European Fashion Heritage Association

Journal EFHA World

Jewellery Connections

European craftfashion historyjewels

One of the oldest forms of art, far more than ornamentation. A guest post by Loukia Richards

Jewelry is a bridge connecting us with...

Life milestones. Adornment featuring distinctive motifs, designs, or materials, it seals rites of passage, such as engagement, wedding, baptism, communion, mourning, circumcision, childbirth, new year’s celebrations, etc.

Magic. Numerous jewels from different eras and cultures show that in archaic societies jewelry was believed to have powers that protected the wearer from evil. Motifs such as knots, eyes, chess patterns or materials such as blue stones or gold reflect concepts of omnipotent jewelry. Christianity used the cross as its symbol: the junction where the underworld, heaven, and earth meet became its most powerful talisman.

Social values. Jewelry reflects hierarchy and succession. Think of the king’s ring in legends and fairy tales. Even jewelry made of shell currency or head-hunters’ loot is precious and the wearer enjoys an elevated social position and esteem because the materials reflect skills valued in his society.

Iliad and Odyssey document the voygers challenges...

The outer world. Amber necklaces found in 12th-century BC Mycenaean tombs in Greece are proof of the routes of commerce and the voyagers challenges documented in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. From the Baltic to the Black Sea, through the rivers of Russia, amber – a fossilized tree resin – was traded for goods from the Mediterranean and the Middle East. Jewelry tells us that globalisation shaped culture and taste since ancient times.

Our inner world. Admired for its scarcity, preciousness, color, brightness, and magnetism, but also for its obscure core hiding a “swallowed” organism, amber is known in Greek as electron – the name of Electra, daughter of Agamemnon, leader of the Greek kings in the war against Troy. She avenges her father’s murder by plotting to kill of her own mother. In 20th-century psychoanalysis, the Electra complex is the female counterpart to the Oedipus complex and suggests a girl’s difficulty to accept, overcome, and act in her feminine role.

Cosmos reflects society, faith, family stories, history, politics and cultural unity...

The universe. The ancient Greek philosopher Pythagoras called the universe the “cosmos” (after the Greek κόσμος/cosmos for jewelry) to describe the beauty of the stars shining like diamonds through the holes of the black velvet textile with which Gods covered the sun! Jewelry can be seen as a tiny piece, a particle of the cosmos we carry with us; this cosmos is represented by the stones, metals, and other materials, as well as by the elements of wood, fire, wind, water used to make jewelry. Metals’ qualities such as their color, change thus linking silver to the moon since early antiquity, while gold’s unfading color connected it to the everlasting warmth and brightness of the sun.  Other qualities, like the diamond’s strength and durability, are said to reflect on the wearer’s character thus helping us understand the use of specific materials in royal jewelry.

Europe’s shared cultural heritage. Iron Age Europe witnessed the parallel progress man made in metallurgy in both the manufacture of arms and jewelry. Protection, hunting, war, as well distinctions, amulets, accumulation of wealth go hand in hand in Europe’s technological, spiritual, economic, and social development. Moon-, spiral-, and diamond-shaped jewelry motifs, made using the same technique and found in sepulchral and religious sites, are silent but eloquent witnesses of an earlier unification in taste, symbols, and religious beliefs.

The survival of ancient customs. In tombs and altars, archaeologists find jewelry, offerings and identity symbols, proving that adornment accompanies faith and death. Even today, in Christian Greece, believers adorn icons of the Madonna with silver and golden votives or even their own to ask that they be granted a favor. Although Christianity does not favor sepulchral jewelry, in contemporary Greece, mourners still bury their beloved with their personal jewelry, such as wedding ring, baptismal cross, or engagement earrings.

Politics. Jewelry’s potential to reach a broad public due to its mobile character can send messages no censor will ever be able to screen or decode. Thus, jewelry may become a revolutionary accessory. Jewelry-makers are among the pioneers establishing standards for environmental protection in the arts and crafts.

Narrative. In his movie: Madame De…, German filmmaker Max Orphüls tells the story of an aristocrat through her pair of earrings. Routine and excitement, hypocrisy and love, become obvious, as Madame De’s lost earrings reveal plot changing secrets.