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Egyptian jewelry: Origins and history

Egyptian jewelry: Origins and history


All about Egyptian ethnic jewelry

From hieroglyphs to pyramids, ancient Egypt has always fascinated the modern world. The various discoveries on this civilization make that it continues to be the center of attention of many researchers and professionals. Just like other Egyptian objects, fashion accessories, especially egyptian jewelry from ancient Egypt are singular. How did the Egyptians of the time of the Pharaohs adorn themselves? What is the history of this jewelry? What materials are they made of? This article answers these questions and many others.

Origins and history of ancient Egyptian jewelry

The jewels in ancient Egypt were imbued with symbolism. What particularly characterizes Egypt and Egyptian art is the finesse of their realization, whether it is the scenes engraved on the stone of the buildings, or on the fineness of the objects found in the tombs, the refined character of the jewels is absolutely unheard of.
Since the first excavations, the accessories, small tools, and objects showed great finesse even in primitive times.
The first excavations date the objects found to the 1st dynasty around the year 3000 BC.
The Egyptians did not yet know gold, diamonds and precious stones, but they already knew how to use materials such as electrum, which was a mixture of gold and silver that was found in its natural state.
Then they worked wonderfully with semi-precious stones, like agates, topaz, turquoise, lapi lazuli and coral.
Later they started to work gold and silver, but they imported gold from Libya and extracted it from the gold mines around the second dynasty, around 2500 /2000 BC.

Ethnic jewelry and symbolism in ancient Egypt

Used by both men and women, jewels apart from their decorative properties were an indicator of the social class of the wearer. Moreover, they represented a protection against all kinds of threats (death, diseases, wild animals...). Thus the cult of the jewel was extended to men and women of all social backgrounds, as well as to children and even the dead were provided with them in order to facilitate their passage to the afterlife. Thus, one frequently found on these objects mythological motifs, representations of animals supposed to offer a new dimension to the object manufactured. Among other examples of the best known motifs, we can cite :

  • The scarab (symbol of life and resurrection also associated with the solar god) ;
  • The symbol of Osiris represented by two scepters (symbol of sovereignty which is also used by the pharaoh);
  • The female cobra still called uraeus (pledge of protection of the pharaoh);
  • The heart (symbol of thought and spirit);
  • The female vulture (representation of the goddess Nekhbet also protector of the pharaoh);
  • The feather embodying justice and truth;
  • The Isis knot representing fertility and protection;
  • The Ânkh cross representing life;
  • The beard (symbol of royalty)...

These symbols are generally associated on the jewels to lead to a very complex meaning. The jewelry of one of the most famous pharaohs of ancient Egypt teaches us many things.

The Jewels of Tutankhamun

The tomb of the young pharaoh, a miracle of archaeology despite its rumors of curse, was the least subject to looting when it was discovered in 1922. Its exploration then the exhibition of the discovered objects will reveal to the modern world the rich Egyptian heritage. Not less than one hundred and forty-three jewels were discovered just in the coffin of Tutankhamen. One finds there in particular:

  • Necklaces and jewelry woman;
  • Rings very worked with even some being used for jump
  • Pectoral which came to decorate the bust
  • Large bracelets in the form of a cuff
  • Amulets and other pendants.

Cases for fingers and toes, ornaments for the ears and other objects both rare and precious are part of the findings. Many of these objects depict deities such as Horus (symbolized by his eye). Other objects also show animal symbols such as the scarab, the falcon, the cobra and the baboon.

Some of Tutankhamun's most emblematic pieces of jewelry are the pendant that represents the rising sun, the winged scarab and the scarab ring.

The exhibition of the most beautiful pieces of his tomb in 1967 already held records of attendance. From March to September 2019, objects of the young ruler will again be presented at the Grande Halle de la Villette. Much of Tutankhamun's treasure is kept in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.


Ethnic jewelry materials and different styles

Many materials were used by the Egyptians to make their different precious objects. They also used different techniques for the conception of the jewels and these techniques are taken up by our creators and they always inspire as much.

