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Fashion: Jewelry

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Introduction to Jewelry


As you may well know, the ancient Egyptians cherished their supply of gold, which is evident when one looks in any book about ancient Egyptian fashion, in particular concerning their jewelry. On the other hand, there is gold’s cousin: silver. Let me ask you this: have you ever seen a depiction of and ancient Egyptian wearing anything made of silver? If you answered negatively, you should be on to something. Of course, that “something” is that the ancients rarely used silver. For one thing, silver was not found in Egypt; thus, it had to be imported from elsewhere, namely from Asia. Glass was also an item that was imported. Yet another means of acquiring it was by way of natural volcanic glass. Only when glass was imported or acquired naturally did they employ it into their jewelry. The ancients also used the following to decorate their jewelry: semiprecious and precious stones, including lapis lazuli, turquoise, feldspar, and carnelian. With these stones, they worked them into collars, pectorals, earrings, bracelets, armbands, and hair/head ornaments.


In addition to stones, the most commonly employed elements for jewelry were decorative motifs. Decorative motifs could be derived from either the natural world—animal or plant life—or from religious symbolism. They were also employed in temples and tomb chambers, on furniture and functional objects, and in clothing or decorative accessories of clothing.


Because of their strong belief in magic, the ancient Egyptians believed that if they represented certain symbols of certain religious figures into jewelry, then the positive qualities of the deity would be transferred to the wearer. A prime example is that which can be seen atop the headdress of Pharaoh: either the image of Sobek—the same goddess—or Nekbet—the vulture goddess, or both. With the image of Sobek, Pharaoh was seen as the ruler over Lower Egypt; with the image of Nekbet, Pharaoh was seen and the ruler over Upper Egypt; with both atop the crown of Pharaoh, he was seen as the ruler over both the lands, symbolizing the unification of the two lands.



Armlets, Bracelets, and Anklets



As with beaded collars, armlets, bracelets, and anklets—the latter in the group were only worn by women—were mostly fashioned from gold and inlaid with polished stones or glazed over. They could have intricate designs, bear the royal seal of the wearer, be of a solid material or elaborately designed, or incorporate beads.


Although all were worn, it was only into the New Kingdom that they were worn all at once.



Belts and Decorated Aprons


Just as collars were very important decorative pieces for clothing, belts and decorated aprons were as well. Over plain white linen, such bejeweled items provided color, perhaps the only color to the garment over which they were worn. Such jewelry was made from leather, fashioned of beads or appliqué, or incorporated with woven designs.






As evident in art from the Old Kingdom and beyond—as far beyond as the New Kingdom—wide jeweled collars served as the main piece of jewelry in a royal person’s ensemble. These collars could get as big as the entire size of the chest. However, such a collar was never without a counterweight or a counterpoise in the back, served to balance the heavy weight in the front.


Incorporated into most collars were beads made of carnelian, turquoise, lapis lazuli, feldspar, and other others. These beads were then fashioned in alternative colors or intricate designs and strung through with a wire. Gold and silver (yes, silver) were also fashioned into collars.



Diadems or Fillets



Diadems or fillets were shaped and worn in the same way as a sweatband of modern times. Although, instead of being made of cloth, the ancients fashioned diadems and fillets out of gold or other metals. As with wigs, diadems could be simple or intricate in design