The history of jewelry dates back to at least 3000 BC, when Egyptians wore jewelry for ceremonies and other special events. Their jewelry used gold as a primary base and rare gemstones as decorations, however evidence shows that sterling silver jewelry was around at this time as well. This time period was marked by ornaments worn on the head and body, as well as bracelets and necklaces. The Greeks incorporated some of the Egyptian work in their own pieces. Ancient Greek jewelry included elements made to look like natural things such as beads that looked like beetles and shells used as beads. They were also one of the first people to use different stones in one piece.
By the 8th century, the Italians were renowned for their jewelry and in particular their use of textured gold. They also made elaborate clasps on their pieces and introduced the locket, which early people wore with perfume in the middle. The Romans were known for using imported materials in their jewelry such as diamonds from Indian and Sri Lankan sapphires.
The 13th century brought about a change in the creation of jewelry as fake gems were incorporated into pieces. Glass pieces created to mimic traditional gemstones were popular, as were cultured and fake pearls. Faux pearls were typically made using egg white and the slime found on snails and then dried into a bead shape. By the 17th century, fake jewelry made from paste was popular among the upper and lower classes in Europe. This era also introduced an updated method of creating fake pearls, by coating hand blown glass with an iridescent finish.
Faux jewelry reached its height of popularity during the early part of the 18th century. Paris was viewed as the leading manufacturer of fake jewelry. Designers, including George Strass, made pieces that incorporated fake gemstones such as diamonds and opals. Many of these pieces still exist today. England soon began making elaborate fake jewelry of their own. This era also introduced the idea of matching jewelry or jewelry sets, where earrings, a necklace, bracelet, ring and other items all shared matching settings and stones.
The 19th century brought about mourning jewelry, meant to memorialize a deceased loved one. The pieces included a hollow portion where the user kept a lock of hair from their loved one. Jewelry wearers also rebelled against the mass produced pieces and turned to antique jewelry for quality work. This all changed at the end of the century as the Arts and Crafts movement caused designers to make pieces by hand. The movement celebrated handmade pieces, with the tool marks still in place. This return to a simpler time was evident the following century when jewelry used an abundance of white and silver.
More resources on the history of jewelry:
Antique Jewelry discusses the history of jewelry, beginning with the 18th century.
Jewelry History contains a history of jewelry, dating back to 3000 BC.
Information on the original creation and design of jewelry
History of Jewelry Bibliography
Jewelry is a constantly evolving and changing thing. Just as the elaborate Egyptian gold gave way to the simpler neutral pieces of the Greeks, so too has expensive jewelry given way to silver and costume jewelry. Though it dates back to ancient times, the history continues even today. There’s no telling what new changes will come in the future.