Men’s jewelry has been in existence for over 75,000 years. Jewelry has served not only as personal adornment, but as a symbol of status, identity and sometimes even a form of currency. Here’s a look at how men’s jewelry has changed and evolved over time.
The earliest evidence of men’s jewelry, snail shell beads, was found in Africa and dates back to roughly 75,000 years ago. Prehistoric cultures used shells, stones, tusks and animal teeth and sinew to create men’s jewelry, which could be used for bartering purposes. It wasn’t until approximately 7,000 years ago that man’s skill in jewelry making became more evident, when the first signs of metalworking appeared with copper jewelry items.
Unsurprisingly, ancient Egyptians brought about many advancements in men’s jewelry. Jewelry symbolized status in Ancient Egypt, and was worn by the upper classes in both life and death, as they were buried with rich and ornate items of jewelry. The Egyptians were particularly fond of gold, which they not only associated with the sun, but whose malleability lent itself well to the number of intricate designs that they favored.
Men’s jewelry in Ancient Rome was generally limited to rings. Wealthy men would wear anywhere from one to as many as ten rings – one for each finger. These rings were an early form of signet rings, having a decorative engraved gemstone that also served as a wax seal. This practical function would be carried through to the Middle Ages, when one’s identity needed to be confirmed for private or important correspondence.
Under Napoleon Bonaparte, both women’s and men’s jewelry enjoyed a revival and renaissance of sorts. During this era, the first costume (or fashion) jewelry began to appear, which necessitated distinguishing between precious and non-precious materials. Jewelry makers were thus differentiated by those who used non-precious materials (bijoutiers) and those who used more expensive precious materials (joailliers).
The use of less expensive non-precious materials further developed in the late 1940s, when the concept of jewelry as a “wearable art” gained popularity. Interestingly enough, this period was also a leap for precious men’s jewelry, as men’s wedding bands in gold, platinum and palladium started to be more commonly worn. While wedding rings were previously considered to be for women only, World War II found husbands leaving for war who wanted to have something close by that would remind them of their families at home.
Nowadays, men’s jewelry can be found in both classic natural materials as well as state-of-the-art contemporary materials. The current selection of men’s jewelry is a heady mixture of all that has come before it, and is reflective of both jewelry’s rich history as well as the virtually unlimited future of jewelry design.