Jewelry are ornamental objects worn primarily for adornment. Among the most familiar kinds of jewelry are rings, necklaces, pins, earrings, and bracelets.
Jewelry is made from a great variety of materials, including precious metals, such as platinum, gold, and silver, and costly gems, such as diamonds, emeralds, and rubies. Jewelry made of such materials as wood, plastic, and glass and of non-precious metals or imitation gems is often known as costume jewelry.
In addition to serving as adornment, jewelry may have other functions. In many cultures a piece of jewelry may be worn as an amulet to ward off illness and other evils. Some ornaments, such as the cross or the Star of David, have religious significance. The wedding band has both social and religious meaning. The crown serves as a badge of office or position when it is worn by monarchs to indicate their rank. Some pieces of jewelry, such as cuff links and tie clips, have the practical purpose of fastening clothing. The kinds of jewelry and the way it is worn vary with different cultures and societies. In certain African tribes, for example, elongated necks are considered a mark of beauty. As a result the women wear numerous rows of stiff metal circlets around their necks. These ornaments serve first to lengthen the neck artificially and then to emphasize and adorn it. In some parts of Asia, notably in India, nose ornaments are worn.
Man probably wore ornaments before he wore clothing. Cavemen made simple jewelry of animal teeth, claws, and bones, as well as seeds, stones, and feathers. Necklaces were among the most common kinds of prehistoric ornaments. Pins and fibulae, or brooches, which were used to fasten garments, were also worn by primitive man.
Throughout history, gold has been a favorite metal for jewelry. It is relatively soft and can easily be worked into any desired shape. It has also been widely used because of its warm, glowing color. Jewelry of gold is mentioned in many parts of the Bible. As early as 4000 B.C. the metal was known to the ancient Egyptians, who made exquisite and complex ornaments of gold as well as of copper, soapstone, carnelian, and lapis lazuli. The Egyptians were expert in the technique of enameling and in that of granulation, in which particles of gold dust were fused to a metal background to form intricate designs. They used both abstract patterns and representational designs, such as the hawk or jackal.
Ancient Greek jewelry was noted for its elegance and grace. Many Greek ornaments were made in gold filigree or wire openwork in naturalistic designs of flowers , leaves, and animals. Outstanding gold ornaments were also made by the Etruscans, who flourished in Italy before the Romans. The Romans used many precious and semiprecious stones in their gold and silver ornaments.
During the Middle Ages much jewelry was made for religious purposes. Heavily jeweled brooches, pendants, and rings were often placed on statues of the Virgin Mary and of the saints. Cameos, which had been developed by the Greeks and Romans, were also popular in the medieval period. Renaissance jewelry was marked by its splendor and opulence. Jewelry designs were often based on scenes from classical mythology, but they also included representations of animals and flowers. Many famous Renaissance artists, including Benvenuto Cellini, Sandro Botticelli, Albrecht Durer, and Hans Holbein, designed superb ornaments. Gems and pearls were frequently sewn on clothing, and the enseigne, or hat badge, became fashionable.
After the Renaissance new techniques in the cutting of diamonds and other gems resulted in a greater variety in the styles and shapes of precious stones.
The rose cut, in which the gem is cut so that it is pointed, was widely used in the 17th century. It largely replaced the earlier, flat-topped table cut. Toward the end of the 18th century semiprecious stones, such as the aquamarine, topaz, and amethyst, became popular.
The rise of the middle class in the 19th century brought about a demand for less expensive jewelry, which began to be produced in great quantity. Imitation gold, known as pinchbeck, as well as imitation pearls and paste diamonds were widely used. Victorian jewelry of the late 19th century was characterized by its frequently ornate and heavy designs.
In the 20th century the trend has been toward simpler jewelry. Among popular designs are flower pins with precious or semiprecious stones set in platinum or gold. Gold pins and clips in classical shapes, such as the circle, oval, and bowknot, have wide appeal. Gold or silver charm bracelets are popular, as are cultured pearl necklaces, earrings, and rings. Much modern jewelry has been marked by a stark simplicity.
Jewelry making is a popular hobby. Most amateur craftsmen work in such materials as copper, enamel, plastic, ceramics, or beads. Silver and semiprecious stones are also used.