With the oldest jewellery in the world thought to be approximately 100,000 years old – these early pieces consisted of two shell beads and were recovered from a cave in Israel - it’s safe to say that jewellery has a long and fascinating history. The jewellery-making techniques we rely on to this day are thought to be much older with the art of metalsmithing having a million years of history of its own.
Here we take a look back to uncover some of the most fascinating jewellery facts from around the world.
1. Ancient Egyptians used live insects to create their signature pieces
Whilst the statement jewellery pieces many of us rock today use gemstones and intricate details to provide a lively, eye-catching flourish that finishes any outfit, the Ancient Egyptians took this to a whole other level.
The Egyptians were the first civilisation to wear live insect jewellery, with beetles and even hissing cockroaches used in these ancient designs. This was just the beginning of the live insect jewellery trend too. More recently, during the Victorian era, the highest in society would wear live beetles of varying colours attached to gold chains to decorate their clothing.
2. Gifting an engagement ring to your love wasn’t always the done thing
Engagement rings are one wedding tradition that seems like it has been around forever. The gifting of engagement rings however was unheard of until the late 15th century, with one very romantic man responsible for setting the longstanding trend. In 1477, Maximilian of Austria presented Mary of Burgundy with a ‘promise’ ring ahead of their marriage.
3. Jewellery used to - and still is - the key to identifying some African tribes
Jewellery has long been used in African culture, with the earliest pieces dating back more than 75,000 years. In Africa however, your choice of jewellery doesn’t just represent your personal style but gives a very big clue about where you are from as Lonely Planet explains:
“Kenyan craftsmanship is known for stunning handmade beads which for centuries were also used as currency. Many tribes in Kenya like the Samburu, Maasai, and Rendille tribes are famed for their bead artisanship and when travelling the country, you’ll be able to see distinct regional styles reflected in how they're produced.”
4. The British crown jewels really are very heavy, and for good reason!
A little closer to home, you’ll find the British crown jewels. As marvels of the jewellery industry, you are certain to be awe-struck by the size of two stones in particular.
In the Sovereign’s Sceptre and Imperial State Crown, you’ll see the Cullinan I and Cullinan II diamonds, two humongous stones that are just small parts of the original discovered in South Africa in 1905.
The uncut stone is the largest diamond ever found. It weighed a whopping 3,106 metric carats and measured in at 10.1 x 6.35 x 5.9 cm before being cut into more than 100 smaller stones.
5. The pearl is the only gem that is sourced from a living animal
Gemstones are well known for their roots in nature. Amber gemstones are fascinatingly formed from fossilised tree sap hence their piney smell. While diamonds are crystallised carbon particles that have hardened under the earth under immense heat and pressure. There is however only one gem that comes from a living animal, and that’s the pearl.
The pearl is created when an irritant – i.e. a microscopic piece of food, a grain of sand or even bacteria – enters an oyster or mollusc’s shell. The oyster or mollusc then coats the ‘parasite’ in layers upon layers of minerals to create the beautiful lustre that pearls are known and loved for.
Want to know more about the jewellery pieces that shaped the past and present? Read our brief history of jewellery right here.