A history of jewellery
The word jewellery derives from the Latin jocale, which translates as plaything. The earliest examples date back more than 100,000 years and were made from shells, teeth and bones. The use of metal to make jewellery began around seven thousand years ago and subsequently developed around the world. In addition to its use as pure decoration, jewellery has been used to represent wealth and social position, for ceremonial purposes and as currency. Some functional items such as belt buckles and brooches became more decorative, often having designs inspired by the natural world and mythic or religious themes. In modern times the artistic value of jewellery has become more important than the symbolic value, although the use of wedding rings for both women and men has been popularised.
Beginning around five thousand years ago, Egyptians began creating jewellery which was worn to represent their wealth and power both in life and death. They preferred to use gold because of its rarity value and because it was more workable than other metals and they combined it with precious gems and glass.
From around 3,500 years ago Greeks began making jewellery using precious gems, gold and silver. By 300 BC they were creating cameos from coloured stones. Jewellery was mostly worn during ceremonial events or given as gifts believed to have magical properties.
Romans made jewellery using materials ranging from bronze, gold and silver to diamonds, emeralds and amber. Women wore a range of jewelled necklaces, earrings, bracelets and rings. Men tended to wear only rings, with engraved gems used to seal documents using wax.
From around two and a half thousand years ago, the Celts began producing elaborate jewellery, generally working with bronze, iron and gold. Celtic crafts often used symmetrical designs and animal heads and their best known jewellery are the torcs worn by the Celtic warrior aristocracy. They also created amulets, rings and brooches which were among the most finely worked in the Classical world.
Using amber, glass, silver and gold the Anglo Saxons created colourful jewellery which was valued for its rarity and appreciated for its quality. Items found in burials include necklaces, earrings, hairpins and bracelets. Bronze was the most widely used metal in jewellery, whilst silver and gold were reserved for the rich and powerful.
Increasing global trade brought a wider range of precious stones into use for the production of jewellery, such as emeralds, rubies, amethyst and topaz as well as diamonds and pearls. Fashions spread for wealthy women to wear sets of diamond necklaces, tiaras, brooches, earrings and rings.
The increasing public interest in the works of previous centuries and the growing middle classes of the Industrial Revolution brought the need for more affordable jewellery. Jewellers began to work with less expensive materials and introduce industrial processes to make work which appealed to a wider market and the wearing of costume jewellery grew in popularity. During this period famous companies such as Tiffanys and Cartier were established, becoming famous for the quality of their craftsmanship.
During the 1890s Art Nouveau, and the British Arts and Crafts Movement, began to influence jewellers and they focused more on artistic design than the setting of stones. They were inspired to create colourful works using enamelling and subjects drawn from nature such as flowers and birds.
The turmoil of the early twentieth century, changed tastes from the perceived decadence of previous decades and to more restrained forms of expression. With improvements to the quality of mass produced goods during the 1920s and 1930s, materials such as aluminium and plastics also began to be used in the production of jewellery with the quality of the design being as valued as the materials used.
From the late 1940s, jewellery as a wearable art form and as a part of self expression has grown. The development of new materials and continuing improvements to production techniques, have democratised jewellery, so that it has become a part of popular fashion.
Tools of the jewellery trade
Jewellery making requires a variety of tools to create different styles and techniques. Here are some of the main tools used in jewellery making, along with examples of their use:
Pliers: Pliers are an essential tool for jewellery making. Round-nose pliers are used to create loops and spirals, while chain-nose pliers are used for gripping and bending wire. Flat-nose pliers are used for holding and manipulating small pieces, and bent-nose pliers are used for reaching difficult angles.
Wire Cutters: Wire cutters are used to cut different types of wire to the desired length. They can be used to cut wire for creating wire-wrapped loops, jump rings, and other wire components.
Bead Reamer: A bead reamer is used to smooth out rough edges and enlarge bead holes. This tool can be used to make beads fit onto thicker wire or thread.
Beading Needles: Beading needles are long, thin needles used for stringing beads. They come in different sizes and are designed to fit different types of bead cord.
Jewellery Saw: A jewellery saw is used to cut metal sheet and wire. It is also used for creating intricate shapes and designs.
Jewellery Hammer: A jewellery hammer is used to flatten, shape, and texture metal. Different types of hammers are used for different effects, such as planishing or forming.
