History of Jewellery – Middle Age

The history of jewellery in the Middle Ages is a reflection of life during medieval times. Given that this time period saw a significant human evolution, you can see a shift in jewellery every 100 years.

Primarily human evolution is grouped into 3 parts: 

  1. Prehistoric Age: 3.3mn years to 500 AD
  2. Middle Age: 476 AD – 14th Century
  3. Modern Age: 14th Century – 20th Century

Hist(w)ery is a person who Jewelry plus History buff.

Historical periods are generally fluid and subject to interpretation. The categorization of historical periods is widely used to analyze and understand broad patterns and trends in history. Different historians and people have varying perspectives of that period.

Broad Timeline and Overview of the Middle Age

History of jewellery. Middle Age Jewellery

During the Middle Ages, which lasted from the 5th to the 15th century, life was shaped by feudalism, the power of the Catholic Church, and an agrarian economy. 

Society was structured with monarchs and nobles at the top, followed by knights, vassals, and peasants. 

  • A Feudal society with hierarchical classes
  • Catholic Church’s influence
  • Agrarian economy with farming as the primary occupation
  • Growth of cities and towns for trade and craftsmanship
  • The emergence of chivalry and knighthood
  • Advancements in art, architecture, and literature
  • Scientific and technological progress
  • Diverse variations across different regions and periods

Evolution from the Prehistoric Age to the Medieval Age impacted the history of jewellery significantly.

What type of jewellery was found in the Middle Ages?

Much like in the Prehistoric age, if you sift through the ancient jewellery history, it is believed that 

  • Necklaces, bracelets, earrings, anklets, pendants, rings, and decorative pins were often worn by men and women 
  • Some notable additions in this period were crosses, diadems, and crowns along with the above.

What materials were used to make jewellery during the Middle Period?

Here are some of the commonly used materials to make jewellery:

Middle Age Jewellery History.
BastienM, Wikimedia Commons
BastienM, Wikimedia Commons
  • Precious Metals: Gold and silver were highly coveted and widely used in jewellery-making during this period.  

A purity of 19.2 Kt was maintained upto 13th Century 

  • Gemstones: Gemstones such as rubies, emeralds, sapphires, and pearls were favoured for their beauty and rarity.
  • Enamel: Enamel developed as one of the favourites, and was used to decorate metal surfaces, adding vibrant colours and intricate patterns to jewellery. 

It involved fusing powdered glass onto metal and then firing it to create a smooth and durable coating.

  • Ivory: Ivory, obtained from elephant tusks, was a valuable material used for carving intricate designs in jewellery. 

It was particularly popular for creating religious-themed pendants, crosses, and figurines.

  • Coral: Its unique, organic structure and vibrant colours were used in jewellery-making during the Middle Ages. 

It was often carved or polished into beads or pendants.

  • Glass: Glass was a more affordable alternative to precious gemstones. 

It could be moulded or shaped into beads, cabochons, or decorative elements, mimicking the appearance of gemstones.

Middle Age History of Jewellery Filigree Ring
Anonymous (England)
  • Filigree: Filigree work involved shaping fine metal wires into intricate patterns and designs. 

It was commonly used in jewellery during the Middle Ages to create delicate and ornate pieces.

  • Leather and Textiles: Generally these materials were used to create bands, cords, or settings for attaching gemstones or metal embellishments.

What type of jewellery designs/motifs were found in the Middle age?

  • Crosses and Crucifixes: With the rise of Christianity, crosses and crucifixes were widely used in jewellery designs. 

They represented faith, salvation, and devotion.

  • Fleur-de-Lis: Stylized lily motif was associated with royalty and nobility. It symbolized purity, elegance, and divine blessing.
  • Animals and Mythical Creatures: Middle Ages became more about power and invasion.  If you notice jewellery from this period has animal motifs such as lions, birds, snakes, and dragons. As these creatures represented strength, power, and protection.
  • Heraldic Symbols: Heraldry played a significant role in jewellery design. Heraldic symbols, including lions, eagles, griffins, and family crests, were incorporated into jewellery to signify lineage, nobility, and social status.
  • Floral Motifs: Flowers, leaves, and vines were commonly depicted in jewellery designs. They symbolized natural beauty, growth, and vitality.
  • Gothic Architecture Elements: Jewelry designs were influenced by the architectural features of Gothic cathedrals. Filigree motifs were used to depict the beautiful pointed arches and rib vault patterns.
  • Love Symbols: Heart-shaped motifs such as clasped hands and love knots, made their way in the Middle Ages. Needless to say, it was used to show love and romantic relationships.
  • Religious Symbols: Jewelry often featured religious symbols like saints, angels, and biblical scenes.
    These symbols served as expressions of faith and devotion.

