Guide to Jewelry From History, Around the World and World's Most Amazing Jewelry

The basic definition of jewelry is that it is a form of personal adornment. Jewelry has been made for almost all parts of the body; however some of the most popular jewelry types today include bracelets, rings, earrings, necklaces and brooches.
The word jewelry comes from the word jewel. Jewel comes from an old French word "jouel", which is derived from s Latin word "jocale", which means plaything.
The single purpose of jewelry is to make the person wearing it look appealing. The oldest known jewelry is thought to be beads made from Nassarius shells, which are estimated to be around 100,000 years old.
Historically, the main materials used in jewelry were gemstones, precious metals, beads and shells; however, jewelry can also be made from a variety of other materials.

ISO’s Standards for Jewelry: Standards for jewelry by the International Organization for Standardization

Federal Trade Commission of America: Guides for the jewelry, precious metals and pewter industries

Jewelers’ Association of Australia: Everything you need to know about the jewelry industry in Australia
Jewelry Association of Britain: Learn what’s happening in the British jewelry industry
Bureau of Indian Standards: Hallmarking of gold jewelry in India

The History of Jewelry

All through history, jewelry has always been an important part of society and culture. Jewelry has come a long way from being used as a form of currency to today when it is used as a fashion accessory and a form of artistic expression.
The British Crown Jewels: The official website of the British monarchy giving an overview of the British Crown Jewels
The world’s most dazzling Royal Jewels: Great info and pictures of the most sought after jewels in the world
The Polish Crown Jewels: A great historical account of the Polish royal jewels
World Crown Jewels Heritage Site: Details of the various Crown Jewels of the world
The following are some of the ways jewelry has been used throughout history:

  • As a currency
  • As a display of wealth
  • For storage or accumulation of wealth
  • Functional use (clasps, pins, buckles, etc.)
  • To display membership or status or religious affiliation
  • Artistic display

It should be noted that although materials and techniques used to make jewelry have greatly evolved throughout history, there are however, certain similarities that can still be found between today’s jewelry and that which was worn around 100,000 years ago. For example, back then bead necklaces were made out of shells and were strung together with twine and even today we can find necklaces made out of the same materials. Also bracelets from 4,700BC during the time of King Zer were made from gold and in a style that is commonly available today.

Egyptian Era Jewelry

The Egyptian era is considered by many as the beginning period of the modern form of jewelry. It was during the Egyptian era that jewelry making turned into a profession and techniques and skills developed, resulting in a variety of styles and adornments.
Ancient Egyptian Jewelry

Greek and Roman Era Jewelry

Jewelry of the early Greek period and Roman period was greatly dependent (in terms of inspiration) upon trade with neighboring cultures, which is why they have a unique style and construction. Jewelry also played an important part in cultural symbolism during this period.
Jewelry of the Greek and Romans was often made to symbolize legends, gods and cultural beliefs.

Jewelry during the Middle Ages

The primary use of jewelry during this time was as a form of Christian religious symbolism.

Renaissance Era Jewelry

It is during this period that jewelry found a new purpose. During this period jewelry started to become used as an adornment for the body to solely enhance a person’s presentation and beauty. This age is also referred to as the “Jewel Age”

Jewelry in the 17th Century

In the 17th century, people of lower economic classes became able to afford gold and silver, which was until now reserved for the rich and powerful. This is the century where the popularity of diamonds began to soar.

Present Day Jewelry

Today, precious metals and gemstones are not viewed as a sign of wealth and social status; jewelry is accepted more as a form of artistic or personal expression.
Improvement in technology has resulted in jewelry being made from affordable and readily available materials; however it is comparable to jewelry made out of the most expensive natural gemstones and metals in terms of beauty and style.
This is why today focus in jewelry making has shifted to design, creativity and artistic expression as compared to symbolism and social status which it historically focused on.
Fair Jewelry: Promoting Human Rights and Environmental Justice in Jewelry

Birmingham City Council: Trading Standards guide to buying or selling Jewelry

Association of Contemporary Jewelry: Lots of great information on modern day jewelry design

Materials Used In Making Jewelry

In general, jewelry is made by setting gemstones, beads or some other precious items into precious metals.
Alloys of most materials have been known to be used in jewelry. Take for example Bronze, which was quite common during the in Roman era.
Today jewelry is usually made out of gold, silver, titanium, platinum, or white gold. However, most jewelry is made out of an alloy of gold.

