Jewellery has been a symbolic, cultural and famed element throughout culture, art and history. Culturally and historically, jewellery has often been used as a symbol of various meanings; Status, gender, age, role and religious support.
With some of the earliest forms of beaded jewellery originating in Ancient Egypt, Rome, Africa, India and throughout the Middle East; these early and current periods and cultures are who I draw inspiration from:
Ancient Egyptian beadwork and jewellery was in no ways exclusive; pride in personal adornment was extremely prevalent. Women, men, children and even in some cases animals were adorned using rich colours and materials. With beliefs that jewellery could bring good fortune, protect from evil and increase the chance of succeeding to the afterlife -jewellery was a significant facet of these times 5,000 years ago. Beads made of lapis lazuli and turquoise were used heavily as they were mined locally within Egypt and Afghanistan. Gold was in abundance and was also used heavily. Clay, glass, bones and shells were also used within the jewellery of the time. Certain roles within the community could be identified with a corresponding style of beadwork or colour use.
Historically and currently the use of jewellery and beadwork across the African regions is some of the richest and diverse in the world. With heavy use of glass, metal and stone, jewellery within Africa is sacredly important and holds great meaning and cultural history. Here I draw my inspiration and pay my respects to the integral importance of beads within the African countries and regions, specifically the Krobo region. Some of the first findings of beadwork within Africa show that many jewelled arrangements consisted of shells, stones and metals, but an anguished shift was seen when European traders invaded African soil and began trading materials like glass for slaves, spices and gold.
“ As body ornaments, the Krobo wear beads on different parts of the body, in various colours and shapes to different places and ceremonies. Wearing a particular type of bead can tell whether a person is sad or happy; tell the social and spiritual status within the community; the association with a particular group or tell a period in life of the Krobo. This makes Krobo beads symbolic. The Krobo beads celebration comes to the fore during the initiation rites (dipo) for young adolescence girls into womanhood and adulthood during which beads are used profusely. Many Ghanaians therefore associate the use of beads mainly to dipo but there are so many other uses of beads in the Krobo culture.” (AFFUM, 2009)
The Krobo region of South East Ghana produces rich glass beads using recycled glass powder. The use of cowrie shells are also eminent. Cowrie shells were one of the first forms of currency and were prized for many reasons. A sign of wealth and prosperity that was considered to be affirmations from the gods existing within the waters of Africa’s coasts. (Gaibole)
Ancient Rome saw some of the most exquisite jewellery in the world. Through early trade and the conquering of the Mediterranean the Ancient Romans arranged and created art with jewels from around the globe. Roman men typically only adorned themselves in rings, usually solid gold, and woman generally had a more extensive display of jewellery. Precious gems such as gold, lapis lazuli, emeralds and turquoise were commonly imported from Egypt. Roman jewellery also commonly exhibited pearls. Pearls were so highly regarded in Ancient Roman that efforts were made to prohibit certain people from wearing them if they were considered unworthy. Through some of the earliest forms of overseas trade, Persia saw wealth through its trading of pearls with Rome.
The Australian Museum. 2018. The Jeweller in ancient Egypt.
Archaeology of Ancient Egypt. 2014. Ancient Egyptian Jewelry and Amulets.
Image Source: The World of the Egyptians, Champollion, Jacques
AFFUM, M., 2009. BEADS IN THE KROBO CULTURE.
Gaibole, L., The Gift of Cowrie.
Image Source : Trade beads, ringsandthings.com
(ANDERSON, Å., 2021. The history of pearls: one of nature's greatest miracles.)
(Singapuri, N., 2020. Jewelry of the Roman Empire. Museum of Jewelry.)
Image Source : Pearls: A Natural History, Landman, Mikkelsen