Bling Through the Ages – A Brief History of Ancient Jewelry

During Sara’s first trip to Tucson, just before she opened Blue Door Beads in 2012, she found a style of bead she’d never seen before: very rare, and extremely unique, Roman glass.

When Sara brought back a few of the strands for the shop, staff members were instantly enamored with the colors and textures of these ancient beads. That got us thinking: which other cultures can brag about having equally gorgeous, ancient beads? We did some treasure hunting, (as well as some research on Roman glass specifically) and here’s what we found:

Roman glass beads.

Roman glass beads.

Area of origin: Roman Empire (including modern-day Israel and other Mediterranean countries)
Approximate time span: 753 – 27 B.C.E., and then again from 64 – 1453 A.D.

Pieces of Roman glass originally belonged to vases, jugs, or other glass vessels. According to bluenoemi-jewelry.com, “The presence of sandy dunes and beaches made ancient Israel one of the largest glass producers of the Roman Empire, and the same sands helped preserve, shape and temper the glass [used today in modern jewelry].  Contaminants manufactured into the glass, in combination with the environment in which the glass has spent hundreds of years, produce vibrant lusters and [unique speckles] in place of the original clarity and transparency.”

According to ehow.com and archaeology.org, the peoples of the Roman Empire used more glass than any other ancient civilization. Glass vessels such as bottles and jars were used for everything from serving & storing food, to pouring libations and sprinkling perfumes on funeral pyres; ashes of the deceased were sometimes collected in glass urns. Archeologists are obviously elated when they find entire vessels, but small shards and chunks of the glass are of little value to them — but the small pieces are the perfect components for jewelers to set into gold, silver, or other metals. (1)

Examples of personal ornaments used by the last European foraging societies.

Examples of personal ornaments used by the last European foraging societies.

Area of origin: Northern Europe
Approximate time span: 8,000 – 5,000 B.C.E.

The most fascinating element about jewelry from this time period: unlike the modern tradition of wearing jewelry for mostly decorative purposes, Neolithic jewelry-wearers were more concerned with advertising to which social group they belonged.

Farmers from this period were known to create jewelry from rocks and shells that they found while working (depending on the region where they farmed), and would often shape beads and pendants into human shapes. Hunters and foragers, however, would typically use bones and teeth from their kills — a pretty good indication of what they did for a living.

Unlike a lot of jewelry throughout history, these specific groups of people did not sell or trade their pieces. Each group valued its own jewelry aesthetic, so wearing each other’s jewelry would have been a faux pas.

Jewelry created with perforated shells have been found in both groups, but in general, there wasn’t much overlap in jewelry style. As stated by Solange Rigaud, a researcher for the Center for International Research in the Humanities and Social Sciences, “It’s clear hunters and foragers in the Baltic area resisted the adoption of ornaments worn by farmers during this period. We’ve therefore concluded that this cultural boundary reflected a block in the advancement of farming—at least during the Neolithic period.” (2)

egyptian_synonym

Gorgeous samples of Egyptian-style jewelry, created using lapis, carnelian, and gold beads.

Area of origin: Ancient Egypt
Approximate time span: 1570 B.C.E. – 600 A.D.

Although the Egyptians didn’t wear very lavish clothing, they did splurge when it came to elaborate jewelry. People from all walks of life wore jewelry; wealthy citizens wore jewelry made from gemstones, precious metals, colored glass, and minerals; those from more humble backgrounds wore pieces made from clay, rocks, animal teeth, bones, and shells.

Like humans from the Neolithic period, ancient Egyptians wore jewelry for more reasons than to just feel fancy. They wore it to protect their health, ward off evil spirits, and bring good luck. According to Shannon Leigh O’Neil of synonym.com, “Certain raw materials, designs and colors were associated with deities or symbolized supernatural powers. For example, carnelian, an orange-red stone, was a color suggestive of blood and therefore gave energy and potency to the ornament.”

Amulets were a particularly popular jewelry element, since Egyptians thought they bestowed good fortune, as well as protective and healing powers. “In particular,” says O’Neil, “amulets offered protection over the dead. Amulets were placed inside a mummy’s wrappings to safeguard the deceased’s journey and ensure a happy, healthy and fruitful afterlife.” (3)

Ornate Greek headdress.

Ornate Greek headdress.

Area of origin: Ancient Greece
Approximate time span: 800 – 150 B.C.

The Ancient Greeks were no strangers to bling! They created a full range of jewelry including necklaces, earrings, pendants, pins, bracelets, armbands, thigh bands, finger rings, and elaborate hair ornaments.

Most pieces were inlaid with pearls and dazzling gems or semiprecious stones, including emeralds, garnets, carnelians, and more. Artists also incorporated colorful enamel inlays that dramatically contrasted with their intricate gold settings.

