man – – or should I say woman – – is known to have made jewelry from reeds and berries as well as shells, animal teeth or bones, and even stones and pebbles.
In the beginning, jewelry was mostly worn for religious reasons. However among some peoples, jewelry was considered to have medicinal qualities. This belief has even carried over somewhat into modern times. The Chinese believe that jade is imbued with special powers that can bring its wearer good luck and good health as well as protect them from bad luck, evil spirits, and danger. Many early civilizations also felt that crystals had specific healing properties; a belief that continues among new age believers today.
Jewelry began to come into its own when people began to carve ivory and wood which eventually gave way to impressions made into metals like silver, copper, and bronze. When it was finally discovered that gold could be heated and pounded into thin sheets and then shaped into a multitude of forms, jewelry design began to blossom. The Sumerians were the first recorded to have used silver in making jewelry. It is still considered to be the most reflective and lustrous metal of all. However, because pure silver – – like pure gold – – is very soft it had to be combined with an alloy to add strength and durability. Hence the birth of sterling silver; the stronger metal that is now typically used in jewelry making.
Many credit the Egyptians as being the first to use gemstones for making bracelets, brooches, pendants, and rings. Like many before them, the Egyptians believed that certain stones like turquoise, lapis lazuli, amethyst, and malachite had magical powers that would help them achieve their goals and protect them against evil spirits. Egyptian medical texts revealed that copper was useful in treating inflammation of the joints. It is, therefore, believed that this is the main reason that so many Egyptians wore copper jewelry; usually two bracelets to a wrist and often at the ankles as well. For thousands of years the Aztecs, Egyptians, and Romans all used copper in jewelry as well as bandages, and cosmetics. This practice continues today with many athletes and health conscious mean and women wearing copper jewelry because it is safe and produces no side effects.
The Romans were also well known for their love of jewelry. While it is probably true that they began using more semi-precious stones after conquering Egypt, their use of gold and jet in jewelry making dates back as far as that of the Egyptians. And the Greeks were noted for the elegance of their gold filigree and wire openwork, natural designs of flowers, leaves, and animals. The Etruscans are credited with perfecting the use of gold in these more delicate formats.
During the Renaissance period, it was common for garments to be adorned with gemstones, while the 17th century brought about the development of mourning jewelry, which was made to commemorate the death of a loved one. It often included death heads and/or crossbones to represent the fear of death or love knots as a symbol of endearment for the loved one lost. In colonial America mourning rings were popular. It was common for individuals to set aside a part of their estate to supply everyone at their funeral with a ring to commemorate their death. These pieces usually included miniature paintings on glass or enamel and sometimes included the use of the departed’s hair. It would be worked into the background, which often included a weeping willow or a weeping woman with long hair. Sometimes the hair was inserted into lockets, pendants, rings, bracelets, pins, or watch chains but it was nearly always ingeniously woven in as a part of the jewelry’s design. George Washington took part in the mourning jewelry tradition and hundreds of mourning rings was made upon his death. At one point mourning jewelry became so popular that it had to be curtailed by law. Eventually its popularity died out although sometimes a family member would still keep a lock of hair from their departed loved one in a brooch or medallion.
The Georgian and Victorian eras were responsible for the popularity of cameos and lockets. It was also during this era that Austrian crystals were invented by Swarovski. The crystals remain unquestionably the ultimate in quality, durability, and beauty even today.
The early 1900’s brought about a love affair with platinum. Although the metal had been used in jewelry making for many years, its rarity made it something that was affordable only to the very wealthy. The roaring twenties, however, celebrated its popular use as well as brought about Art Deco jewelry; abstract geometric designs that emulated those of the ancient Aztecs and Egyptians with a modern art twist.
The 20th century saw the co-invention of the cubic zirconia, or CZ, by the Austrians and Russians. Today, the Russian CZs are still considered among the finest jewelry grade stones available. However, it is the jewelry of the 21st century that is proving to be more interesting than ever. The art of jewelry making is evolving with different techniques and combinations that encourage jewelry designers to try new styles and processes; resulting in some of the world’s most beautiful fashion jewelry ever.
A lot of fashion jewelry manufacturers today use silver or brass as a base or core metal in jewelry making. Still others use bronze because of its durability. Some skilled manufacturers have come up with processes to bond gold over silver in an effort to make jewelry more durable as well as more affordable. Vermeil, a popular bonding of gold over silver, has made today’s jewelry affordable by a large cross section of the public.
