When French society saw the jewelry created by the Parisian goldsmith Marie-Etienne Nitot— founder of Chaumet— on the occasion of the wedding of Napoleon Bonaparte and Josephine de Beauharnais, and later with the Archduchess Marie-Louise of Habsburg-Lorraine, niece of Queen Marie Antoinette, they were amazed at its beauty and perfection. After those groundbreaking pieces, Nitot became the most famous jeweler in 18-century Europe. Since then, Parisian jewelers are celebrated throughout the world for the magnificence of their works.
Jewelry in history
Jewels have always been present. Evidence includes a bracelet fragment about 50 thousand years old found in Central Asia that is considered the oldest known piece of jewelry.
Later, the Egyptians used gold, copper and silver with precious stones such as lapis lazuli, jade, and ruby to create elaborate jewels of astonishing beauty.
In Ancient Greece, goldsmiths combined gold with precious stones in delicate spirals, leaves, and headpins, as well as tiaras and laurel wreaths carved in gold. It was believed that such adornment enhanced not only the beauty but also the intellect of whoever wore them.
Romans used gold, silver, precious stones, ceramics, and beads. Their most outstanding piece, though, was an iron ring— forerunner of today's engagement ring— which they considered a symbol of eternity.
In the Near East goldsmiths invented gold filigree, which they applied to rings, necklaces, charms, mirrors and objects of worship.
The prehispanic cultures also worked with gold, silver and precious stones, such as lapis lazuli, jade, and emeralds. Pre-Columbian goldsmiths from Mexico, Colombia, and Peru, created striking ornamental pieces such as masks, helmets, breastplates, tiaras, necklaces, and pins.
Eras and styles
In the Middle Ages, jewels were for the exclusive use of kings, wealthy merchants, and nobles. France and Britain enacted laws forbidding the common folk the use of ornaments made with precious metals and stones. These restrictions contributed to making jewelry a symbol of power, authority and wealth. In some places, jewels were thought to possess magical powers, as we see in medieval fantasy films.
The advent of the Renaissance meant the incorporation of greater artistic details to jewelry. Famous painters and sculptors began to dabble in jewelry design. The 7th century brought technological advances to industrial production that allowed the emergence of fashion trends and the concept of “sets” (several pieces of similar design). In the twentieth century, Art Nouveau gave a renewed splendor to jewelry design, focusing on innovation and originality. ■
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