The earliest surviving articles of jewellery are Egyptian. Many techniques are represented: chiselling, moulding, hammering, inlay, filigree and cloisonné. Egyptian jewellery also includes the earliest known instances of ‘granulated’ work. The principal ornaments of the bulk of the Egyptian people were beads and amulets of stone and earthenware. Bead-making reached its highest perfection during the 17th dynasty, when necklaces were enlivened not only with scarabs but with little pendants and other ornaments.
Glass beads were also introduced during this period. Both men and women wore deep collars of string beads. Large silver loops were worn by the Egyptians through the pierced lobes of the ears. Bracelets were worn on the forearm and the upper arm. Rings of ivory and earthenware were worn by the common people, while gold and silver were reserved for the wealthy. Metal rings were generally set with semi-precious stones. The signet ring of the Paraoh often consisted of a red cornelian cut in the form of a scarab. Babylonian and Assyrian sculptures show men and women wearing necklaces, ear-rings and bracelets, and the discovery of articles of adornment at Ur disclosed that these were made either of gold or of silver.
A vast store of jewellery was discovered during excavations along the shores of the Aegean, the types of ornament including diadems, ear-rings, necklaces, bracelets, pendants, brooches and rings. Where metal occurs it reveals knowledge of the various methods of repoussé, twisted wire and granulated work. Ornamental motifs are based principally on the sphinx, the griffin and the bull’s head.
Greek jewellery includes diadems, hairpins, necklaces, ear-rings, fibulae, brooches, bracelets and rings. Engraving, gem-cutting and filigree work reached the greatest degree of perfection among the Greeks. The chief decorative designs were geometric motifs, animal and human figures. The Etruscans were noted particularly for their filigree and granulated work in gold. Their methods were lost to the modern world until the 19th century when Castellani of Rome discovered goldworkers in the Abruzzi to whom the Etruscan technique had descended. In its general character Etruscan jewellery resembles that of the Greeks.
Cloisonné enamel and repoussé work are frequent methods of ornamentation. Roman jewellery clearly derives from the work of both the Greeks and the Etruscans. But the delicate, graceful designs of the Greeks became heavy and ornate in the hands of the Romans. Where the Greeks and the Etruscans used gems sparingly, the Romans were lavish, and where the Etruscans delighted in intricate patterns of filigree or granulation, the Romans preferred massive, plain surfaces.
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