Modern Jewelry History

History of Jewelry -- Part III
Renaissance Period and beyond

By Margaret Burgon Klemp

The European Renaissance was a boon to all of the arts and innovation, and it opened the way for the religious Reformation that followed. We find the great artists of the time like Leonardo Da Vinci starting their careers by working with well-known goldsmiths of the period. Prior to his apprenticeship with Fra Filippo Lippi, Boticelli received his earliest artistic training in a goldsmith shop. It is known that Da Vinci, throughout his career, made jewelry designs for some of the prominent people who supported his artistic and inventive endeavors. All of the arts reached new levels of quality. The artisans of this time ushered in more modern approaches to the whole jewelry trade.

There was a rebirth of classical Hellenistic ideas and styles, and the work produced by craftsmen was very elaborate. Fortunately, collectors of Renaissance artifacts have procured pieces of jewelry from that time. So, there are a lot of items on view at museums all over the world, and in private collections. Interested parties can really examine the various works, and get a good idea of how these earlier artists manufactured a piece of jewelry.

Scholars can also get a good amount of information from the portraits painted by Renaissance artists. The paintings show precious stones placed neatly in the hairdos and hairpieces of upper class women. Producing these arrangements was a real challenge of the artisans of the time. Besides being goldsmiths, they had to study women.s hairstyles. The production of these ornaments became an art form in itself.

There was an increase in the brandishing of jewelry that spread all over Europe. Royal households attempted to outdo each other in every way, and that included which courts had access to the finest and most extravagant jeweled pieces. This type of competition was new, and had not been seen on such a level before.

When an artist set out to do a portrait special attention was given to the gems that were set in finely crafted necklaces. Some scholars make a whole study of the jewels worn by the upper classes of this period. Historical figures of the time were shown dressed in full regalia, and particular attention was given to the jewelry that they wore for the pose.

Henry VIII of England had a great passion for jewelry, and this passion was carried on by his daughter, Elizabeth I. History says that Hans Holbein the Younger introduced Renaissance jewelry into England during the reign of Henry the VIII. He was the primary designer of the monarch.s personal jewelry. Henry had hundreds of rings produced, and he specifically liked jeweled hats.

Women of these periods often wore more than one necklace. This habit was characterized by the wearer donning a choker, and second longer necklace like a lengthy strand of pearls. Sometimes, a third prominent piece was worn as a clasp for a cape or other loose fitting garment.

The pendant seemed to be the most popular type of jewelry worn, and the technology used to produce them was superb. Some were classical cameos. Later gold and other gems were added to designs to give pendants a colorful, polychrome look. Polychrome was used to produce jewelry with a lot of different themes using openwork motifs and several linked items.

In Europe rings were manufactured in a large variety of styles. Certain rings could be opened and closed, and poison or other substances would be stored there. The storage of poison in rings worn by upper classes is legendary, and has served writers well when they fabricate mysteries.

On the heels of Renaissance artistic contributions interest began to grow in Baroque art forms and it was especially prevalent in the 17th Century. This trend spread all over Europe. During this time artisans took the time to really view and study their craft and made improvements to it. There was a definite interest in floral art. Flowers became dominant themes for designers of fine jewelry. Other themes were used, but floral representations seemed to be the most popular.

The 17th Century marked an increase in the use of diamonds and other gemstones. Instead of wearing a bevy of jeweled items people started wearing stunning high quality pieces. The last monarch to wear jewelry to great excess was Louis XIV of France.

Brazil became a good resource for gem hunters who were looking for diamonds. Gem cutting became an important part of the whole jewelry trade, in large part, to the proliferation of diamonds. Rather than a focus on openware designs craftsmen started putting their attention on the gem itself. It was intended that the attention of the viewer should be brought directly to the stone that was prominent in the design. Lighter and airier pieces started being produced. Jeweled buckles started to worn on shoes. The Chateline became popular. It was put together with a watch case. Men wore it with their watches while women used it to tote household items such as keys and small personal possessions.

Josiah Wedgewood was an English potter who ventured into the jewelry trade, and made significant contributions to the technology involved in jewelry production. He introduced oval, octagonal, and round plaques that was used for all types of jewelry.

The Industrial Revolution of the 19th Century essentially created a jewelry market that was available to everyone. The middle class of a society could now purchases fine pieces of jewelry, and when imitation stones began flooding the market even those from working classes could afford a piece of jewelry.

Even though more mechanized and industrialized techniques were developed artisans remained true to their craft. The technical expertise in jewelry production did not waver. Technicians and goldsmiths drew upon all the stylistic traditions that had walked across the historical stage.

Commercial enterprises were formed to openly market the sale of jewelry. The firms of Faberge, Cartier, Tiffany and other great jewelry companies have their beginnings and roots in the Industrial Revolution. The Art Nouveau and abstract ideas such as Cubism with great artists like Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso contributing to the trade.

Jewelry production does have a global history, and elaborate designs did appear in Asia, mainly in India and China. However, jewelry production never reached the heights that it did in Mid-Eastern, Egyptian, Classical and European traditions. Craftsmen in South America and parts of Mesoamerica were known for their work with gold and silver. The work of early South American and Mesoamerican goldsmiths can be found at the Museo de Oro in Bogota, Columbia and at historical museums in Mexico City.

Jewelry History Part I
History of Jewelry Part II
Modern Jewelry History Part III