Jewellery File: A jewellery file is used to smooth out rough edges on metal pieces. Different types of files are used for different purposes, such as shaping and finishing.
These are just a few of the main tools used in jewellery making. By using the right tools and techniques, jewellery makers can create unique and beautiful pieces that showcase their creativity and individual style.
Materials used in jewellery
Makers can use a very wide range of materials to make jewellery. It is important to remember that in many cases the pieces are going to be against skin and therefore require a good level of quality control.
Precious metals like gold and silver are very popular. However, sometimes going for items that are unique like artist / artisan made lampwork beads.
Other popular materials include dichroic or murano glass.
salt/sea or fresh water pearls
hand dyed silks
other natural materials
Designers can use a variety of materials to connect beads etc to form a unique piece. As well as non-toxic metals they use, silks, leathers and other flexible materials. In some case the wires used are a little thicker allowing for shaping.
Techniques of jewellery
Jewellery making involves a range of techniques that allow makers to create unique and beautiful pieces. Here are some of the main techniques used in jewellery making, along with specific examples:
Wire Wrapping: Wire wrapping is the technique of using wire to create jewellery components, such as loops, spirals, and coils. It is a popular technique for creating pendants, earrings, and bracelets. Examples of wire-wrapped jewellery include wire-wrapped gemstone pendants and wire-wrapped beaded earrings.
Beadwork: Beadwork involves using beads to create intricate designs and patterns. Beads can be used to create necklaces, bracelets, and earrings, as well as other jewellery components such as bead caps and connectors. Examples of beadwork include beaded fringe earrings and beaded multi-strand necklaces.
Metalworking: Metalworking involves shaping and forming metal to create jewellery components. Techniques such as soldering, texturing, and stamping can be used to create unique metal pieces. Examples of metalworking include stamped metal pendants and textured metal cuff bracelets.
Stringing: Stringing involves using thread or wire to string beads and create jewellery. This technique is often used for creating necklaces and bracelets, as well as other jewellery components such as tassels and pom-poms. Examples of stringing include knotted silk bead necklaces and beaded wire-wrapped bangles.
Resin Casting: Resin casting is the technique of pouring liquid resin into a mould and allowing it to harden to create a jewellery component. This technique allows makers to create unique and colourful resin pieces. Examples of resin casting include resin pendants and resin-filled bezel earrings.
These are just a few of the main techniques used in jewellery making. By combining different techniques and materials, jewellery makers can create unique and beautiful pieces that showcase their creativity and individual style.
Tips and tricks of jewellery
Accepting commissions for work is a key part of any craft persons business. It allows the customer to dictate specific requirements that make the piece very special. This is going to cost a bit more but it is worth it. It can effectively guarantee that the piece is the only one in the world.
Many of the handmade jewellery designers and makers listed have been making pieces for many years. If you are looking to start out, then you could study at classes run by experienced makers or at college.
Jewellery as decoration
Many fashion items can be enhanced and made unique with the addition of beads and other jewellery designs.
Quality jewellery should be hallmarked at an assay office. You will be assured that the metal meets the legal requirements for purity and quality.
Do you want to get your beads evenly spaced along a wire or cord? Take a plastic drinking straw, cut it to the length you want between your beads and then slit it along its length. Place your bead on the wire or cord and knot or crimp it into position. Then place your piece of drinking straw on the wire or cord, thread on the next bead, knot or crimp in place and so on. Resulting in perfectly spaced beads.
Ideas and inspiration for jewellery
Jewellery artists can get there inspiration from many sources:
the natural world
ethnic craft and designs
Products to purchase
Some of the things jewellery makers create, include:
Making handmade contemporary or traditional jewellery can be a good revenue generating pursuit. Ideal for people returning to craft, part time or fulltime crafts people.
Jewellery is in the top three disciplines chosen by crafts people along with textiles and ceramics. It is very popular and therefore more competitive. Often craft fairs will either be oversubscribed for jewellery or sell out of spaces for jewellery very quickly.
I love making Jewellery with wire or any kind of materials that is going to enhance my creativity and designs. Using different gauges of wire genuine gemstones of different colours really brings your designs to life. What I personally find valuable is sketching my idea which take into account the size the item of jewellery type of beads and materials used. This will prevent any wastage of materials which can become expensive as I have done in the past so take the time to sketch out your design first. It does not have to be a masterpiece as I cannot draw perfectly but at least you have your unique design all planned out - Veronica Cooksey.