One of the most important ways that people in ancient Egypt showed their wealth and status was through the display of jewelry. In the early stages of Egyptian civilization known as the Old Kingdom (c. 2700–c. 2000 B.C.E. ), jewelry was quite simple, consisting primarily of beaded collars worn by the very wealthy. By the time of the New Kingdom (c. 1500–c. 750 B.C.E. ), however, as conquering Egyptian armies came into contact with surrounding areas of the Middle East, jewelry became more common and more complex. A variety of tombs, both from the upper classes and from kings, or pharaohs, such as King Tutankhamen, who ruled briefly in the fourteenth century B.C.E. and whose tomb was discovered in 1922, reveal that Egyptians loved all types of jewelry, but especially gold.
Egyptians adorned all parts of their body with jewels. They wore anklets, bracelets, armlets, and necklaces. These might contain strings of beads, shells, or precious and semiprecious stones, including gold, pearl, agate, and onyx. The tomb of Queen Amanishakheto, who is believed to have ruled at the very end of the Egyptian Empire, in about 10 B.C.E. , revealed that the queen wore stacks of bracelets. She also had several rings, some of which she wore attached to her hair. Women also wore crowns, breast-plates, and dangling earrings.
Gold was a favorite material of the Egyptians. According to Mila Contini, author of Fashion: From Ancient Egypt to the Present Day, gold was "thought of as the brilliant and incorruptible flesh of the Sun" and was believed to have the power to offer eternal survival. Kings and queens were buried in golden masks to guarantee their immortality. Though many of the tombs of Egyptian pharaohs were robbed over the centuries, the tomb of King Tutankhamen, or King Tut, revealed the fascination with gold. King Tut was buried in three coffins, the outer two covered in gold leaf and the inner coffin made of solid gold.
Batterberry, Michael, and Ariane Batterberry. Fashion: The Mirror of History. New York: Greenwich House, 1977.
Contini, Mila. Fashion: From Ancient Egypt to the Present Day. Edited by James Laver. New York: Odyssey Press, 1965.
Cosgrave, Bronwyn. The Complete History of Costume and Fashion: From Ancient Egypt to the Present Day. New York: Checkmark Books, 2000.
[ See also Volume 1, Ancient Egypt: Collars and Pectorals ]