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Jewelry-Making Through the Years

A summary of the history of jewelry-making. It describes different techniques and materials that were used throughout the years.
Mia Morales
Jewelry is very popular as a gift today, especially between people in a romantic relationship. People often offer diamond rings when they propose to their future spouses. Other people wear certain necklaces to show their religious beliefs.
In the past, people also associated jewelry with specific superstitions. For example, certain kinds of amulets made of gems were thought to protect people from illnesses or evil. Jewelry through the ages has looked different and served different purposes. However, certain techniques have lasted throughout the years.

Natural Elements

Since the items used to make jewelry are delicate and usually do not last through natural disasters, it is impossible to tell what the earliest pieces of jewelry were made of. However, they were probably made of things that people could find in nature, such as rocks, bones, and seashells.
People used them to make recognizable types of jewelry such as necklaces and bracelets. The specific materials varied from region to region based on what was available. The items that were perceived to be the rarest would also be the most expensive.

The Addition of Gold

Although people today may have trouble believing it, the earliest jewelry did not contain gold, since people did not know how to work it. The metal is soft enough that even without specialized equipment, people can hammer it into sheets and then twist it.
However, people did eventually learn how to melt and mold it. Archeologists have found jewelry in modern-day Iraq that is 4,500 years old and contains gold encircling lapis lazuli, which is a type of gem.


Today, most people associate jewelry with metal that has been melted and shaped into an attractive design. However, cultures that did not have the means to make jewelry this way turned to a different method: carving.
While materials like wood and clay are particularly easy to carve, people also used harder materials such as ivory or jade, depending on what was available.

First Methods of Metal Jewelry-Making

Many of the methods of jewelry-making that people still use today have their roots in ancient cultures. Ancient people figured out how to cast these precious metals using the lost-wax method.
Jewelry-makers would make a clay mold for their jewelry by first making the design in wax. Once the wax melted away and the clay baked, the mold could be used to shape the melted metal. Artisans today still continue this tradition.
The ancient Egyptians are responsible for developing important methods of jewelry formation. They made jewelry with the cloisonné technique, in which they would make a pattern with gold and then fill in the gaps. Glass, gems or other precious materials could be used. They also helped develop certain kinds of casting.

Newer Methods

Some jewelry techniques are not as old as those listed above, but they are still not recent developments. For example, since at least 1100 A.D., the metal parts of some pieces of jewelry were created by molding metal with investment casting, which involves making a mold with wax and glass and then putting it in an oven.
Today, more people are starting to make jewelry at their homes using only basic equipment such as pliers, wire and beads. While jewelry-making would not be where it is today without the contributions of ancient people, modern-day artisans have made many changes in order to meet the expectations of current audiences.