The History of Jewelry Making

August 12, 2020
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 Ancient Jewelry Making

Today we tend to think of jewelry in terms of gems; precious stones inlaid in gold and silver. The earliest known jewelry was much simpler. Created about 100,000 years ago, this ancient jewelry was made out of tiny seashells. The shells had small holes drilled into them which archaeologists think our early ancestors used like beads, strung together as an amulet. The earliest jewelry was more functional than decorative, an amulet, or carved token to ward against evil. Other prehistoric methods of adornment were animal bones, wood, and stones; materials all that would have been easy to gather and turn into jewelry. With the simplest of tools and materials, the first craftsman’s tech would’ve been the sharp end of a stone where the bone or wood would be carved into the first known pieces of jewelry, turning them into a necklace or bracelet using twine or animal tendon. Thousands of years before humans would invent written language, the craft of jewelry making was born.  

As humans became more sophisticated in their tools and their culture (first the wheel had to be invented, and animals domesticated) we began to use metals in the construction of jewelry. Learning to work with metal was an important step in the craft of jewelry making, from the first attempts where the designs were simple, to the intricately detailed work of Greek master goldsmiths. Ancient Egyptians saw gold as a symbol of their god Ra, which made goldsmithing a prized craft. Only the Pharaoh was permitted to wear gold, and his gold would be entombed with him to accompany him to the afterlife. From Egyptian tombs to Celtic ones an ocean away in Ireland, jewelry is often found in the ancient world only with royalty, or the upper classes, as a symbol of their wealth and  status. Jewelry of ancient civilizations provides a window to the craft and offers a blueprint for the modern jeweler for designs that remain relevant even thousands of years later. 

Medieval Jewelry

In the medieval ages, gold remained a status symbol, with silver and precious stones also signifying one’s nobility or rank. As jewelry became more readily available through trade, laws were passed that limited the materials that “common folk” could use, only allowing “bad” materials, such as pewter and copper for them to use (gold and silver of course were forbidden to the common folk). It is through medieval craftsmanship that the introduction of enamels, soldering, inlay, plating, and casting were refined, and entered the art form. Much of the jewelry most famous during this time was religious in nature, such as cloth or hair adornments used in ceremonies. By the 14th century, new techniques in how gems were cut began to revolutionize how jewelry was made, which had up to that point relied more on polishing stones than on cutting them.

Renaissance Jewelry

With the invention of new methods of gem cutting, the precious stones were now able to sparkle unlike they had been able to before. Craftsmen of the renaissance grew more elaborate in their passion for art. With a new eye for expression, the artisans of this time began to utilize double-sided enameling which allowed for more colorful and expressive pieces. These artisans revitalized ancient techniques of engraving and filigree detailing. With new trade routes opening, master jewelry makers were able to gain access to raw materials such as diamonds and rubies from India, turquoise from Persia–new gems and materials from all over the world. These raw gems in the hands of masterful and creative artisans were transformed into the most stunning jewelry of the time. It was an age of splendor, from science to the arts, and the jewelry of the time was infused with new life, leaving the religious motifs of the earlier centuries to have a more humanistic eye (think birds, greenery and sea creatures).   

Jewelry at Stewart Kuper Jewelers

Jewelry making is an ancient art form, with new technologies and techniques having formed the craft over centuries and helped to take it to where it is today. At Stewart Kuper Jewelers, we value the time-tested resilience of jewelry making techniques, the roots of which our modern goldsmiths share. We believe in looking to the past for inspiration while being keenly aware of what is modern and what can transform an old piece of jewelry into something beautiful again. We’d love to take a look at your old pieces and together find a way to put some sparkle into them again. 

Making jewelry can be a complicated process, but not with us. From the drawing board to your hand, we’ll take inspiration from the craftsmen of old, and using modern technology make a unique piece that truly stands the test of time. If you are looking to customize a piece of jewelry, or to lovingly update what you already have, give us a call, and talk to a specialist today to get started making something truly one of a kind.