History of Jewelry - Paleolithic through Roman times|
Egyptian jewelry was very colorful. Necklaces, scarabs, rings, and amulets were often inlaid with glazeware in blues, apple-greens, and later, yellow, violet, red, and white. Often the surfaces of jewelry were decorated with the application of colored stones into cells of gold prepared for them. Lapis lazuli, turquoise, root of emerald, jasper, and obsidian were used most often, as well as various opaque glasses for imitative purposes. Egyptians used many processes of jewelry-making still currently available, and were highly skilled in soldering. Their designs sometimes included overlaying leaves of silver, bronze and stone in gold pieces.
Following the sequence of ornaments from the head downwards, we begin with diadems or frontlets that Egyptians made to hang down over the temples. These were set with precious stones and set in a variety of ways or were sometimes inlaid with cloisonné representations of allegorical animals. Akhenaton, Pharaoh from 1350 – 1334 BCE, was the first to introduce the pierced ear in royal statuary, indicating the widespread use of earrings. Sovereign men may have worn earrings for sacred purposes but earrings were mostly popular among women, and then only late in Egyptian history. Those that do occur are simple, formed of a ring-shaped hook for piercing the lobe of the ear and hung with blossom-shaped or symbolic pendants. Sometimes large rings of various materials were fitted onto the upper part of the ear.
Frequently discovered in Egyptian tombs and wall paintings are necklaces. Many of them are chains consisting of various materials strung together with a large drop or figure in the center and smaller pendants strung at intervals beside it. Another variation on the necklace was the usekh collar, which covered the chest and shoulders and which was found on many mummies attached to the winding sheet. Such a collar is made of rows of cylinder-shaped beads with pendants gathered up at either end to the head of a lion, hawk, or lotus flower.
Egyptians also wore pectorals, worn on the breast, suspended by ribbons or chains and inlaid with jewels. They were made of metal, usually gilded bronze, and sometimes of glazed alabaster, steatite basalt or earthenware. Pectorals often included pictures of silhouetted relief, some of which were actually hieroglyphs and told stories. The pictures were designed according to mathematical formulas expressed through geometric symbolism. Important elements of the design were significantly situated within the design so as to lend meaning to the reading of the arrangement and to empower the – usually royal – wearer of the pectoral.
Bracelets, arm pieces, and rings are also very commonly found. Rings also served as a signet with the owner’s emblem engraved on their surface. Some such rings are very cleverly designed so that ornamental scarabs and the like were exhibited until it was time to use the seal, at which point the scarab would revolve on wires, exhibiting the engraved side.