Jewellery (jewelry in American
English) is any piece of fine material used to adorn the human body. The
word jewellery is derived from the word jewel, which was anglicised from
the Old French "jouel" in around the 13th century. Further tracing leads
back to the Latin word "jocale", meaning plaything. Jewellery has
probably been around since the dawn of man; indeed, recently found
100,000 year-old Nassarius shells that were made into beads are thought
to be the oldest known jewellery.
Although in earlier times jewellery was created for more practical uses,
such as wealth storage and pinning clothes together, in recent times it
has been used almost exclusively for decoration. The first pieces of
jewellery were made from natural materials, such as bone, animal teeth,
shell, wood, and carved stone. Jewellery was often made for people of
high importance to show their status and, in many cases, they were
buried with it.
Jewellery is made out of almost every material known and has been made
to adorn nearly every body part, from hairpins to toe rings and many
more types of jewellery. While high-quality and artistic pieces are made
with gemstones and precious metals, less-costly costume jewellery is
made from less-valuable materials and is mass-produced.
Form and function :
Jewellery has been used for a number of reasons:
Currency, wealth display and storage,
Functional use (such as clasps, pins, and buckles)
Symbolism (to show membership or status)
Protection (in the form of amulets and magical wards), and
Most cultures have at some point had a practice of keeping large amounts
of wealth stored in the form of jewellery. Numerous cultures move
wedding dowries in the form of jewellery, or create jewellery as a means
to store or display coins. Alternatively, jewellery has been used as a
currency or trade good; a particularly poignant example being the use of
Many items of jewellery, such as brooches and buckles originated as
purely functional items, but evolved into decorative items as their
functional requirement deminished.
Jewellery can also be symbolic of group membership, as in the case of
the Christian crucifix or Jewish Star of David, or of status, as in the
case of chains of office, or the Western practice of married people
wearing a wedding ring.
Wearing of amulets and devotional medals to provide protection or ward
off evil is nearly universal; these may take the form of symbols (such
as the ankh), stones, plants, animals, body parts (such as the Khamsa),
or glyphs (such as stylized versions of the Throne Verse in Islamic
Although artistic display has clearly been a function of jewellery from
the very beginning, the other roles described above tended to take
primacy. It was only in the late 19th century, with the work of such
masters as Peter Carl Fabergé and René Lalique, that art began to take
primacy over function and wealth. This trend has continued into modern
times, expanded upon by artists such as Robert Lee Morris.
Materials and methods :
In creating jewellery, gemstones, coins, or other precious items are
used, often set into precious metals. Precious metals used for modern
jewellery include gold, platinum or silver, although alloys of nearly
every metal known can be encountered in jewellery -- bronze, for
example, was common in Roman times. Most gold jewellery is made of an
alloy of gold, the purity of which is stated in karats, indicated by a
number followed by the letter K. For example, ordinary gold jewellery
ranges from 10K (41.7% pure gold) to 22K (91.6% pure gold), while 24K
(99.9% pure gold) is considered too soft for jewellery use. Platinum
alloys range from 900 (90% pure) to 950 (95.0% pure). The silver used in
jewellery is usually sterling silver, or 92.5% fine silver.
Other commonly used materials include glass, such as fused glass or
enamel; wood, often carved or turned; shells and other natural animal
substances such as bone and ivory; natural clay, polymer clay, and even
Beads are frequently used in jewellery. These may be made of glass,
gemstones, metal, wood, shells, clay and polymer clay. Beaded jewellery
commonly encompasses necklaces, bracelets, earrings, and belts. Beads
may be large or small, the smallest type of beads used are known as seed
beads; these are the beads used for the "woven" style of beaded
Advanced glass and glass beadmaking techniques by Murano and Venetian
glassmasters developed crystalline glass, enameled glass (smalto), glass
with threads of gold (aventurine), multicolored glass (millefiori), milk
glass (lattimo) and imitation gemstones made of glass. As early as the
13th century, Murano glass and Murano beads were popular.
Silversmiths, goldsmiths, and lapidaries methods include forging,
casting, soldering or welding, cutting, carving, and "cold-joining"
(using adhesives, staples, and rivets to assemble parts).
The history of jewellery is a long one, with many different uses among
different cultures. It has endured for thousands of years and has
provided various insights into how ancient cultures worked.
Early history :
The first signs of jewellery came from the Cro-Magnons, ancestors of
Homo sapiens, around 40,000 years ago. The Cro-Magnons originally
migrated from the Middle East to settle in Europe and replace the
Neanderthals as the dominant species. The jewellery pieces they made
were crude necklaces and bracelets of bone, teeth and stone hung on
pieces of string or animal sinew, or pieces of carved bone used to
secure clothing together. In some cases, jewellery had shell or
mother-of-pearl pieces. In southern Russia, carved bracelets made of
mammoth tusk have been found. Most commonly, these have been found as
grave-goods. Around 7,000 years ago, the first sign of copper jewellery
Modern Jewellery :
Modern jewellery has never been as diverse as it is in the present day.
The advent of new materials, such as plastics, Precious Metal Clay (PMC)
and different colouring techniques, has led to increased variety in
styles. Other advances, such as the development of improved pearls
harvesting by people such as Kokichi Mikimoto and the development of
improved quality artificial gemstones such as moissanite (a synthetic
diamond), has placed jewellery within the economic grasp of a much
larger segment of the population. The "jewellery as art" movement,
spearheaded by artisans such as Robert Lee Morris, has kept jewellery on
the leading edge of artistic design. Influence from other cultural forms
is also evident; one example of this is bling-bling style jewellery,
popularized by hip-hop and rap artists in the early 21st century. With
the world's designs more accessible to jewellers, designs have blended
in aspects from many different cultures from many different periods in
The late 20th century saw the blending of European design with oriental
techniques such as Mokume-gane. Tim McCreight, an eminent authour and
silversmith, cites the following as the primary innovations in the
decades stadling the year 2000: "Mokume-gane, hydraulic die forming,
anti-clastic raising, fold-forming, reactive metal anodizing, shell
forms, PMC, photoetching, and [use of] CAD/CAM."
Among early 21st century developments, several jewellers have
experimented with ephemeral edible jewellery; including necklaces made
of bread and silver rings encrusted with crystalized sugar. 
Artisan Jewellery continues to grow as both a hobby and a profession.
With more than 17 U.S. periodicals about beading alone, resources,
accessibility and a low initial cost of entry continues to expand
production of hand-made adornments. Popular because of its uniqueness,
artisan jewellery can be found in just about any price range. Some fine
examples of artisan jewellery can be seen at The Metropolitan Museum.
Sources : Internet
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