Tag Archives: Jewelry History

Jewelry in the Baroque

Both Baroque and Rococo Art are linked quite closely with jewelry and – definitely with the pearl. Pérola* Barroca” means irregular pearl in Portuguese. The root of both “Baroque” and “Rococo” can be seen in this word and today an irregular pearl is called a “Baroque pearl.”

Baroque Pearls

Baroque Pearls

While the painters during their day did not refer to themselves as painters in the Baroque and Rococo styles, they did paint with the popular motifs of the day. Drama, grandeur, bright colors, didactic themes, romanticism, and love dominated the Baroque period. Towards the end of the Baroque Period, what is now referred to as Rococo Art took these themes to the extravagant.

Rubens and Isabella Brant in Honeysuckle Bower

"Rubens and Isabella Brant in the Honeysuckle Bower"

During the 1700s, King Louis XIV demanded that royalty display their power openly. He coerced his court to wear their wealth in the form of gold and jewels. Diamonds and gemstones were sewn onto rich brocaded fabrics and silks. Hair pieces called aigrettes mimicked beautiful flowers with petals of topaz, emerald, sapphires and rubies. Mens’ shoes were fitted with gold embellishments and ladies wore strings of pearls through their hair. Rings were stacked one upon the other and he or she who wore the most was deemed the wealthiest.

Jewelry was once worn for more personal reasons. It was worn as talisman against poor health, as protectors from harm, as a symbol of faith or as a way to celebrate the beauty of the natural world. The king’s demand would change the way gold, gemstones and diamonds were viewed by all for several hundred years.

The overzealous fashions of the Baroque Period spilled over into both architecture and art. Baroque architecture is rife with gilded leaves, cherubic statues and flowery detail. The artists painted the world around them.

Judithe Beheading Holofernes Caravaggio 1599

"Judithe Beheading Holofernes" Caravaggio 1599

Close up of Judithe Beheading

Close up of "Judithe Beheading Holfernes"

One of the most revered artists during the time, Caravaggio, may have had a part in connecting both pearl terminology with the art movement he helped create. Look at Carravaggio’s “Judithe Beheading Holfernes.”

Notice the irregular shaped pearl earring the young girl wears as she bravely kills the drunken general Holfernes. She is wearing a “Perla Barroca.” Created in 1599, this may be one of the first true Baroque paintings as the movement is generally considered to last from 1600-1750.

While Carvaggio excelled with allegorical, biblical and everyman pieces, another, Ruben, excelled with depicting the opulence of the era. His pieces are full of the detailed fashions worn by the more indulgent side of the populace.

Equestrian Portrait of the Duke of Lurma

"Equestrian Portrait of the Duke of Lerma"

In “Equestrian Portrait of the Duke of Lerma”, we see not only man, but beast adorned in all of nature’s glory. Embellished armor, draping jewels and an air of sophistication and elegance contrast sharply with a battlefield in the distance. While common man may have fought with little protection, the aristocracy looked on from afar – safe in their wealth and standing. Other pieces, like the Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia” and his self portrait, “Rubens and Isabella Brant in the Honeysuckle Bower” equally demonstrate the artist’s adept ability to immortalize those who embodied the over the top nature that defined the Baroque Period.

One of the most famous paintings, “The Girl with the Pearl Earrings” (1665) by Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer (Jan Vermeer) clearly depicts the style of the day with bright colors, the subject’s piercing eyes and a sense of drama to the piece in that there seems to be a story that goes along with the painting. Another of Vermeer’s paintings, “The Girl in the Red Hat” is very similar.

While Vermeer may have had a penchant for pearls (they were popular in Rome and Greece during

Girl with the Pearl Earring Vermeer

"Girl with the Pearl Earring" Vermeer

the time), most fashionable men and women of the day preferred diamonds and vibrantly colored gemstones. Since art imitates life and vice versa, there is no surprise that the baroque was dominated by superfluous extravagance and overflowed with opulence.

Perhaps Vermeer’s paintings were so poignant because they strayed from the norm. His ladies were conventional and common. They did not mimic the courtly styles of the day but embraced quite the opposite. By focusing on the beauty of a single pearl worn by a girl in simple clothes, Vermeer seems to be commenting on the wanton embellishment seen elsewhere during the times.

