Jewellery as a form of personal adornment – from hairpins to toe rings – has been worn by people since prehistoric times. The earliest known items of jewellery are 100,000-year-old sea-snail shell beads, found in Skhul Cave on Mount Carmel in Israel. The word “bling” has much more recent origins. It was coined in the 1990s and refers to the flashiness that jewels can bring.
Bling has played so many roles:
- form of currency or display of wealth;
- functional use (clasps, pins and buckles);
- symbolism (Christian crucifixes and wedding rings);
- protection from evil and disease (amulets, such as the hand-shaped hamsa from Arabic culture, and certain precious stones have been attributed with talismanic powers, for example, topaz cured madness and increased wisdom);
- artistic display (in the 19th century, the artistic aspect of bling began to surpass function and wealth, with the work of masters such as Fabergé and Lalique).
The custom of betrothal rings goes back to Roman times, but was not much seen in Europe until the 13th century. Engagement rings weren’t common in the West until the 19th century and diamond rings only became popular in the US in the 1930s, when breach of promise laws began to be revealed. The first well-documented case of a diamond engagement ring was the betrothal of Archduke Maximilian of Austria to Mary of Burgundy in 1477.
Keepsake and heirloom
Keepsake jewellery is usually highly personal and commemorates life’s special memories, including the death of a loved one. Modern examples are memorial lockets and cremation jewellery. This has a long tradition in the West; mourning or memento jewellery goes back to the Middle Ages and was often quite macabre, incorporating skulls, worms and coffins. Queen Victoria wore a great deal of black jet bling after the death of Prince Albert. Items of antique or vintage heirloom jewellery have usually been passed down through generations of family members.
During the Great Depression, many working men lost their livelihoods. One family near Alexandra was reduced to living in tents. Their plight was eased by their large cat, which had the ability to tickle trout. A young man from this family went gold panning until he had enough gold to make a wedding band for his fiancée.
Story reproduced with the permission of NZME. Educational Media