In addition to animal motifs, Ancient Greek jewelry artists also enjoyed designs of various Greek gods, such as Aphrodite, her winged son Eros, and the eagle of Zeus. Much like the Egyptians, there are records of elaborate jewelry being stored in temple and treasury inventories, and some of the best-preserved samples come from tombs where jewelry was usually placed on the body of the deceased. Some of these pieces were made specifically for interment; however, most were worn during life. (4)

So, there’s your history lesson for the day, Blue Door Beaders! We hope you’ve enjoyed learning a little about the history of ancient jewelry, and we hope you have the pleasure of seeing samples of these amazing pieces in your local museum some day soon!

Source (1): www.ehow.com
Photo courtesy of http://www.happymangobeads.com
Source (2): www.futurity.org
Photo courtesy of Solange Rigaud.
Source (3): www.synonym.com, as well as photo.
Source (4): Wikipedia, as well as photo.

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The Talented Artists of our Second Annual Jewelry Collective

We wanted to give you a taste of the amazing creations that will be featured in our Second Annual Jewelry Collective, which begins Thursday, December 18th, 2014 from 6pm-9pm during the Piedmont Avenue Stroll and will continue through Monday, December 22nd!

Local artists, many of whom are Blue Door Beads customers, will be featuring their work for sale throughout the five-day span, and will be available for schmoozing during The Piedmont Avenue Stroll happening Thursday, December 18th, from 6pm-9pm. They will be presenting a wide range of necklaces, bracelets, and earrings made of gemstones, crystals, glass, and more. Although the 18th will be the night to meet the artists, their work will be at the shop for sale through the 22nd. Enjoy a selection of handcrafted artisan jewelry that you will find nowhere else around, and finish up your holiday gift shopping!

We are so excited to be featuring such incredibly gorgeous jewelry by so many talented artists!

Necklace by Sabrina Hom of Ophelia's Jewels.

Bracelet by Sabrina Hom of Ophelia’s Jewels

Necklace by Benita Ranbdle of Nita Carol Designs

Necklace by Benita Ranbdle of Nita Carol Designs

Necklace by Cheryl Hayward of Olivia Hayward Designs.

Necklace by Cheryl Hayward of Olivia Hayward Designs

Necklace by Anne Marie Foley

Necklace by Anne Marie Foley

Hand-cut wood and brass necklace by Kelli McGiven

Hand-cut wood and brass necklace by Kelli McGiven

Mosaic pendants by Karen Maestas

Mosaic pendants by Karen Maestas

Necklace by Susan Dray

Necklace by Susan Dray

Knotted leather and pearl bracelet by Jill Marsh

Knotted leather and pearl bracelet by Jill Marsh

Multi-strand bracelet by Shelley Barnhill

Multi-strand bracelet by Shelley Barnhill

Necklace by Karen McRobie

Necklace by Karen McRobie

Bracelet by Erin Garcia of Fish The Fish Co.

Bracelet by Erin Garcia of Fish The Fish Co.

Necklace by Michele Harris

Necklace by Michele Harris

Earrings by Celia Goetz.

Earrings by Celia Goetz.

Necklace by Lisa Howell

Necklace by Lisa Howell

Earrings and bracelets  by Vida Vazquez

Earrings and bracelets by Vida Vazquez

Why Did It Break?

Although we did not know that this would be the case when we first opened Blue Door Beads, jewelry repair has become a significant part of our business. There’s nothing quite like seeing the smile on a customer’s face when we tell them, “Sure, we can fix that!” True, some projects are more challenging than others, and there are times when a complete jewelry-overhaul is needed, but many times we can salvage the existing piece, and our customers couldn’t be happier!

One question we are consistently asked is, “Why did this break?” Sometimes, we have an easy answer at the ready, while other times the answer is a bit more complicated. Besides some elements beyond our control (more on that later), there are a few common reasons why jewelry can break:

It was not strung on appropriate cord.
When it comes to necklaces and bracelets, the type of cord you should string through your beads depends a lot on the type of beads you are using. Earlier this year, we wrote a post about the different types of SoftFlex beading cords and when to use them, and (for the most part), there is a SoftFlex cord for every project. Because of this, we here at Blue Door Beads have a tendency to use SoftFlex for pretty much all of our projects. However, there are times when it is nice to use different types of cords to achieve different looks — but that’s where things can get tricky.

Pictured: not the type of beads you would string on skinny silk thread. Photo courtesy of etsy.com.

Pictured: not the type of beads you would string on skinny silk thread. Photo courtesy of etsy.com.

