Seeking the Art of Jewelry across Ages(I)

At the Torpedo Factory Art Center in Alexandria, Virginia, you can see the work of jewelry designer Susan Sanders. Her many gold and silver designs have a clean and modern look.

One of her silver rings has a bold geometric design with small smooth stones inlayed into the metal.

How did she make this ring? Today we answer this question as we explore the history and methods of jewelry design.

People from almost all cultures throughout history have been making and wearing jewelry. Jewelry is valued for its visual quality, the richness of its materials and the expert way it is made. Since ancient times people have worn jewelry like rings, bracelets and necklaces to decorate their fingers, wrists and necks.

Ancient peoples who lived near the ocean used the shells of sea creatures to make jewelry. Other ancient peoples used materials like small colored rocks and animal bones and teeth. Jewelry often was made from whatever material was considered rare and costly. It expressed the wealth and social importance of its wearer.

Later cultures learned how to find and work with gold. One of gold’s important qualities is that it is a very soft metal. It can be easily formed or even flattened into extremely thin sheets of metal.

Some of the oldest and finest known jewelry comes from the burial site of the Sumerian ruler Queen Pu-abi. This Mesopotamian culture existed more than four thousand five hundred years ago.

In this area that is now Iraq, archeologists discovered fine examples of gold jewelry. Many of the jewelry designs combined the brightness of gold with the intense blue stone called lapus lazuli. This jewelry shows some of the earliest examples of metalworking methods such as filigree and granulation.

Granulation is a technique in which tiny gold balls are placed in a decorative pattern and joined onto a gold surface. Filigree is made by arranging fine gold or silver wires into patterns or images.

Filigree work can either be joined onto a metal surface, or left as “openwork.” Many cultures have left extraordinary examples of this technique. Examples include the jewelry of ancient Greeks and the eighteenth century Qing period in China.

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* Series articles:  

 Seeking the Art of Jewelry across Ages (I)

Seeking the Art of Jewelry across Ages (II)

* Original resource: Seeking the Art of Jewelry across Ages(I)

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