The history of fine jewellery is a fascinating story of status, splendour and innovation.
Since human beings first started crafting personal ornamentation from gold and other precious metals 25,000 years ago, fine jewellery has been a universal source of adornment and wealth.
From Pharaohs to the Renaissance
The history of fine jewellery may start with the golden artefacts that accompanied the Pharaohs into the afterlife, but Medieval European jewellery reflected a passion for splendour and earthly power.
While Medieval pieces were largely religious in style, Renaissance jewels embraced new and advanced stone cutting techniques for incredible glitter. Gold remained a favourite metal, showcasing personal wealth and creating a dazzling effect against the dark clothes of the period.
Kings, Queens and Crown Jewels
While the French court set fashions trends it was the British monarchy that wore the most extravagant jewels. Henry VIII personally owned hundreds of pieces including diamond and pearl-encrusted collars. His daughter Elizabeth I inherited her father’s love of fine jewellery and owned over 2000 pearl and jewel-encrusted gowns.
Not to be outdone, Louis XVI commissioned a fabulous necklace for his wife Marie Antoinette to be created from the legendary Hope Diamond. But the piece was stolen and the ‘French Blue’ eventually passed into the hands of the famous New York jeweller Harry Winston who donated it to the Smithsonian by posting it first class.
The Art of Deco
Fast forward through the history of fine jewellery to the Paris International Exhibition of 1900. Art Nouveau jewellery with its sinuous and organic style created a dramatic shift in design that would continue through the 1920s and beyond. Rene Lalique replaced the emphasis on precious stones with enamel and glass.
Art Deco jewellery featured dense concentrations of gemstones in designs that were often angular and geometric reflecting the influence of modernity and the machine age.
Today modern jewellers continue to draw inspiration from the long history of fine jewellery to create unique and stunning pieces.