History of Statement Jewellery Back to Prehistoric Times

posted in: Jewellery History | 0

You might think of Statement Jewellery as a modern trend, and so did I until I decided to look into it more closely. I found examples of statement pieces going back to prehistoric times.

Firstly:

What is Statement Jewellery?

Statement jewellery is large and chunky, standing out as if to say “look at me”.  Ranging from big and bright to more subtle and elegant, statement jewellery comes in many forms to suit all ages.

Just like you’d wear a patterned scarf to dress up plain colored clothes, statement jewellery can be used as everyday wear, as well as for special  occasions.

We now tend to associate statement jewellery with the cheaper end of the market, often calling it fashion or costume jewellery, or bling. It’s not surprising considering the huge cost of huge jewels.

History of Statement Jewellery

Jewellery made from shells, stone and bones has been found dating back to prehistoric times. It’s thought that in these early days they were worn to a protect against the dangers of life, evil, or as a mark of status. I suppose larger pieces would make the statement “you can’t get me” or “I’m important”

Later on precious jewelry became a symbol of rank and wealth. Some things don’t change do they?

Examples In History

130,000 Year Old Neanderthal Jewelry

Neanderthals may have been the first to wear jewellery, busting the myth that they were unintelligent! These eight 130,000 year old talons, taken from a white-tailed eagle, are the oldest known pieces of jewellery.  

Oldest Known Jewellery - Statement Jewellery history

It’s thought the talons, found in Croatia, were used in a bracelet or necklace.  I didn’t see this idea anywhere but I do wonder if these talons were used as false teeth and not jewellery?? You can read more at AncientOrigins

40,000 Year Old Bracelet

This 40,000 year old bracelet, found in Siberia in 2008, was made by the Denisovans, another extinct human species. Even if new, it would make a statement even today. It is made from Chlorite, a very soft mineral. Scientist believe that organic material found in the hole you can see below is the remnant of piece of leather that held a heavy charm.

40,000 yr old Denisovan Bracelet - Statement Jewellery History

Although the Neanderthals and Denisovans are extinct, there are traces of both found in modern humans.

Jewellery in the Bradshaw (Gwion Gwion) Rock Art

The Bradshaw (Gwion Gwion) rock paintings in the Kimberley region of Australia are thought to be from 17,000 to 25,000 years old. The earlier paintings depict people wearing tassels hanging from their waists and arms, armlets, anklets, chest-plates and bangles. They wear headdresses with plumes and pompoms.  You can find out more at the Creative Spirits website

Bradshaw Rock Art - Jewellery

 

Egyptian Statement Jewellery

Ancient Egyptians loved their jewellery, for religious and cultural purposes as well as adornment. Gold, Silver and precious/semi-precious stones and beads adorned the wealthy and influential but simpler jewellery of cheaper materials was worn by all but the slaves. From warding off evil spirits to honoring Gods and Goddesses, and the Pharoahs, they found plenty of reasons to wear it.

This Egyptian bib necklace made from glazed beads dates back to about 2020 BC.

Statement Jewellery Egyptian big necklace
(CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) British Museum

 

This Amulet pendant circa 1254 BC is  made from gold, lapis lazuli, turquoise and carnelian. It make a statement at 14 cm wide. It was found in the tomb of an Apis Bull, a sacred animal.

Ancient Egyptian Pendant Statement Jewellery

CC BY-SA 3.0

Sintra Collar

The Sintra Collar is a gold neck-ring from the Bronze Age. Created in the 10th-8th Century BC it was found near Sintra in Portugal in 1878.

It weighs a hefty 1.25 kg. What statement do you think this would make? “Look at me, I have neck pain” perhaps.

Sintra Collar
Image CC BY-SA 3.0 – Wikipedia

The Shannongrove Gorget

Found in a bog in Shannongrove, Co. Limerick, Ireland, this gold collar dates from 800 BC-700 BC. It was probably worn hung from a chain. The collar is in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. (A Gorget is an accessory that covers the throat.) This one maybe makes the statement “what a gigantic gorgeous gorget I’m wearing”

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

Etruscan Pendant

This amber pendant which dates from 600 – 550 B.C was found in Italy. It’s size at 4 × 10.2 × 1.3 cm certainly makes a statement. It portrays 2 addorsed (back to back) females.

Etruscan Statement Pendant

Amber and Gold Necklace

Again from the Etruscan era this pendant dates back to 550 – 400 B.C and is made from gold, gold foil, and amber. The large amber stones are 4cm long. Considering how long this has survived, if you want jewellery to pass down to the next 100 generations, this is the sort to buy!

Etruscan Amber Necklace

Roman Empire

Here’s a Roman statement piece from the 250 – 400 century, thought to belong to a woman from an imperial family. It’s a necklace with a 6.4cm pendant, made out of Gold, garnet, emerald and glass.

Roman Empire Pendant Necklace

Native American Jewellery

The indigenous peoples of America have a rich history of jewellery making, the earliest find being 12,000 years old. Materials used include metals, hardwoods, shells, vegetable fibers, precious and semi-precious gemstones; animal materials such as teeth, bones, hide and quills. Turquoise was and is a popular stone.

This photo is an example of turquoise and silver jewelry from the Zuni people of the American Southwest.

Zuni Statement Jewellery
Image: Smithsonian Institution History Wired

 

Factory Made Jewellery

Jewellery comes to the masses with the use of cheaper materials and techniques. Here’s an example of cast iron factory made jewellery from Germany made around 1815-1851.  At 7.8 cm high, 2.6 cm wide and a depth of 1 cm, these must be heavy.

Statement Jewellery 19th century Earrings
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

I’ve missed many centuries but I hope you can see that statement type jewelry has been around as far back as records go. What we wear today is lighter and usually not as large.

If not otherwise stated the Digital images above come courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program.