The Middle Ages and Beyond
With the decline of the Ancient Roman Empire, many areas continued on with the refinement of their skills in the area of jewelry making. The civilizations of the Merovingian (incorporating the area around Ancient Gaul) and the Celts in particular are noted for their fine jewelry. Merovingian jewelry is often in the form of stylized animal figures, while the Celts utilized continuous designs and patterns. Some of the more common pieces were clothing fasteners, amulets, and signet rings. By the 8th century it was common for men to incorporate jewels into their weapons, with other jewelry being utilized by the women.
To the east, the collapse of the Roman Empire left the Byzantine Empire, and they continued in the jewelry making tradition of the Romans, with religious ideals becoming a predominate theme. While the Romans, Franks and Celts utilized solid gold, the Byzantium used light-weight gold leaf, with more emphasis placed on the actual gems and stones. Byzantine jewelry was worn by females with wealth, and signet rings were the main forms of male jewelry. As with other cultures of the time, it was common to bury a person with the jewelry they owned.
Jewelry of the Renaissance
The Renaissance was a period of explosive knowledge in many areas, and the area of jewelry development was no exception. As Europeans explored the cultures of other areas, a wide variety of gemstones were incorporated into their jewelry designs. Take for example the Cheapside Hoard, which utilized Colombian emerald, Brazilian amazonite, Sri Lankan chrysoberyl, iolite and spinet, Persian turquoise, Indian rubies, Afghani lapis lazuli, peridots from the Red Sea, and Hungarian and Bohemian amethysts, garnets, and opals.
With the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte came the resurrection of grandeur and style in the area of jewelry and fashion in France. One fashion trend started by Napoleon was the cameo, as one decorated his crown. Once this was shown to the public, the desire for cameos rose, with cameos becoming highly sought after. Costume jewelry also started to develop around this time. Different names were given to jewelers. Those that worked with cheaper materials were known as bijoutiers, while those who worked with expensive materials were known as joailliers. This naming practice is still being utilized today.
Romanticism and Jewelry
By the late 18th century romanticism had worked it’s way into the development of jewelry. Changes in the social conditions that the people were subjected to, and the start of the Industrial Revolution, meant a growing middle-class, people who wanted, and could now afford jewelry. The industrial processes of the period meant that stone substitutes and cheaper alloys were available, leading forms of paste or costume jewelry.
About this time, in the year 1837 to be more exact, the company Tiffany & Co was started by Charles Lewis Tiffany. His company put the United States on the map in terms of jewelry, and developed dazzling jewelry, such as those created for the wife of Abraham Lincoln. This same company would later go on to be known as the setting of the movie “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”. On the other side of the Atlantic, in France, Pierre Cartier founded the company Cartier SA in 1847. In 1884 the Italian company of Bulgari was formulated.