Let’s say, for example, you have some big ol’ chunky coral beads you would like to turn into a necklace. These puppies weigh a TON, and you’ve heard that knotting in between your beads will make your necklace more secure; if the necklace breaks, you’ll only lose one bead, because all the others have knots in between them. While this is true, the types of cord typically used for knotting (silk or nylon) that you find in your average bead store are usually pretty fine, and not meant to withstand a lot of A) weight and B) friction from the (sometimes) rough holes of chunkier beads. If you do decide to knot between big, chunky beads, a good rule of thumb is to use the thickest possible cord that can fit through the holes of your beads. S-lon cord could be a good choice, because not only is it a twisted nylon multi-filament cord (i.e. extra durable), but it behaves much like upholstery thread, in that it will not stretch. It is commonly used in micro-macramé jewelry, but it’s “multi-filament” quality means it will take a lot more friction to slice through the cord than if you had used a size 2 silk cord (i.e. super-ultra-thin cord). In sum, don’t use super skinny cord for big, chunky beads.

Leather can also be a hit-or-miss-type of cord. Very often, there are tiny variations in the grain of the leather, and what looks like a tiny lump can actually end up being a weak spot. This can be true even in thicker leather cords, so inspect your leather cord carefully before stringing it through heavy beads or pendants.

And if you had a necklace/bracelet break because it was strung on dental floss. .hmm…how do I say this gently? Dental floss is meant to floss your teeth, not to be used in jewelry-making. ‘Nuf said.

It was not constructed using the correct gauge of wire.

28g or 30g wire is perfect for wire crochet, but not ideal for all types of wire work. Photo courtesy of SisalsDesigns on Etsy.

28g or 30g wire is perfect for wire crochet, but not ideal for all types of wire work. Photo courtesy of SisalsDesigns on Etsy.

Although wire is primarily used in earrings, it can also be found in wire-work necklaces & bracelets. A similar rule applies to wire as to cord: use the thickest wire that will fit through your beads. The reason for this is that super fine wire (30g, 28g) is extremely pliable and, therefore, has a tendency to get bent out of shape very easily. With wire, each bend can result in a kink, and the more pronounced the kink, the more likely the wire is to break. Also, the more you work with wire, the harder — and more brittle — it becomes. Even if you don’t fiddle with your jewelry, wire wraps can still gent bent back and forth with normal wear & tear; the thicker the wire in your jewelry, the more bending it can withstand. If you feel as though your jewelry piece has a weak spot, it is better to have it fixed before it breaks to avoid losing beads or (sad face!) losing the entire piece.

It was not finished properly.
This can mean different things for different types of jewelry. Although we could do an entire post strictly on finishing jewelry (maybe we will — stay tuned!), here are a few of the most common finishing mistakes we come across:
*Failed crimp: This means that a crimp bead was not crimped, or “smushed,” correctly (that’s a very technical term, by the way) or you are using the wrong size crimp for the diameter of SoftFlex you are using. If this is a recurring problem for you, we recommend exploring the SoftFlex School of Design Page for helpful tips and tricks, as well as taking a class here at Blue Door Beads.
*Clasp keeps falling off/Ear wire keeps falling off: We lumped these into the same category, because the same issue affects both scenarios. These items fall off of your jewelry because the connecting findings (in the case of a necklace/bracelet, it would be a jump ring and in the case of earrings, it would be the loop at the base of the hook) have not been closed properly. Check out volcanoarts.com for some helpful tips, and if you are still struggling, ask the Blue Door Beads gals to show you the next time you’re in the shop.

Now, we would like to address one of the most common reasons jewelry can break. We don’t mean to sound snarky, but we would really prefer not to sugar-coat the issue:

You are asking too much of your jewelry.
Your jewelry is decorative & lovely – treat it nicely! We cannot tell you how many times folks have come in, broken jewelry in hand, and exclaimed, “I don’t know what happened! It just broke!”
“Can you tell us a little about what you were doing when it broke?” we ask.
“I wasn’t really doing anything. I was just at the gym running on the treadmill/playing basketball/swimming and it just broke.”

We hate to say it, but jewelry was not meant to be worn during your daily workout. Chlorine will eat away at almost any type of cord, including SoftFlex, and even copious amounts of sweat can damage jewelry, especially the kind that is strung on natural fibers (leather, silk, hemp, etc.) Plus, if you wear your jewelry during your post-workout shower, you are exposing it to soap and intense scrubbing, neither of which will increase the lifespan of your necklace or bracelet.

Another classic case of “I don’t know what happened”:

“I was just holding my baby, and she reached up and yanked on my necklace. It broke immediately! Is it supposed to do that?”

