Several other metal working methods were developed in ancient times and still define jewelry design today. They include cloisonne work and casting.
Cloisonné involves forming metal borders to make different contained areas on the surface of the piece of jewelry. These spaces are then filled with different pieces of finely carved precious stones or with small bits of glass that are melted together.
The ancient Egyptians were experts of the cloisonne method. For example, at the Metropolitan Museum in New York City you can see a beautiful cloisonne necklace made more than four thousand years ago.
More than three hundred small stones make up a detailed image of Egyptian symbols such as birds and snake creatures. The symbols tell about the sun god giving long life to the Egyptian ruler of that time, King Senwosret the Second.
For thousands of years, Egyptian jewelry represented a great tradition of artistic skill. Many of the pieces were not only beautiful, but also believed to be magical. Amulet jewelry was believed to protect people or give them special powers.
For example, scarabs in the form of the beetle insect were believed to be the symbol of new life. Jewelers in ancient Egypt made many examples of finely carved scarab rings and necklaces that still exist today.
One very old technique of metal casting is called the lost-wax method. With this method, an artist carves the shape of jewelry he or she wants to make out of wax material. This shape is placed into a piece of clay, which is heated at high temperatures. The clay takes the form of the ring, but the wax inside melts away because of the heat. This is why the method is called “lost-wax”.
The original carved wax model is lost, but its form remains in the clay. Hot liquid metal such as gold is placed inside this clay form. As the metal cools and hardens, it takes the form left by the wax.
The rulers of Asante in modern day Ghana wore gold jewelry made with the lost-wax method. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Asante jewelers made beautiful, fine, detailed gold objects. The ruling family and other leaders wore objects as symbols of their importance, wealth, and power.
Granulation, filigree, cloisonne and casting are only a few of the metalworking methods used by jewelers both in the past and today.
Of course, not all jewelry is made by metalworking. Many cultures throughout history used other valuable materials as well. For example, in China, carved jade stone was part of an ancient jewelry tradition. This green stone was beautiful and also thought to have magical powers.
In southern Nigeria during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, only the ruling family of Benin had the right to wear jewelry carved of white ivory material.
These are only a few examples of the creativity humans have demonstrated with the art of making jewelry. What kinds of jewelry traditions exist where you live?
The methods we have described are still being used by artists today. Modern technology and newer methods have only added to the countless ways that stones, metals and other materials can be formed.
Today, jewelry designers combine old and new methods with styles from around the world. Many also use unexpected materials, such as plastics, cotton and wood. The creative possibilities of modern jewelry making are limitless.
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* Series article: Seeking the Art of Jewelry across Ages (I)
* Original source: Seeking the Art of Jewelry across Ages(II)