Significant pieces of jewellery

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Heritage

5000 BC

Gold is washed up

Alluvial gold is recovered from rivers and mountain streams for the next 1,000 years. Electrum, an amalgam of gold and silver, is commonly found.

3000 BC

Leaves and alloys

Artisans in Egypt use gold’s malleability to fashion gold leaves, and combine it with other metals to form alloys.

2600 BC

Early gold jewellery

Goldsmiths in ancient Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq) craft one of the earliest pieces of gold jewellery, a burial headdress of lapis and carnelian beads with willow leaf-shaped gold pendants

2000 BC

Pioneers of the Americas

The earliest known gold jewellery from the Americas was made in Peru. A necklace from a burial site near Lake Titicaca is thought to be more than 4,000 years old.

1560 BC

Goldsmiths flourish

In Egypt’s New Kingdom (1559-1085 BC) the goldsmiths' art reaches its peak. Kings and queens employ goldsmiths to make jewellery to demonstrate rulers’ rank; and as ornaments for their eventual burial.

1350 BC

A golden send-off

Tutankhamun is buried in a gold coffin weighing 110kg (3,536 troy ounces). His funerary mask of beaten and burnished gold is the finest ever found.

1200-1500 BC

Advances in jewellery making

Artisans develop the lost-wax jewellery casting technique. The process allows for improved hardness and colour variation, which in turn broadens the market for gold products.

800 BC

Jewellers at Etruria

The Etruscans make distinctive gold jewellery that features fine, granulated textures. Soon they adapt their technology to gold wires that secure loose teeth, and construct hollow vessels for holding perfume.

560 BC

Birth of the gold coin

Improved refining at Sardis enables King Croesus to issue the first gold coin - the stater - initially 10.7 grams (0.33 troy ounces) and later reduced to 8.04 grams (0.25 troy ounces).

140 BC

The golden Roman Empire

Jewellery is made across the Roman Empire and is worn in ostentatious styles as a symbol of wealth. Rings, often with coins as bezels, are used as tokens of betrothal.

60 BC

Buddha in gold

Buddhism spreads across India, Afghanistan and China in the centuries following the Buddha’s birth. The earliest known representation of the Buddha is a gold reliquary found at Bimaran, dating from 60 BC.

200

The Buddha on gold leaves

Buddhism establishes itself in China under the western Han period (206 BC-220 AD). During the next three centuries gold leaf is used extensively to adorn shrines and images of the Buddha.

1191

Complete technical mastery

By the 12th century, goldsmiths still work primarily for the Church, leading to devotional pieces such as Nicholas of Verdun's enamelled gold work for the altar at the church of Klostemeuberg.

1327

Hallmarking practice established

The world's first hallmarking system, scrutinising and guaranteeing the quality of precious metal, is established at Goldsmiths’ Hall in London - where London's Assay Office is still located today.

1804

Napoleon’s Roman recall

The coronation of Napoleon in France ushers in a period of lavish jewellery-making. Ladies of the court wear Roman-style olive or laurel wreaths in gold as tiaras, creating a fashion throughout Europe.

1850

Jewellery-making mechanised

Mechanisation transforms popular jewellery-making, with the invention of chain machines in the 1850s. Birmingham, in England, is at the centre of this new era of cheap, popular jewellery.

1885

First Faberge Easter egg crafted

Carl Faberge makes his first gold Imperial Easter Egg for Tsar Alexander III. Named The Hen Egg, it was commissioned as a gift from the Tsar to his wife, the Empress Maria Fedorovna.

1900

The gold fill patented

The process of rolled gold, first patented in 1817, becomes widely used in the 20th century to make jewellery, watch cases, cigarette cases and high quality pens and pencils.

1900 -1912

Solid gold Olympic medals

The first four Olympiads of the 20th century are the only Games to have awarded solid gold medals to winners: Paris 1900, St Louis 1904, London 1908 and Stockholm 1912.

1917

Fight and flight

The Communist overthrow of the Tsar ends the career of Carl Faberge and St Petersburg's flourishing jewellery industry. Many Russian emigres take their jewellery as they flee west, though much is melted down.

 

Photo caption: Decorative ceramic easter egg for jewellery (Faberge egg), Copyright: Igor Grochev

1919

War sinks jewellery

The jewellery industry throughout western Europe is severely disrupted by the First World War and its aftermath of high inflation and unemployment in previously wealthy nations.

 

Photo caption: Empty jewellery box

1933

Expensive survivor

The 1933 Double Eagle is minted in the US. It will later survive a gold meltdown to become the most expensive coin in the world. Recovered from an Egyptian king by undercover US agents, it is sold for US$7.2 million at Sotheby’s in 2002.

 

Photo caption: 1933 Double Eagle coin

1933

License a must

As it cracks down on hoarding of gold, the US government insists that all jewellery fabricators must obtain a license from the Treasury before they can buy gold.

 

Photo caption: Department of US Treasury

1944

Gold restricted

Jewellery design, fabrication and sales are disrupted severely by the Second World War. Gold sales to the jewellery industry are strictly limited, and even wedding rings are highly taxed.

1954-1966

Growth of the hallmark

By the mid-1950s, the Assay Office at Goldsmiths’ Hall has only hallmarked 400,000 gold articles. Over the next decade, growth takes off, and by 1966 they have hallmarked 4.3 million items.

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