By Katie Austin
If anything is a constant in the history of mankind, it is evolution. Just as humans themselves have evolved, so has nearly everything that the human hand has touched. Over time, innovations in engineering caused simple cave dwellings to metamorphose into luxury high-rise condos. Centuries of genetic engineering have transformed squat, pithy and seedy wild bananas into the long, sweet and tiny-seeded Cavendish specimens that flank supermarket produce aisles. In a few generations, selective breeding turned wolf scavengers who followed us on the hunt into man’s best friend. It should come as no surprise, then, that human adornments would evolve as well, and a prime example of the evolution of jewelry comes in a most curious form- A strand not composed of diamonds or rubies, but of fish bones.
The European Principality of Monaco holds the dual distinctions of being the second-smallest and the most densely-populated country in the world. For jewelry fans like us, though, Monaco’s most important distinction is its standing as the source of an important archaeological find: A simple, 25,000-year-old fish bone necklace found in an ancient cave. Experts haven’t come to a consensus about what sort of social significance the necklace holds. Some argue that the necklace could be a gift to a favored loved one, while others surmise that it might have signified the wearer’s special part that he or she played in a social group. Whatever its social significance, the piece’s importance in the world of jewelry is clear; it’s the oldest existing example of jewelry with findings.
No matter what your level of expertise in the world of jewelry, you have an appreciation for findings whether you’ve realized it or not. This is because findings are the little unsung heroes that connect multiple jewelry pieces together and keep your jewelry on your person. The pins that join individual links to form your favorite bracelet? Findings. The little lobster claw clasp and tab that keep your treasured necklace from taking an impromptu swan dive down a storm drain? Findings. The advent of findings not only assured that fewer treasured pieces of jewelry would be lost, but it also meant that for the first time, jewelry’s physical properties weren’t limited to solid, carved pieces or objects perforated and strung on continuous pieces of cord.
But it wasn’t just findings that caused a wild evolution in the composition of jewelry. Jewelry history was changed forever around 12,000 BCE when humans learned to farm and, instead of constantly traveling to find food, put down roots in stationary settlements along major rivers.
One of the earliest civilizations that embraced the use of gold in jewelry was Ancient Egypt. Thanks to the Nile River, as well as the deserts of Nubia, Ancient Egypt had a wealth of stones and metals, including gold, copper, pearl, emerald, lapis lazuli, carnelian, obsidian, garnet and turquoise. While copper was readily available to the masses, gold was more obscure, giving the metal the distinction as a material for the wealthy, the powerful and the privileged. Although gold has become available to a wider swath of people over time, the sense of importance that Ancient Egyptians gave to gold lives on to this day.
Ancient Egypt is regarded as a highly advanced civilization for its time, making lasting contributions in the fields of science, engineering, art and mathematics. Their intellectual and artistic advancement has also had a lasting effect on gold-smithing. For one thing, their culture positively owned findings, utilizing them with abandon to create evermore intricate gem-encrusted pendants, protective amulets and cuff bracelets. Their signature piece of jewelry, though, was the Egyptian wide collar, a plate collar necklace that stretched down to the breast and out to the collarbones, all put together with dozens and dozens of findings to create a breathtaking whole out of sometimes hundreds of parts. They largely consisted of hammered sheets of gold, often shaped into the visages of gods and goddesses and engraved with remarkably meticulous patterns. When one observes the intricately textured grooves of one of Micky Roof’s Wrinkle Rings, it’s easy to see that the Egyptians’ mastery of shaping malleable metals has endured. But Ancient Egypt wasn’t the only player in early civilization’s gold-smithing game. Visit our blog next week for a whirlwind tour inside the jewelry boxes of a variety of early civilizations, from Ancient China to Rome!