It may be made from gemstones or precious metals, but may be from any other material, and may be appreciated because of geometric or other patterns, or meaningful symbols.
Earrings and other body rings are also considered to be jewelry, while body art is not.
Jewelry is one of the oldest forms of body adornment; recently found 100,000 year-old beads made from Nassarius shells are thought to be the oldest known jewelry.
The first pieces of jewelry were made from natural materials, such as bone, animal teeth, shell, wood and carved stone. More exotic jewelry was probably made for wealthy people or as indications of social status. In some cases people were buried with their jewelry.
Jewelry has been made to adorn nearly every body part, from hairpins to toe rings and many more types of jewelry. While high-quality jewelry is made with gemstones and precious metals, such as silver or gold, there is also a growing demand for art jewelry where design and creativity is prized above material value.
Jewelry has been used for a number of reasons: Currency, wealth display, and storage Functional use (such as clasps, pins and buckles) Symbolism (to show membership or status) Protection (in the form of amulets and magical wards) Artistic display
Currency, wealth display, and storage Most cultures have at some point had a practice of keeping large amounts of wealth stored in the form of jewelry. Numerous cultures move wedding dowries in the form of jewelry (ancient custom that is widely practiced in Europe that refers to the estate or goods brought into a marriage by a woman), or create jewelry as a means to store or display coins. Alternatively, jewelry has been used as a currency or trade good; an example being the use of slave beads (were otherwise decorative glass beads used between the 16th and 20th century as a currency to exchange for goods, services and slaves).
Millefiori (thousand flower) beads from Venice, Italy were one of the most commonly traded beads, and are commonly known as "African trade beads."
Currency, wealth display, and storage cont’d Jewelry has been used to denote status. In ancient Rome, for instance, only certain ranks could wear rings. Later, laws dictated who could wear what type of jewelry; again based on rank. Culture also dictates social norms, i.e the wearing of earrings by Western men was considered "effeminate" in the 19th and early 20th centuries. More recently, the display of body jewelry, such as piercings, has become a mark of acceptance or seen as a badge of courage within some groups, but is completely rejected in others. Religion has also played a role: Islam, for instance, considers the wearing of gold by men as a social taboo, and many religions have edicts against excessive display.
Functional use (such as clasps, pins and buckles) Many items of jewelry, such as brooches (sometimes referred to as a fibula) and buckles originated as purely functional items, but evolved into decorative items as their functional requirement diminished.
Braganza Fibula/Brooch, Hellenistic art, 250-200 BC, British Museum
Buckles were historically taken for granted and overlooked, the invention of the buckle has been indispensable in securing two ends before the invention of the zipper.
Archeological bronze buckles from southern Sweden
Symbolism (to show membership or status) Jewelry can also be symbolic of group membership, as in the case of the Christian crucifix or Jewish Star of David, or of status, as in the case of chains of office, or the Western practice of married people wearing a wedding ring.
A livery collar or chain of office is a collar or heavy chain, usually of gold, worn as insignia of office or a mark of pledge or other association in Europe from the Middle Ages onwards.
Protection (in the form of amulets and magical wards) Wearing of amulets (meaning "an object that protects a person from trouble"), and devotional medals to provide protection or ward off evil is common in some cultures; these may take the form of symbols (such as the ankh), stones, plants, animals, body parts (such as the Khamsa), or glyphs (such as stylized versions of the Throne Verse in Islamic art).
The ankh, also known as the ‘key of life‘ or ‘the key of the Nile', was the Egyptian hieroglyphic character that read "eternal life A palm-shaped amulet popular throughout the Middle East and North Africa. The khamsa is often incorporated in jewelry and wall hangings, as a defense against the evil eye. Symbol known as Throne Verse in Islamic art.
Although artistic display has clearly been a function of jewelry from the very beginning, the other roles described tended to take priority. It was only in the late 19th century, with the work of such masters as Peter Carl Fabergé and René Lalique, that jewelry as a true art form began to take an important role in society.
Gold and enamel pectoral by René Lalique, Museu Gulbenkian, Lisbon Portrait of Medusa by René Lalique, a respected French artist (1860-1945) Bouquet of Lilies or Madonna Lily Egg by Fabergé
In creating jewelry, gemstones, coins, or other precious items are often used, and they are typically set into precious metals.
Other commonly used materials include glass, such as fused glass or enamel; wood, often carved or turned; shells and other natural animal substances such as bone and ivory; natural clay; polymer clay; and even plastics. Hemp and other twines have been used as well to create jewelry that has more of a natural feel.
Beads and glass are often incorporated into jewelry pieces.