Below are details about the most popular of these metal types

Gold

Gold is the precious metal of choice for making jewelry. Most gold jewelry is made of a gold alloy. The purity or percentage of gold in the alloy is measured in karats. Gold alloys can range from 9 karats (37.5% gold) to 24 karats (99.9% gold).
In America and the UK, jewelry is usually of 18 karat (75% pure gold) whereas high purity gold alloys (22 & 24 karat) are commonly used in Asia and Africa.

The World Gold Council: Almost everything you ever wanted to know about gold
Library of Economics and Liberty: A brief description of the Gold Standard
US Geological Survey: Ever wondered what white gold is? Find out…

Silver

Silver is a soft metal, softer than gold, titanium and platinum. It is also less expensive than gold. A common problem with silver is that it is prone to oxidization causing it to turn black. It can however, be cleaned and made to look like new again.
Silver is a popular metal for use in jewelry such as earrings, pendants, bracelets, necklaces and dress rings.

Titanium

Titanium is the hardest natural metal that is found on Earth. It is very strong but at the same time very light weight. Even pure titanium is 100% hypo-allergenic (safe to wear without reacting to human skin).
Titanium is comparatively more dent, bend and scratch resistant than gold, silver and platinum and comes in a variety of colors unlike most other metals.

Platinum

Platinum is a white, dense and heavy metal. It is more expensive than Gold.
Being expensive, platinum is worn for prestige and its sophisticated appeal. Platinum is not used in most jewelry primarily because of its high price.

Gemstones

A gemstone is basically a piece of mineral. Also called precious stones or semi-precious stones, gemstones in cut and polished form are used in jewelry making. The following is a list of famous gemstones.

  • Alexandrites
  • Aquamarines
  • Diamonds
  • Opals
  • Pearl (not strictly a gemstone, but considered precious)
  • Ruby
  • Sapphires
  • Spinels
  • Topaz


International Colored Gemstones Association: The only worldwide body specifically created to benefit the global colored gemstone industry
Mindat.org: the largest mineral database and mineralogy reference website on the internet. This site contains worldwide data on minerals, mineral collecting, mineral localities and other mineralogical information.
National Geographic: A summary of precious gemstones available today
AGTA.org: The American Gem Trade Association
Diamond Review: The smart way to discuss, find and buy diamond jewelry
Emporia State University: All you ever wanted to know about diamonds

Some of the World's Most Amazing Jewels and Jewelry Collections

From the precious stones of the Nizam of Hyderabad that could fill an Olympic size swimming pool to the world’s largest diamond, the 3106 carat Cullinan (uncut), it is evident that throughout history man has been fascinated with jewelry.

Jewelry collections have left people in awe of the grandeur and beauty that they possess. The following are some well-known jewelry collections.

The Crown Jewels of England

The most famous jewelry collection in the world is said to be the Crown Jewels of England. This collection is said to be the most extravagant and valuable jewelry collection in existence today.

Crown Jewels are basically jewels and artifacts that belonged to the royal family of a country, i.e. monarchs. These Crown Jewels are handed down generation to generation. Almost every country has a set of Crown Jewels of its own.The Crown Jewels of England are dazzling collections of jewels, precious stones, orbs, crowns, swords, scepters, rings, and other regalia.

The Crown Jewels of England have various famous diamonds and other precious stones including the 5,000 year old (according to Hindu religious texts) Koh-i-Noor diamond from the Mughal era of India; and the world’s largest diamond called the Cullinan I, weighing 530.2 carats.

Crown Jewels of England: A Wikipedia article about the Crown Jewels of England
The British Monarchy: Official site of the British Monarchy providing details of the Crown Jewels.

