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With hot, current jewelry designs like the one-of-a-kind engagement ring that Natalie Portman has proudly sported since her engagement in 2010, jewelry design can seem very right now and modern. Yet, jewelry design is an art that dates back centuries. Jewelry refers to a wide range of personal adornments, including earrings, necklaces, bracelets, rings, and even brooches and pins. Whether we're talking about costume jewelry or priceless stones, the design is often what makes a piece of jewelry a work of art.
The Origins of Jewelry Design: Africa
Try this on for size: Jewelry was created before there was written language or spoken word. The most basic forms of jewelry date back about 75,000 years ago to Blombos Cave in South Africa. The humans who lived there fashioned and designed jewelry from the tick shell, which is a species of sea snail. They took the shell from dead sea snails and used a bone tool to make a hole in the shell. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, before precious metals were discovered, early humans who lived by the seaside often used shells, fish teeth and pebbles in their jewelry designs.
Venus of Hohle Fels
The oldest complex form of jewelry design is seen with the Venus of Hohle Fels. This complex piece of jewelry clearly outlines a woman's body in some detail, showcasing her figure. This Upper Paleolithic necklace figurine is dated between 35,000 and 40,000 years ago. It was discovered by archeologists near Schelklingen, Germany. It's a remarkable piece for people from the Cro-Magnon period, and it is the oldest undisputed complex form of jewelry design.
Precious Metals in Jewelry Design Development
Around 7,000 years ago, copper -- the first precious metal to be used -- made its first appearance in jewelry design, and its use spread all over the world. Fast forward to 5,000 years ago in ancient Egypt, where they used precious gems and colored glass in their intricate jewelry designs. Tombs in Mesopotamia that date back 4,000 years show lush jewelry designs, including lapis lazuli crowns with golden figurines designed on them, collar necklaces and jewel-headed pins.
History of Jewelry Design in America
After World War II, people flocked to art as a means of escapism. The modern jewelry movement in America began as a result of this desire for beauty and art. The founder of this movement is Georg Jensen, whose specialty was Art Nouveau. His art company encouraged people to innovate, and even after he died, his successors experimented and expanded jewelry design in ways that had never been tried before. The modern jewelry movement is marked by plastics, precious metal clay and a newly found ability to paint stones. Also, the quality of artificial gemstones has increased dramatically, making attractive artificial jewelry within reach of average citizens.
Jewelry Design Today
The biggest thing in jewelry today is traditional design, but the most innovative jewelry today is called bling-bling. You know the thing. It's a type of new jewelry that does not imitate the past. This flashy, in-your-face jewelry was popularized by rap stars in the 1990s, but the concept has spread so far that it means any type of ostentatious jewelry design.
Materials in Jewelry Design
You don't have to be an alchemist or have the jewels of the Queen of England to learn about the best alloys for your fine jewelry. Nearly all alloys have been used as the base for jewelry design. In ancient Rome, bronze was used to fashion precious jewelry pieces for the well-to-do. Now, however, you'd have a hard time walking into Tiffany's and finding a bronze necklace or bracelet. Instead, the most popular materials now used in jewelry design are silver, gold, white gold, titanium, palladium and platinum. Common gemstones used by past and present jewelry designers include amethysts, rubies, sapphires and emeralds.
Jewelry Design in Pop Culture
While it's not a common profession in books and movies, there are some famous fictional jewelry designers who have helped shape the dreams and ambitions of designers of jewels through the years. Alice Hoffman, who is known for writing the book behind the blockbuster movie, "Practical Magic," brought a mystical touch to jewelry-making in her book, "The Story Sisters." In the book, a young girl finds her salvation when she tries her hand at making jewelry. The powers that lie in the hands of the jewelry designer are romanticized and described in detail.