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Linking Young Minds Together
     Volume 2 Issue 33 | August 29, 2007|


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An Ornamental History!

Sajeda Tamanna Hussain

'Mirror, mirror, on the wall, Who's the most beautiful of all?'
'It is thee, my Lady/Lord!'

Isn't that something we all want to hear? Well, whether that is what our mirrors, or in other words, our very own reflections tell us or not, every one of us tries to beautify himself in his own way, in order to look and feel his best! We adorn ourselves in the best attire; that little brush of the gel, a shimmering gloss of the lipstick, a slight touch of an alluring perfume… and what not. Among all those hundreds of things that we do in order to become Cinderella or Prince Charming her/himself, ornaments and jewelry have always played a significant role!

Jewelry (jewellery), typically refers to articles worn on the body for decoration. The most common forms of jewelry are earrings, necklaces, pendants, bangles, anklets, finger rings, bracelets, etc. The less common ones include tiara, armlets, toe rings, nose pins/ rings, etc. The word jewelry is derived from the word jewel, which was anglicized from the Old French "jouel" in around the 13th century. Further tracing leads back to the Latin word "jocale", meaning plaything. Jewelry is one of the oldest forms of body adornment; recently found 100,000 year-old Nassarius shells that were made into beads are thought to be the oldest known jewelry.

Although in earlier times jewelry was created for more practical uses, such as wealth storage and pinning clothes together, in recent times it has been used almost exclusively for decoration. The first pieces of jewelry were made from natural materials, such as bone, animal teeth, shell, wood, and carved stone. Jewelry was often made for people of high importance to show their status and, in many cases, they were buried with it. Jewelry is made out of almost every material known and has been made to adorn nearly every body part, from hairpins to toe rings and many more types of jewelry. While high-quality and artistic pieces are made with gemstones and precious metals, less-costly costume jewelry is made from less-valuable materials and is mass-produced. New variations include wire sculpture (wrap) jewelry, using anything from base metal wire with rock tumbled stone to precious metals and precious gemstones. The first signs of jewelry came from the Cro-Magnons, ancestors of Homo sapiens, around 40,000 years ago. The Cro-Magnons originally migrated from the Middle East to settle in Europe and replace the Neanderthals as the dominant species. The jewelry pieces they made were crude necklaces and bracelets of bone, teeth and stone hung on pieces of string or animal sinew, or pieces of carved bone used to secure clothing together. In some cases, jewelry had shell or mother-of-pearl pieces. In southern Russia, carved bracelets made of mammoth tusk have been found. Most commonly, these have been found as grave-goods and it was only around 7,000 years ago, that the first sign of copper jewelry was seen.

With time, jewelry found its own niche in our daily lives. Each culture developed its own signature jewelry, for example, the nose pin is a common form of jewelry in the South East Asian regions, but rarely worn in the West. There was also jewelry for different occasions. In the 19th century, the Jet Brooch had widely become known for the symbol of mourning because it was in England where Queen Victoria was mostly seen wearing it after the death of Prince Albert. Till today, the tradition holds onto its roots. The ring finger found its name, when the wedding ring first took its place on the finger next to the pinkie, in Eastern Europe. As is the case with a lot of other things, jewelry truly became popular during the Renaissance, when increased exploration and trade of a wide variety of gemstones and precious metals like gold, and silver allowed different cultures to share their ornamental customs and designs. When Napoleon Bonaparte was crowned as Emperor of France in 1804, he revived the style and grandeur of jewelry and fashion in France. Under Napoleon's rule, jewelers introduced parures, suites of matching jewelry, such as a diamond tiara, diamond earrings, diamond rings, a diamond brooch and a diamond necklace. Both of Napoleon's wives had beautiful sets such as these and wore them regularly. Another fashion trend resurrected by Napoleon was the cameo. Soon after his cameo decorated crown was seen, cameos were highly sought after. The period also saw the early stages of costume jewelry, with fish scale covered glass beads in place of pearls or conch shell cameos instead of stone cameos. New terms were coined to differentiate the arts: jewelers who worked in cheaper materials were called bijoutiers, while jewelers who worked with expensive materials were called joailliers; a practice which continues to this day.

It can be difficult to determine where jewelry leaves off and body modification takes over, because they are different sub-categories of body art. For the most part, jewelry used in body modification is plain; the use of simple silver studs, rings and earrings predominates. In fact, common jewelry pieces such as earrings are themselves a form of body modification, as they are accommodated by creating a small hole in the human ear. Body modification or not, ornaments have long since added to our sense of individuality. Gold may lose popularity to platinum, pearls may take over opals, rubies may lose to diamonds, but jewelry as a whole, seems to be one form of fashion that is not going to leave our company for centuries to come!

Student of North South University

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