The materials used

The choice of materials does not escape the supernatural dimension conferred to the jewelry. This power takes priority over the brilliance of the stones used.

The most used materials are :

  • Gold considered as the flesh of the gods;
  • The lapi-lazuli whose blue represented the hair of the gods;
  • Carnelian, red like blood;
  • Turquoise (turquoise rings were frequently found in ancient Egypt)...

Silver, amethyst, feldspar, glazed steatite, electrum, earthenware and bronze with a black patina were also used. Carnelian, feldspar and amethyst came from the Egyptian desert. Turquoise came from Sinai and lapis lazuli was of Afghan origin. The gold came from Egypt and Nubia while the silver came from the Near East.

The manufacturing techniques used were very original. It was among others :

  • The filigree (loop made with gold leaves);
  • Granulation (creation of various figures by welding small balls of gold on a gold support);
  • The cloisonné technique, which is very present in the Egyptian style...

This last technique combined the soldering of gold threads with the inlaying of colored stones to obtain known symbols or characters.

Some types of Egyptian jewelry

In ancient Egypt, one could order :

  • The ousekh necklace worn by people with a high social position (it is a large necklace formed by rows of pearls) the pectoral.
  • The Menat (it is composed of pearls and is connected to a bronze counterweight);
  • The breastplate necklace which can be adorned with different materials (pearls, silver, clay) and also serve as a pendant;
  • The uraeus worn on the forehead (it indicates that the individual is a king or a queen)...

The figurines dedicated to certain deities are adorned with jewels just like the men and women. This is the case of the deity Bastet, a benevolent goddess of the home represented in the form of a cat. Her figure was often adorned with necklaces, pendants and scarabs. What is being done today with the ancient heritage of Egyptian jewelry?

Designers take up the Egyptian style in fashion

The elegance of the women of ancient Egypt is no longer in question. Names like Cleopatra and Nefertiti alone embody this beauty that is still dreaming. After the cinema and other fields, the professionals of the fashion were inspired by the ancient Egypt for their collections.

At the beautiful time with the art deco style the ancient Egypt is taken again and inspires many architect and decorator, we find the floral motives as the Lotus, the hairstyle in the square, the beaded hairstyles that we wear on the hair, in the Cleopatra these sources of inspiration came from a mixture of the taste for the voyages and the birth of the big liner and the need for a decoration, chic and pure modern with the style of the bas relief engraved on the facades of the walls of the fountains and the mirrors, the style pyarmidales borrowed has legypte and that one finds in the graphics of fabrics and lamps etc, since these great tendencies come and go and the luxurious touches and evocative of éxotisme of power and beauty did not have of cease that to be taken again and re-used.

Until these last acts the creator and stylist KARL LAGERFELD will borrow from Egypt its artistic essences to leave this luxurious and magic imprint to the posterity.

Indeed in 2018, Karl Lagerfeld, artistic director of the house Chanel unveils a collection of items totally inspired by the pharaonic Egypt. We find in his collection exhibited in the rooms of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York:

  • A set of scarab jewelry ;
  • A set of pectoral necklaces;
  • A long white dress characteristic of Egyptian antiquity and a magnificent haute couture collection.

The color gold is extremely present on this dress in reference to the sun god. The embroideries made evoke the typical superposition of Egyptian jewelry.

In addition, in online stores, it is possible to get quality Egyptian jewelry. For example, jewelry in the shape of a scarab and other jewelry encrusted with lapis lazuli are very popular. The pretty bib necklace dresses up simple dresses and marks a certain taste for sophistication.

Don't we have in our jewelry drawer one or two large and vertiginous cuffs, to dress a nice tanned arm?

The EGYTIAN fashion is regularly used in the form of large rings with turquoise and lapi lazuli. as well as the square haircuts never out of fashion.

What to remember? The jewelry of ancient Egypt had decorative, political and religious functions. They represent a great heritage for humanity and are the object of great fascination in the modern world. Thanks to archaeological discoveries, especially the treasure of Tutankhamen, we know a little more about these jewels. The world of fashion is inspired by them to launch new trends and to please all the lovers of the history of the Egypt of the pharaohs.


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