History of Jewelry Part 3: The Middle Ages|
The idea of fashion as we understand it today was born in the Middle Ages: new modes of dress began to come in and out of style, the duration of each phase became more and more brief, and the new style was usually an absolute contrast to the one that came before. Jewelry altered less rapidly than clothing, but still underwent many changes of style.the Muslims as a first step in a “holy” war of territory. The first Crusade unleashed a wave of Christian fury within Europe, and Jews were massacred in the wake of the movement of Crusader mobs. Orthodox Christians were treated badly as well, a rising sentiment that culminated in the sack of Constantinople in the Fourth Crusade. This was not the point of the Fourth Crusade, but it was its consequence and ironically the very capital of Byzantium – the culture for whose protection the Crusades were ostensibly initiated – was destroyed.
Of course the Crusades took a great toll on the world of the time and have influenced politics and territory to this day, but the development and exchange of styles is one of the least complicated of the Crusades’ effects. Warring knights brought back impressions of culture from Syria and Palestine, as well as specimens of gold ornaments and precious stones. Skilled workmen from Asia Minor began moving West, but after the sack of Constantinople, a great divide came between the aesthetics of the Eastern Orthodox Christian traditions and those of the Catholics in the West. Eastern ornamentation became more isolated from the West, and the Westerners began to develop an independent style.
At the beginning of the thirteenth century, a change took place in European aesthetics: what we now know as the Gothic style began to emerge in the West. Artisans began working with forms of slighter and possibly more elegant proportions. Workmanship exhibited great delicacy and detail. The designs we associate with Gothic architecture were to be found in jewelry – pierced openwork patterns resembled the windows of great cathedrals, for example. Jewelers still used enameling, but moved away from previous processes towards basse-taille enameling, a process in which translucent enamel is used on metal, chased, and modeled in shallow relief, producing transparent pictures. Because of the beauty of this process, it influenced even the types of stones that were set into the metalwork. Colored stones were too aggressive companions for the delicate enameling; pearls worked well with the basse-taille, their translucent sheen reflecting the metalwork.
All jewelry of the period was set with cabochon stones. A cabochon is a stone whose surface has been rounded and polished in a convex shape, but which has not been faceted. This manner of cutting stones preserves much of the character of the g