Jewellery (Costume) – Definition and a Brief History
27 Oct, 2020

It really annoys me at times when some people think that when they hear the term, or terms, costume jewellery or junk jewellery, they automatically think that it’s cheap, tatty, worthless. Throwaway even.

Yet, this isn’t the case. I looked up the definition of costume jewellery and this is what I found:

costume jewellery
I added my own to the definition. The use of genuine gems can be part of costume jewellery. It doesn’t have to be faux items.

Now all of this stems from a few years back. When I was starting to attend craft fairs. A man approached my stall, scanned it over and his eyes fell onto a 2 piece jewellery set. It was a simple design: chain with a black, faux, faceted stone and matching drop earrings. He looked at it. Then at me and said, “Looks cheap. Looks tatty. Not worth the price,” (I think I was selling it for around £10, something similar to what the High St and supermarkets would sell something of that design at). Then he walked off!

Fuming didn’t cover it. Anyway, it’s (obviously) something I won’t forget, I put if down to experience and it gave me something to think about and develop on.

Take a look at my creations now:

I have moved from using faux gems to genuine ones. Yet, I’m still keeping to that original element of the costume jewellery definition: something to finish off/adorn an outfit/costume or garment.

I will continue to fight in the costume jewellery’s corner to hopefully get people to realise that it can be of really good, high quality.

So all of this got me thinking. Over lockdown I completed the Centre of Excellence’s course Jewellery Making Business Diploma. I did it to prove to myself that I am taking my jewellery making seriously.

One section of the course was about the history jewellery.

A Brief History on Jewellery

We (humans that is) have been creating jewellery for centuries, as far back as 75,000-100,000 years ago we used nassarius snail shells, 40,000 years ago we were creating beads from small fragments of eggshells and carved bracelets from mammoth ivory. Invention, creativity and design has to start somewhere.

It’s thought that in Ancient China, not only did they make silver pieces, they also made jewellery from the gemstone Jade. A ring was made using a type of milling machine, which was a technique that wasn’t used in the Western World until centuries later. Techniques that were used in Ancient China, dates back to between 4th – 7th centuries.

In Ancient Egypt, they used gold and the blue gemstone lapis lazuli as they believed they were gifts from the Gods to the Royal families and therefore can only be adorned by them and no-one else (of lesser stature). They did use other gemstones, like carnelian, calcite and amethyst and didn’t shy away from using coloured glass in their designs. It seems, like with the techniques used in Ancient China, the techniques used by the Ancient Egyptians to create jewellery are similar to the ones we use today.

For more a bit more info and some pictures of Ancient Egyptian jewellery, check out another blog of mine here.

Conclusion (Of Sorts)

From the earliest discoveries of jewellery, through the times of other ancient civilisations like Ancient Greece and Rome, right up through the 17th (Renaissance), 18th (Industrial Revolution) and 19th centuries to Present day, there has always been an impact on jewellery in some way.

Whether it’s due to status or occasions, jewellery has influenced the next generation in some way. Statement pieces are making somewhat of a comeback. Trends seem to go through a 30 year cycle – I’m kind of thinking that jewellery trends are similar to fashion trends, but I could be wrong.

So who knows, the invisible chain/floating pendant may make a comeback. I remember wearing one back in the 1990s. Although, thinking about it, I doubt that particular design will, as it was a type of fishing wire to create that ‘floating’ look, so thinking about health and safety I could have thought of a better example!!

I guess what I am trying to say is that, please don’t snub costume jewellery. Someone has actually taken the time to design it and have it made – yes, even the pieces you see on the shelves or High St shops (thinking of Primark in particular) and supermarkets.

More info

If you would like to read a bit more about the history of jewellery, I recommend this article published by The V&A.