The Jewelry of the Nizam of Hyderabad, India

The jewelry collection of the Nizams of Hyderabad is considered to be one of the most famous in history. Today it is a national treasure of the Indian government.
These jewels were worn by the Nizams, the rulers of the state of Hyderabad in India.

The collection has ornaments and stones dating back to the early 18th century.
The collection boasts 25,000 diamonds, 2,000 plus emeralds and more than 40,000 chows of pearls, which is said to be able to cover the pavements of Piccadilly Circus. This collection also includes the Jacob diamond weighing in at 100 carats, which was once used by the last Nizam as a paper weight.

Jewels of the Nizam: A Youtube video showing various pieces of the Nizam’s Jewelry.
Jewelry collection of the Nizam: A Wikipedia article about the jewels of the Nizam of Hyderabad.

Elizabeth Taylor’s Jewelry Collection

Not as historic as some of the other jewelry collections but just as famous is the jewelry collection of the famous Hollywood actress Elizabeth Taylor.

The collection which was sold in 2011 for a whopping $116 million is said to be a world record for a private jewelry collection sold at an auction. The collection consisted of modern jewelry and ancient artifacts as well. The collection included:

  • The famous Elizabeth Taylor Diamond; a diamond ring of 33.19 carat which sold for $8.8 million.
  • The Indian Taj Mahal ruby and gold chain that has a table cut diamond sold for $8.81 million. The jewel was given by the Mughal emperor Jahangir to his son Emperor Shah Jahan sometime between 1592 and 1666. The Jewel has the name of Shah Jahan’s most loved wife Mumtaz Mahal inscribed on it.
  • La Peregrina, a necklace made of natural pearls, diamonds, rubies and cultured pearls was sold for $11.8 million, the highest price ever for a pearl at an auction. The pearl belonged to King Philip II of Spain and dates back to the 1500’s.

Christies: Details of Elizabeth Taylor’s Jewelry collection by the auctioneer, Christies.
Liz Taylor’s Jewels on CBS News: A slideshow of Elizabeth Taylors jewels
Apart from extravagant collections there are also certain individual pieces of jewelry (stones, pearls etc.) that have captivated people.

Hope Diamond

A diamond mined out of the mines of Golconda in India in the mid 1600’s, the Hope Diamond is a deep blue colored diamond with a current weight of 45.52 carats. The Diamond has changed hands between royalty and many rich and famous people and lays claim to be the most perfect blue diamond the world has ever seen. The worth of this diamond is said to be around $250 million. Today this diamond is found at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum in Washington, D.C.

Smithsonian Encyclopedia : All the history and facts about the hope diamond
Famous Diamonds: A detailed article about the Hope Diamond

Koh-i-Noor Diamond

The origin of the Koh-i-Noor diamond is unknown, but it may date back to the 14th century, and may be even older. It was once the largest diamond known to man.
The first known reference of the diamond is in the memoirs of the Mughal emperor Babar although by another name. This was around 1526 when it was in his possession. In his book Babar dates it back to 1294.

According to the Babar’s memoirs, the value of this priceless stone may be enough to feed the whole world for two and a half days. Today the Koh-i-Noor is a part of the Crown Jewels of England; taken away during the British Rule over India.

The Koh-i-Noor Diamond (Time Magazine): An article on the claims for the Koh-i-Noor

Jubilee Diamond

The Jubilee Diamond is a unique and flawless diamond weighing 245.33 carats. It is so clear it has been graded only one notch below colorless.

The Jubilee was found in South Africa in 1895 and weighed 651 carats uncut. The uncut jubilee was styled in Amsterdam and given 88 facets. Initially named the Reitz, it was renamed on Queen Elizabeth’s 60th anniversary to ‘Jubilee’.

Jubilee Diamond: A Wikipedia article about the Jubilee Diamond

Millennium Sapphire

The Millennium Sapphire surpasses every other sapphire in grandeur. Discovered in Madagascar in 1995 the Millenium Sapphire weighs 27 pounds and 61,500 carats.

Today the Millennium Sapphire is considered to be worth between $90 million to $500 million and is said to be among the world’s most complex cut gems.

Millennium Sapphire: The official site for this magnificent stone

Jewellery Store Links

 


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