If you HAVE to wear jewelry while holding your wee one, why not make it MummaBubba Jewelry? Then everybody's happy! Photo courtesy of mummabubbajewellery.com.au

If you HAVE to wear jewelry while holding your wee one, why not make it MummaBubba Jewelry? Then everybody’s happy! Photo courtesy of mummabubbajewellery.com.au

We are sorry to be the bearers of bad news, but most jewelry is not designed to withstand the kung-fu grip of your toddler. SoftFlex may be comprised of woven steel wires, but those are not the same as steel cables. In fact, we often tell these customers how lucky they are that their necklace did break; we imagine they’d rather have a broken necklace than a huge gash at the back of their necks. We understand, sometimes you do not know that you are going to be interacting with wee ones when you put on your jewelry in the morning. However, we highly recommend removing your jewelry if you plan to hold any child under the age of five. Sparkly pieces of jewelry are just too tempting, especially the kind that dangle from your ear lobes….you can see where we’re going with this.

It was just time.
Unfortunately, things wear out with time, like a beloved old Grateful Dead vinyl. Even excellent-quality items (Italian leather shoes, purses, top-of-the-line cars) have an expiration date. Luckily, this date can be extended if you treat your item(s) nicely. However, some types of jewelry (like bracelets strung on stretchy cord) won’t last as long as others, simply because they weren’t designed to be long-lasting. In general, higher-quality jewelry will last much longer than, say, the costume jewelry one can find at Claire’s. Also, if your idea of “normal wear & tear” for your jewelry includes sleeping with it, showering with it, running with it, etc. (see above), it will probably not last as long as it would if you took your jewelry off every night and laid it gently in your jewelry box.

Taking good care of antique jewelry means you'll be able to enjoy it for many more years to come! Photo courtesy of langantiques.com

Taking good care of antique jewelry means you’ll be able to enjoy it for many more years to come! Photo courtesy of langantiques.com

Also, some jewelry is just old. For example, perhaps you have inherited your grandmother’s pearl necklace. Grandma only wore it on special occasions, and when your mother inherited it, she treated it with an equal amount of love & care. Now you are following in their footsteps, but a 50-year-old necklace is still a 50-year-old necklace. That doesn’t mean that, when the necklace breaks, you won’t be able to wear it any more. It just means the pearls may need some new cord, a new clasp, and a new lease on life!

In closing, we hope that you have gleaned some useful tips from this post and had the chance to take a look at your beautiful baubles to see what you can do to extend the life of your favorite jewelry. We wish that nobody ever had to come to the shop with a heavy heart because their favorite jewelry broke, but we want to let you know, there is hope. With the right attitude and the right materials, we are confident that your jewelry can live again!

Creative Cutlery Jewelry

Every once in a while, we here at Blue Door Beads dig through our jewelry boxes at home in the hopes of rediscovering jewelry pieces we haven’t worn in a while. These times are really just excuses for us to look at all of our sparkly things, but every once in a while we find a piece of jewelry that really deserves to be worn again. I recently found a ring I had not worn in ages:

Oneida spoon ring that I acquired from a Berkeley street vendor some 15 years ago.

An Oneida spoon ring that I acquired from a Berkeley street vendor some 15 years ago.

I knew a few other girls in high school who wore spoon rings, and one of them once told me that spoon rings had a history. According to the Kimberlin Silver Co., “The origins of the spoon ring are unknown, though many claim they originated in England during the 17th century and were used as alternative wedding bands. Popular opinion further explains that servants who could not afford precious metals resorted to stealing silverware from their employers and crafted them into wedding rings. Those caught were prosecuted for theft, which is why spoon rings are known to have been used during this time.”

I thought this story was pretty romantic, although the whole “stealing from your employer” thing isn’t so great. I like to think my spoon ring didn’t come from someone’s irreplaceable family silver!

I decided to do a bit more hunting to find out what other fabulous jewelry has been created out of cutlery, and after browsing through pages and pages of Google images and listings on Etsy, I figured I would share a few of my faves, with my absolute favorite at the bottom. Enjoy!

~Lydia
Store Manager

Sculpted fork bracelet. Photo courtesy of spoonman.com.

Sculpted fork bracelet. Photo courtesy of spoonman.com.

Peacock pendant. Photo courtesy of silverspoonjewelry.com.

Peacock pendant. Photo courtesy of silverspoonjewelry.com.

Spoon handle earrings. Photo courtesy of wholesouljewelry.com.

Spoon handle earrings. Photo courtesy of wholesouljewelry.com.

Sculpted fork pendants. Photo courtesy of men-access.com.

Sculpted fork pendants. Photo courtesy of men-access.com.

Spoon handle bracelet. Photo courtesy of wholesouljewelry.com.

Spoon handle bracelet. Photo courtesy of wholesouljewelry.com.

Spoon handle earrings. Photo courtesy of silverspoonjewelry.com.

Spoon handle earrings. Photo courtesy of silverspoonjewelry.com.

"Flying Squid" fork necklace. Photo courtesy of doctorgus on Etsy.

“Flying Squid” fork necklace. Photo courtesy of doctorgus on Etsy.

Amazing fork octopus pendant! Photo courtesy of wholesouljewelry.com.

Amazing fork octopus pendant! Photo courtesy of wholesouljewelry.com.