Regardless, jewelry played an immense role throughout the Baroque Period. Its influence can be seen in paintings that depict the common day peoples to those that immortalize the wealthy. While King Louis XIV may have been making a statement about power when he ordained that wealth be worn by his court, he undoubtedly changed the way artists viewed the world and gave jewelry an entirely new purpose. He elevated jewels to a physical representation of one’s station in life. They no longer simply represented the beauty of nature, but instead represented an era enraptured with the beauty of wealth.

* Special thanks to @nathstam who corrected my poor Portuguese.


Jewelry History: Earrings

Earrings are one of the most popular styles of jewelry because they come in such a huge variety including button, stud, solitaire, clip-on, chandelier, french wire, hoop, huggie hoop, threader, gauged, and even magnetic.

Earrings have been around for thousands of years.  In 1995, a five thousand year old mummy was found.  He or she was wearing a pair of earrings.

2000 Year old Earrings from Jerusalem

2000 Year old Earrings from Jerusalem

It is believed that earrings actually came into fashion as a way to ward off evil spirits. Since many people believed that evil spirits could enter your body through any its openings (mouth, nose, eyes, ears); earrings were a way of dissuading a spirit from gaining entrance through at least one opening. If there was metal placed through the ear, the spirits would stay away, because they did not like solid metals.

As the years progressed and more people began to wear earrings, the original purpose seemed to wear.  What was once a talisman transformed into a sign of wealth. The larger the earrings or the more lavish the display, the more power one had. Roman emperors and nobles wore the jewelry to show their power and wealth.  It was believed a well crafted pair of earrings said more about the man than his mouth.

As the Roman empire fell and Christianity took over many things changed.

Since earrings were originally worn to ward off evil spirits – a paganistic polytheistic belief – and others wore them to flaunt their wealth, it comes as no surprise that many Christians felt earrings were a demonic sign. There were, however, many men and women who wore them – even in the Bible – but to do so was flashy and un-Christian.

At the same time, there may have been another reason that earrings fell out of favor for several generations.  During that era, earrings were worn by slaves.  In fact, slaves were required to have their ears pierced, and most people did not want to associate themselves with the lower caste.

As time progressed, and stigmas died down, more and more people started wearing earrings. They became a status symbol for men and women. For pirates, they were like medals of honor.  Every true pirate was said to pierce one ear with a gold hoop if they survived a wreck.  Others say a pirate pierced his ear if they crossed the equator.

Native Americans and tribes all over the world have practiced the ear piercing tradition. Mostly, its popularity and endurance is seeped in religious history – be it a tribe in Africa or a Julius Caesar (he had his ears pierced).  Today, we owe the earrings’ popularity to the variety that arises from such a rich history.  The styles we wear today all have different backgrounds.  There is a different story for each and many have gone untold.  Regardless, what was once a spiritual tradition is now a multimillion dollar industry.

Next time you slip on your favorite pair, think about the 5,000 year old mummy.  Think about Caesar and the Romans, think about the slaves and think about the swashbuckling pirates.

The Tennis Bracelet: Game, Set and Match

Believe it or not: the tennis bracelet actually did get its name from the game of tennis.

Tennis bracelets were originally known as an eternity or in-line bracelet, but in 1987, tennis queen Chris Evert put this piece of jewelry on the map.  The athlete loved her in-line bracelets and wore them everywhere; she even wore them on the court while playing.

At the 1987 U.S. Open, she stopped a match already in progress when she noticed that her signature bracelet had fallen off.  The whole world watched as Evert looked for it.  Soon after, the eternity bracelet became affectionately known as the tennis bracelet.

Today, tennis bracelets are considered a classic piece of jewelry and are a must for every fashionable woman.  The bracelets are often given as a gift to celebrate a very special occasion like a coming of age,  a graduation, a birthday or an anniversary.  In fact, the traditional diamond tennis bracelet has become an extremely popular gift for one’s 10th anniversary as the diamond is the G.I.A. gemstone listed for one’s celebration of ten years together and the endless ring of diamonds cascading around the wrist signify strength, eternal love and constancy.

While the diamond in-line bracelet is the one traditionally recognized as a tennis bracelet, there are multiple variations.  Now it is very common to combine diamonds and with other gemstones like rubies or sapphires, others feature colorful birthstones or mix gemstones with decorative metalwork.  Any type of bracelet that has a repetitive design could be considered a tennis bracelet.

