The Lowdown on Ancient Egyptian Jewelry
Jewelry has long been a part of our culture, dating back as far as the ancient Egyptians. While things have changed a lot since the days of Cleopatra, a lot remains the same. If we go back in time hundreds of thousands of years, we will find that the first jewelry pieces were simplistic yet original and downright stunning. One of the first things that comes to mind (for me, at least!) when talking about ancient Egyptian jewelry is the beautiful use of precious metals like copper and gold. Ancient Egyptians had a knack for using and combining the materials that were available to them, turning them into one-of-a-kind, mesmerizing pieces. When I think back on what they were able to accomplish with resources from the land around them, it is inspirational to say the least.
The Past Repeats Itself
Sure it’s been hundreds of thousands of years since the Egyptians first started making jewelry, but the past is repeating itself - as it always seems to do. Today many jewelry-makers (including yours truly) build from these ancient traditions; using stamping, carving, and elaborate beadwork to create statement pieces. When I think about the Egyptians and those first pieces of jewelry, my mind often goes to necklaces and bracelets like these. Can’t you see the correlation to much of what is out there today? I know I can! It has been more than 5,000 years since the Egyptians first started making jewelry, but the influences on our modern society are undeniable. From the materials used to the style and design, not much has changed since then, really. Sure, our processes may be different and a bit more refined, but the inspiration remains the same.
When we look back at the history of the ancient Egyptians, it is obvious they valued personal adornment - and we aren’t just talking about the women. Men were also big jewelry-wearers back then, and this self-adornment even carried over into the afterlife. Today there are statues of ancient kings, queens, and gods adorned with lavish jewels, stunning statement necklaces, earrings, collar pieces, anklets, armbands, and bracelets. It was quite common for the dead to be entombed with their own jewelry, along with sentimental pieces that belonged to loved ones. Collar pieces were perhaps the most impressive of all the ancient Egyptian necklaces, and one of my personal favorites. Not only were these pieces intricate and mesmerizing, but they were symbolic and undoubtedly gave the person who was adorned a sense of empowerment. Can you imagine what it was like to feel these semi-precious stones and materials laying on your chest with such weight?
Metals and Materials
As a designer, I am fascinated with the design and resources implemented by ancient Egyptians. Wealthier classes were said to have used primarily gold and some copper for their necklaces, bracelets, and other pieces, whereas lower classes used copper. One interesting fact to keep in mind is that silver was pretty scarce to ancient Egyptians because there were no silver mines in the area. The ancient Egyptians mined copper and gold in the deserts of Nubia, both of which came in varying colors.
The Use of Gems and Stones
The more excessive the piece got, the more likely they were to use gems and semi-precious stones like lapis, obsidian, garnet, and carnelian, as well as pearls, and emeralds. These pieces were truly incredible. The ancient Egyptians were all about making a bold statement and conveying a message through their jewelry. Many of the most stunning pieces were inlaid with prized stones, like rock crystal combined with some of the other semiprecious gems listed above.They also faience, which was made from ground quartz and mixed with a colourant. The Egyptians didn't just have great style, they were resourceful and took their time to develop statement pieces! I take such great inspiration from this last tidbit, as it shows the dedication and commitment the Egyptians had to their jewelry. Ancient Egyptian jewelry wasn't just about throwing on a pair of earrings or a necklace and calling it a day, it was a detailed process they but a great deal of thought into.
But the materials and gems they used weren’t the only thing that made the ancient Egyptians such remarkable jewelry-makers. The fact that they were drawn to engravings and stampings is something I personally find so profound. I take a great deal of inspiration from the ancient Egyptians, as you can see in my own style and design aesthetic. This copper-textured feather pendant, for example, takes inspiration from the Egyptians, both in the metal used and the texture of the piece. Ancient Egyptians were also known for their protective amulets, which could be worn as independent pieces are within a specific piece of jewelry. It’s so important to me as a designer to pay homage to those that came before me, while giving pieces my own twist at the same time. I am a lover of all ancient Egyptian necklaces and bracelets, in particular, and hope this comes across in pieces like this.