HISTORY and CULTURE OF JEWELLERY

 

Personal ornament has been known as long as there have been humans, indicating a fundamental need to decorate ourselves to communicate messages.

Regarding metals the discovery of smelting and alloying was pivotal. It was now possible to work the material into practical and decorative objects using basic tools. There is no doubt that over a long period of time curiosity and natural talent saw these skills evolve to a very high level of accomplishment.

                        Gold Lunala- Early Bronze Age c. 2000 BC - Source National Museum of Ireland

                        Gold Lunala- Early Bronze Age c. 2000 BC - Source National Museum of Ireland

Examples of such wonderful objects are to be seen  in the National Museum of Ireland, and include from the Bronze, Iron Age and Early Medieval objects such as Lunalae, the Broighter collar, Gold Ribbon Torc and the Ardagh Chalice.

While we have no written account as to how these objects came to be,  aesthetic style, DNA testing and analysis of technical skills can tell us much about their construction, techniques involved and  sources of materials.    

An Aesthetic style usually differentiates one culture from another, for instance Celtic peoples were known for an abstract approach to design– a comparison to the more  realistic one  found in  the classical Greek. 

The aesthetic qualities of historical Egyptian personal ornament expressed in colourful beads and metals also tells its own story.

In the early 20th century when the naturalistic style of the Art Nouveau movement (1890-1915) began to take hold,  conventional work structures and skills related to silver and gold-smithing, established since the Middle Ages, began to change and broaden out. Also through the recently established Art Schools a broader demographic gained  access to  these craft skills

These developments gradually took hold.   The result has been openness, vibrancy and innovation in work for metals in the twentieth century, and into the twenty first.

Design and technical skills have thus evolved to give us a wide vocabulary to draw on to express our culture in jewellery and personal ornament.

With these  we mark fashion, emotion, a view point, or a cultural symbol, examples being wedding and engagement rings, Star of David, the Cross etc.

We mark too our interests and attachments, such as music, pets, or sport.  

Jewellery is a very special form of expression, and while many changes have occurred over time and continue to do so, we still like to adorn ourselves with metals and gems.