The multiple varieties give way to different meanings.  Where a diamond tennis bracelet symbolizes love and security, different stone selections and designs represent different things.  Pink topaz or pink sapphire tennis bracelets have become a popular way to fashionably show support for breast cancer awareness.  Tennis bracelets featuring a repeat of two different gemstones often symbolize one’s relationship with another be a it a family member, friend or life long companion.  Recently, mothers have begun wearing bracelets featuring the birthstones of their children.  A tennis bracelet set completely with one’s own birthstone represents independence and pride.

The choices are endless.  Regardless of the style you choose – the tennis bracelet is a timeless versatile piece.  They are simple enough for everyday wear – as illustrated by one of Sport’s most revered tennis players – and perfect for adding glamour to an evening event.

The Appeal of the Charm Bracelet

People have been wearing charm bracelets for thousands of years . In ancient times, different cultures placed stones, religious charms, coins and other items on a chain to ward off evil and bring good luck. Charms were also used as family identification and symbol of status in the community – the more charms one wore – more more presence they had.  Soon, people began wearing multiple charms at once and the charm bracelet was born. ga_silvercharmbracelet

While they’re no longer seen as talisman, there is a certain, shall we say, charm to them.  Today, men and women wear  charm bracelets more as a fashion statement and a unique way to express themselves than as a way to fend of spirits and bring good luck. The chain link charm bracelet is the traditional style.

You can buy the chain with the charms attached, like the bracelet on the right, or you can purchase the chain and add charms to it as you find ones that suit your tastes.  With these, the charms hook to the loops and dangle from the bracelet.

A more contemporary style is called an Italian charm bracelet. With this version, the the charms are affixed to the face of a flat rectangular link and lie flush with the rest of the bracelet.  Italian charm bracelets are sleek; nothing dangles from them because the band is made with interlocking expandable links.  This makes the piece stretchy so that the wear can slide the bracelet over the wrist without using a clasp. Regardless of which type, there are certain charms that remain the most popular.

  • Horseshoe:  positioned with the points facing downward it means you are collecting luck.  Stored with the points facing up it means you are storing your luck.
  • Ankh: The Egyptian symbol for eternity.
  • Baby bottle: Represents a new child and ensures health.
  • Elephant: Ensures your life will be full of wonderful moments to remember.
  • Shamrock: Luck will be on your side.
  • Flowers:  Roses stand for beauty, flowers for fertility, daisies for happiness and lilies represent a lost loved one.
  • Owl: Represents wisdom
  • Ship: Represents a dreamer and ensures adventure.
  • Monkey: Represents mischief and fun.
  • Fox: Stands for mischievous wisdom and can also represent protection.
  • Skeleton Key: Ensures a happy home.
  • Cross: Represents didactic purity.
  • Angel: Ensures you will lead a blessed life.  Many also believe angel charms are small representations of one’s guardian angel.
  • Padlock: Often given along with a key to symbolize the love of two people.  Padlocks can also represent the future which is yet to be seen.
  • High Heel Shoe: Represents true devotion to style and fashion.
  • Suitcase, airplane or car: Represents travel.
  • Locket: Represents the desire to protect a love that has grown.
  • Picture Charm: Pride in family and friends.
  • Camera or paint brush: Stands for creativity.
  • Typewriter: Represents a loquacious penman.
  • Heart: Symbolizes love and friendship.
  • Butterfly: Represents transformation, spring and beauty.
  • Dove: Symbolizes peace.
  • Pink Ribbon: Breast cancer awareness
  • Flag: Represents pride in one’s country or heritage.
  • Dragon: Symbolizes strength, the sublime power of nature and can also be seen as a protective spiritual guide.
  • Lizard: In Greek times it represented both death and resurrection much like a phoenix.
  • Lion: Lions stand for bravery, courage and resolve.  Recently, lions also represent Harry Potter’s Gryffindor house.
  • Unicorn: Symbolizes healing, love, kindness, purity and beauty.
  • Wishbone: Stands for hopes and dreams.  Wishbones are often paired with the horseshoe for added luck.
  • Oroborus: The serpent eating its tail symbolizes the circle of life.

So, from a lucky horse shoe to a picture of a child to the oroborus, there are charms to commemorate special occasions and holidays, charms that become popular and obscure collectibles, charms that cater to quirky tastes and much more. A charm bracelet really allows a a person to express him or herself and, in gold, silver or two-tone, they go with everything. Finding the perfect charms to create a unique piece of jewelry is fun and makes for a bit of family history as it is passed down from one family member to the next.