Throughout history man has used almost anything for jewellery & personal adornment from animals teeth, shells, dried berries, flowers & grasses in prehistoric times, to precious metals & gemstones in eras from ancient Egypt onwards.

Gold & silver have been valued for jewellery throughout history along with Lapis Lazuli which was valued for its pure & vivid blue.

By the time of the Roman empire (around 2000 years ago), the Romans were trading & using sapphires from Sri Lanka, and emeralds, garnets, amber and diamonds from Indian. While the Northern provinces were less prolific providers of gems, England provided Jet, a fossilized wood, which was carved & valued throughout the empire.

The importation of gems & pearls from the East was dominated by the Italians who sold the finished jewellery throughout Europe. Flawless, large white pearls were prized more than precious gemstones during this period. The finest of pearls came from Southern India and the Persian Gulf.

By the Middle-ages, in answer to demand for these beautiful natural treasures, the Italians, particularly the Venetian Muranos, began making imitation glass gems and pearls that were very good likenesses of the real jewels, and for the first time jewellery started to become affordable to the upper classes rather than just the nobility.

By the 17th century, no self-respecting woman of means would have been seen dead without her jewellery. Earrings were worn day & night. By day fake pearl earrings and paste earrings to coordinate with clothing were the rage, while diamond jewellery was kept for evening. They even started embroidering jewels into their clothes (a trend set by Queen Elizabeth I who was famed for her peal encrusted gowns)

In the 1700's, in response to this huge demand for pearls & jewellery, the Parisians invented a new range of clever fakes. Jaquin of Paris coated blown glass balls with varnish mixed with iridescent ground fish scales while the best paste jewellery was produced by Georges Strass.

After 1760 the production of fake jewellery spread to London and to Birmingham where tools & techniques were developing with the Industrial revolution. At the same time Steel began to be used for settings for marcasite and jasperware cameos.

The 18th century also saw the increase in popularity of the more affordable semi precious stones.

As Emperor of France Napoleon revived jewellery and fashion in his new ostentatious court. The members of the new French imperial family had the former French royal family gems re-set in the latest neo-classical style. These new trends in jewellery were copied in Europe and particularly England.

When Queen Victoria came to the throne in 1837 jewellery was romantic and nationalistic.

Although jewellery had been made by multiple methods of production for centuries, mid Victorian mass production meant that standards were lowered and Victorian women rebelled against this lowering of quality. Many wore no jewellery at all, or bought from the artist craftsman jewellers who emerged at much the same time.

To win back these demanding customers some jewellers like Tiffany & Co began to make fine jewellery of such high standard that they soon opened shops in main cities of Europe.

With the death of Queen Victoria's husband Albert, there was a huge fashion for mourning jewellery. Jet from Northern England was set into mourning pieces. All types of material that were black were used and almost all included a lock of the dead loved one's hair.

In the 1870's mourning jewellery was replaced by the Arts and Crafts movement. It was a reaction to the mass production of the industrial revolution and was led by William Morris and John Ruskin who promoted simple designs based on floral, primitive or Celtic forms worked as wallpapers, furniture and jewellery.


The polished stones used in Arts and Crafts jewellery gave jewellery a simpler, hand made look and feel to items. Major players in this movement were Liberty of London and Rene Mackintosh of Glasgow both of whose designs remain famous today...

By 1900, Arts and Crafts was replaced by Art Nouveau, a more ostentatious version started in France.

Art Nouveau jewellery follows curving organic lines of romantic and imaginary dreaminess. The Frenchman Ren Lalique was the master goldsmith of the era of Art Nouveau producing exquisite one off pieces which are still highly valued today.

In the 1900's pearls were fashionable again, but still very expensive. This led to the first production of "cultured" pearls. Real pearls made by placing a small bead into an oyster shell. The bead coated itself with nacre (mother of pearl), creating a pearl. This process was led by Kokichi Mikimoto of Japan.

The next big trend was costume jewellery. In the 1930's Designers Coco Chanel (1883-1971) and Elsa Schiaparelli (1890-1973) encouraged clients to use costume jewellery and to mix it with genuine gem pieces they already owned. Both designers offered imagination and fun and both often sported fabulous fakes.

By the 1940s and 1950s American culture dominated Europe. Hollywood set the fashion. People wanted to look like their screen idols. With metals rationed throughout the 1940's fine jewellery production ground to a halt, and the costume jewellery which was flourishing in America, became seen as a real alternative to fine jewellery.

The best crystals used in costume jewellery are the first grade crystals from Austrian firm Swarovski. Jewellery including Swarovski crystals are now sold by Swarovski themselves. and bought by jewellers worldwide to be worked into gold and silver jewellery to create a never ending variety of pieces.

About the Author:

Catherine D'Arcy is the founder of Corazon Latino, an online retailer specializing in handmade silver jewellery To see their exclusive range of designs, visit Corazon Latino

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