A deeper meaning in jewellery… part 1 – the origan of jewels

Man is a strange creature. It is even the only individual who has a permanent tendency to make his appearance more and more attractive. An ideal tool for this is wearing jewellery. Sometimes they look enchantingly beautiful, but they only really come to life when someone wears them in the right way and at the right time.
The wearing of jewellery is of all times and people do it for various reasons; to please, to express their social status, to feel better, …

Jewels originate from the graceful and colourful embellishment of the body on the occasion of certain mostly magical or religious rituals

The materials, the design, the colour patterns and the place on the body where they are worn depend on the cultural practices of the different peoples and their geographical location.

An engagement ring (with diamonds, because diamonds are forever) and a wedding ring are probably the most famous “symbolic” jewels in our society with a clear meaning to everyone.

engagement ring
modern engagement ring

But the symbolic value of jewels was once much richer. It is one of the historical achievements of our culture.

Man has always worn jewellery. Based on Charles Darwin‘s “natural selection” theory, one step further can be taken. Wearing jewels has already begun in higher animal species. In almost all species, the male is more impressive than the female. Just think of the mane of a lion, the antlers of a deer, …

Male animals display signals about power and their reproductive sense with their natural tools. Not surprising, therefore, that in many nature tribes more ornaments and jewels are worn by the men than by the women. It is even acceptable to think that decorating the body was originally a man’s business. The wearing of jewellery had primarily a communicative value in connection with the position of a person in the community.

That is why jewellery is mainly worn on top of the clothing. They add to the occurrence of the wearer an element that is judged inevitably.

Jewellery explains something about the box in which we have to place a person

Originally these mostly colourful objects were worn in a magical context. They were, as it were, inspired and they rejected the evil (amulet) or attracted the good powers (talisman).

Image part of the National Museum of World Cultures, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7773686

This symbolism that still exists in the jewellery of some primitive tribes, however, was lost in our civilization (an exception may be the distinctive and public signs).

Chevalier légion d'honneur
légion d’honneur, France
Image thanks to 
Chevalier_légion_d’honneur.jpg: République françaisederivative work: Titimaster (talk) – Chevalier_légion_d’honneur.jpg, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11325210

A necklace of animal teeth for example, is perhaps the first type of jewel ever worn. This shows the tough hunter that he and no one else has conquered the predator.

For example, jewellery denotes wealth and is therefore composed of materials that are rare and sought after.

For the Tolai from New-Britain, for example, these are nassa shells that they supply from afar, while going on dangerous expeditions. The ornaments of giraffe hair or serpentine vertebrae refer to a better lineage among East African nomads.
In addition to exclusive materials, one often uses raw materials that are found close to the living environment. Usually it concerns materials of animal or vegetable origin, with which peoples express their appreciation for nature.
But also in “modern” cultures wearing jewellery is a form of communication. They testify of political or spiritual power (a crown, scepter, a coat of arms, …) of wealth (precious materials) and of love.

Crown of The Netherlands

Of course, jewellery can be labeled as beautiful. Man, as a vain creature, knew quickly that jewellery made more beautiful.

Making oneself beautiful and confirming themselves in a certain status are among the most important activities of man

As jewellery expresses status, they have to radiate wealth. Hence the use of rare, expensive materials.
Since the Middle Ages, the Church was against the excessive use of jewellery – tempting tools of the devil – but the prodigy at the European courts was unstoppable.
There is the example of Charles of Orléans, nephew of the French king, who ordered the night before the decisive battle at Azincourt in 1415, a whopping 586 pearls… to be sewn on his sleeves the notes of the song: Madame, je suis plus joyeux.
That prodigy got an extra boost from the end of the 15th century, when thanks to the discovery voyages, an unprecedented amount of precious metals and gemstones was introduced in Europe.

If you are interested to read more about the history of jewellery… stay tuned for part 2, later this week.