By: Gary Hocking

Torcs are familiar to us as bronze age jewellery and reached from around 1000BC until about 300AD but were still worn before and after that in perhaps less serious ways. They are best known as Celtic jewellery but they were worn by other races such as the French German and Spanish. A torc is a rigid necklace which was made from woven metallic rope. So the craftsmen would get strands of metal and twist them around each other like rope and that's where the name comes from. The Latin word to twist gives us the word torc and torque as we know the word today.

Another feature of the torc is that it is open at one end. It is round and goes around the neck but it does not close like necklaces of today. The ends were often ornamented with tiny heads or sculptured shapes.

Torcs were not just for ornamentation but had a special role as war ornamentation and they were taken off the body of the vanquished by the victor, so if you lost your torc it usually meant that you also lost your life or certainly your freedom. The torc was often connected with your tribe or family and was inscribed with family history and symbols.

Sometimes torcs were worn on the arm or on the wrist but they were mainly worn around the neck. They were often hinged at the back of the neck and occasionally they were able to be closed but the traditional torc was worn around the neck, was of woven or twisted strands of bronze or gold, sometimes silver and was open with some kind of ornamentation on the ends such s the heads of birds or animals or mythical animals such as dragons.

Perhaps the most famous torc was found at Snettisham in Norfolk England and dates back to about 75 BC. It is a magnificent piece of gold jewellery but must have been much more that just a piece of jewellery. Today I have finished making a couple of opal pendants and they weigh two and a half grams of 9 carat gold. By today's fashion two to five grams would be a medium weight for a pendant. The Snettisham torc weighed a massive 1080 grams. Wow! That is undeniably heavy when you consider that a heavy gold or silver chain around a man's neck today might weigh 40 grams.

But not only is it heavy but exquisitely made. Looking at it I just cannot come to grips with how these ancient craftsmen could make such a thing. It is made from eight strands of wire twisted together to form one strand and there were eight of those which made up the torc. The ends were cast hollow in moulds and then welded onto the ends of the wire strands and this in 75 BC? This torc was found buried with other torcs and a bracelet. This is not uncommon as torcs were often found buried and more than one together.

The torc is another from of ancient and functional jewellery. It served a purpose as a symbol or statement of who you were, what you were worth, and where you came from.

About the author:

Gary Hocking makes custom jewellery specializing in Australian opals. He has his own website. Learn more at

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