The motifs in the historical Middle Ages jewellery reflected the religious, cultural, and artistic influences, showcasing a rich tapestry of symbolism and craftsmanship. 

What techniques were used to manufacture jewellery in the Medieval Age? 

While researching the history of jewellery, common techniques were soldering, gilding, plating, repoussé, inlay, enamelling, filigree, and granulation were some techniques used. 

Why was jewellery made during the Middle Period?

Historically speaking, jewellery in the Middle Ages was made for various reasons, including:

  • To show wealth and social status: Jewelry in the Middle Ages was worn to display one’s riches and societal position.
  • To show religious devotion: People wore jewellery to demonstrate their faith and devotion to their religion.
  • To offer protection and good omen: Certain jewellery pieces were believed to bring protection and ward off negative energies.
  • To enhance personal appearance: Jewelry was used to enhance one’s beauty and make a fashion statement.
  • To express love and romance: Jewelry was exchanged as a symbol of love and commitment between couples.
  • For ceremonies and rituals: Jewellery played a significant role in important events and ceremonies.

The history of Jewellery during this time suggests that it had both practical and symbolic significance, reflecting the culture and beliefs of that era.

How did cultural symbolism affect jewellery from the Middle Ages?

Middle Age Jewellery. History of jewelry
Anonymous (Byzantine), Wikimedia Commons

Let’s explore examples of cultural symbolism associated with jewellery during this period:

  • Design and motifs: Cultural beliefs and values influenced the choice of motifs and designs in jewellery. 

Religious symbolism was prevalent, with crosses, saints, and biblical scenes incorporated into jewellery pieces. 

Other symbols like animals, plants, and mythical creatures were also used, reflecting the cultural and spiritual beliefs of the time.

  • Materials and craftsmanship: 

The availability of certain materials and the skills of artisans helped shape the jewellery of the Middle Ages. 

Metals like gold and silver and gemstones, pearls, and enamel were commonly used. 

The craftsmanship displayed intricate details, engravings, and filigree work, showcasing the craftsmanship skills and artistry of the period.

  • Function and purpose: 

Jewellery was used to represent religious devotion, social status, marital commitment, protection against evil, or cultural identity. 

For example, a ring with a religious symbol conveyed faith, while a crown symbolized royalty and authority.

  • Power, Hierarchy, and Wealth: 

The nobility and aristocracy wore lavish and ornate pieces, often adorned with precious gemstones, showcasing their high status and affluence. 

  • Rituals and traditions: 

Jewellery was used to symbolize blessings, mark important life events, and convey cultural traditions and customs. 

The cultural symbolism in the Middle Ages shaped jewellery’s aesthetics, meaning, and function. 

The cultural symbolism in the Middle Ages shaped the aesthetics, meaning, and function of jewellery. 

What was the relationship between jewellery and clothing in the Middle age?

Byzantine clothing from middle ages history of jewellery
Byzantine Institute staff
  • Complementing Attire: Jewelry was chosen to harmonize with the garments’ colours, fabrics, and styles
  • Adornment of Garments: Jewelry was used to adorn specific clothing parts, such as brooches and buttons.
  • Fastening and Decoration: Certain types of jewellery, like clasps, buckles, and belts, were used to fasten and embellish clothing. 

They served both a functional purpose of securing garments and a decorative purpose of adding ornamental details.

Popular beliefs about a type of jewellery in the Middle age

  • Precious stones were believed to have protective powers.
  • Wearing an opal was believed to bring bad luck to those not born in October.
  • Wearing an upside-down horseshoe pendant was thought to bring good luck.

Interesting belief about diamonds

According to ancient jewellery history, in Greek and Roman mythology, diamonds were believed to be tears of God or splinters of the sky. According to Hindu belief, diamonds were so powerful that they were placed in deity statues’ eyes.

Final Thoughts on the History of Jewellery from the Middle Ages

Middle Ages saw significant sophistication in designs, materials, and techniques used to make jewellery more defined and attractive. As humans moved towards the Modern Age, the purpose of wearing jewellery evolved significantly. 

To know about the History of Jewellery from different, please click below:

History of Jewellery – Prehistoric Age 

History of Jewellery – Modern Age 

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