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The History of Gold Jewelry, Part 1

Aug 5, 2008
Humankind has long been fascinated by the beauty of gold and since the earliest days of civilization gold has been used to adorn us in the form of jewelry. Let's take a look at how gold jewelry has been used in the various parts of the world during the last five thousand years.

The Sumerian Civilization, located in present-day Iraq, is well known as the place where one of the first systems of writing was developed. There gold was used to make necklaces earrings, rings, bracelets and other ornaments as early as 2500 BC.

Sumerian goldsmiths used sophisticated metalworking techniques such as cold hammering, casting, soldering, and were particularly skilled in decorating with filigree (fine-wire ornamentation). They also practiced "granulation" using minute drops of gold to enhance the beauty of the jewelry.

Jewelry played an important role in Egyptian civilization where its use dates back to 3000 BC. A tomb painting of late 15th century BC shows a metalworker using tongs and a blowpipe to anneal gold. The famous tomb of Tutankhamun or King Tut contains numerous pieces of fine gold jewelry embedded with precious stones. These pieces of jewelry are on display in the national museum in Cairo and thousands of visitors each day marvel at the skill of these early goldsmiths and jewelers.

On Mediterranean island of Crete, now part of Greece, gold jewelry also played an important role as early as 2400 BC. The jewelers of Crete may have gotten their knowledge from West Asia and they were experts in fashioning gold jewelry.

Diadems, hair ornaments, beads, bracelets, and complex chains have been found in Minoan tombs on Crete. It is also believed that Asian techniques of filigree and granulation were introduced to Crete around 2000 BC.

Around 1550 BC Minoan culture and its jewelry styles spread to Greece, then dominated by the city-state of Mycenea, located 90 miles southwest of present-day Athens.

Metalworking techniques spread outward from Greece and reached northern Europe as early as 1800 BC. There is also evidence that the Celtic and early British people traded with the eastern Mediterranean civilizations by this time and exchanged their products for gold beads.

By 1200 BC jewelry making was flourishing in Central and Western Europe.

Bronze and gold was used to make jewelry and the spiral was the most common type of decoration. Twisted gold torcs were made in the British Isles and northern France from the 5th to the 1st century BC. Torcs, also spelled Torq, were rigid circular neck rings or necklaces that were open-ended at the front. Massive circlets for the necks and arms were the characteristic ornament of the chiefs of the Celtic race. The Celts also used enamel and inlay to decorate jewelry.

In the next article of this series, I will trace the use of gold jewelry in the Etruscan, Roman and Hellenistic periods as well as giving a look at the role of gold jewelry in the Renaissance.
About the Author
Lewis Jewelers is proud to carry the full line of Pandora Jewelry. Pandora bracelets, Pandora charms and Pandora beads are only a part of the collection. For more information, Lewis Jewelers, 2000 West Stadium Blvd., Ann Arbor, Michigan, 48103, 877-88-LEWIS or visit the website.
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