Fashion jewelry today really has no limits in design or in material. Women are now more open to simulated and lab created jewels, which are often just as beautiful while also being less expensive. A new love of what were once considered merely semi-precious stones like turquoise, lapis lazuli, tiger’s eye, and malachite has also opened the field for hundreds of new jewelry designs and jewelry designers. Here is a list of some of the most notable:
1928 – The company specializes in reproductions and interpretations of antique jewelry designs. Under a licensing agreement with the Vatican Library in Rome, 1928 Jewelry gained the right to examine and create interpretations of objects and jewelry in that collection. 1928 is sold in many major department stores as well as online at various jewelry websites.
Heidi Daus – For over two decades Heidi Daus has created complex costume and semi-precious designs. Her collectible looks transport you to an era of high romance, baroque lavishness and art deco chic. In a style that allows fantasy to meet fashion, Heidi’s designs are both elegant and classic. Heidi’s designs are available on Home Shopping Network at hsn.com.
R.J. Graziano – Rich looks from the legendary designer are often elegant and sometimes fanciful. His jewelry grabs the spotlight in magazines and on red carpets and is a favorite among Hollywood celebrities. He uses crystals, semi-precious stones, simulated stones, and wood in a variety of formats and methods. His use of color, movement and unique design often set him apart from the crowd. R.J.’s jewelry is sold in many upscale department stores. It is also available on Home Shopping Network at hsn.com.
Kenneth Jay Lane – Jeweler to the stars, Kenneth Jay Lane has had pieces of his fashion jewelry sold at Christie’s Auction. Kenneth uses a lot of natural designs and works in simulated stones, sterling silver, silvertone, vermeil, and goldtone. His jewelry is sold in many fine department stores as well as on QVC at QVC.com.
Nolan Miller – The name alone draws a parallel with some of the world’s most beautiful women. Miller has designed both fashion and jewelry for television and movies for many, many years. His pieces, which are primarily done in sterling silver and vermeil, include both simulated and created jewels, crystals, and QVC’s world renown Diamonique CZs. Owning a piece of Nolan’s jewelry is like owning a piece of American glamour. Nolan has his own boutique where his jewelry is sold. It is also a highly popular featured product on QVC at QVC.com.
Monet – Began manufacturing jewelry around 1937 using silver as the base metal. Monet was also responsible for several technological advancements in jewelry such as the development of the friction ear clip, which adjusted to firmly fit the ear and the barrel clutch for pierced ears. Monet is now a part of Crystal Brands Jewelry. It is sold in most major department stores.
Joan Rivers – One of the most style-savvy women on the planet, with her finger on the pulse of all the latest trends, Joan consistently appears on Best Dressed lists around the world. She is considered one of fashion’s most astute critics. Her Joan Rivers Classics Collection of jewelry is world renown. She has successfully recreated many Victorian and Edwardian designs as well as brought Faberge eggs into jewelry design. She works primarily in Swarovski crystals, many of which are made specifically and only for use in her jewelry. Joan sells her jewelry through her personal website at joanrivers.com as well as through QVC.com.
Lee Sands – Loves to work in natural stones, shell, and mother-of pearl. He uses nature as his inspiration. Working most often in simulated pearls and silvertone or goldtone metal, Sands is an artist with an unusual style that makes him popular among Hollywood stars and the common woman alike. QVC sells Lee Sands’ designs at QVC.com. He is also available through limited department stores.
Suzanne Somers – For instant style, go with glamorous baubles that get you noticed. Colorful,
simulated gems and cubic zirconia create a splash while trendy designs keep you fashion-forward. Suzanne works a lot in sterling silver and vermeil using simulated and lab-created jewels, simulated semi-precious stones, and crystals. Her designs range from Native American design to classic and contemporary. Suzanne sells her jewelry exclusively on her website suzannesomers.com and through Home Shopping Network at hsn.com.
Victoria Wieck – One of America’s top diamond jewelry designers now brings you elegantly crafted styles both in genuine gemstones and elegant Absolute (Home Shopping Network’s trademarked CZ). With unique, one-of-a-kind designs done in gold, silver, and vermeil Victoria’s jewelry is now considered a piece of America history. Victoria’s diamond designs are available only through her boutique in Beverly Hills. Her Absolute and gemstone designs are available at Home Shopping Network at hsn.com.
As new metal processes are discovered, new gems are reproduced in the lab, and mine finds of semi-precious stones are made, fashion jewelry will change once again. However, one thing remains certain: Jewelry is here to stay in one form or another and it is likely that the industry will only continue to improve.