During the high point of ancient Greek civilization, from about 600 B.C.E. to 146 B.C.E. , Greek men and women set a precedent for the wearing of personal ornaments that has continued in the Western world up to the present day. The first pieces of jewelry in Greek society were not purely ornamental, but instead they had specific functions, such as a pin to secure a garment or a band to manage the hair. These functional pieces were later embellished to become decorative and pleasing to the wearer.
Although blacksmiths made objects out of gold, silver, and bronze before the third century B.C.E. , Greek goldsmiths after this date became very skillful at creating intricately designed ornaments for both men and women to wear. The skills of the goldsmiths increased people's desire for jewelry made for purely decorative reasons.
Some of the earliest jewelry were thin metal plates embossed, or ornamented with raised work, with designs and trimmed with raised metal beads or twisted golden wire, as well as elaborate creations made of gold wire, sometimes featuring beads, that became known as filigree. From 336 to 323 B.C.E. Macedonian king Alexander the Great (356– 323 B.C.E. ), ruler of the Greek people at the time, traveled extensively and brought back precious gemstones from Asia, including rubies, topazes, emeralds, opals, pearls, and diamonds. Soon jewelers incorporated these stones into jewelry.
Earrings appeared for the first time in Greece in 900 B.C.E. These first earrings were golden or bronze hoops, which soon became larger and more elaborate designs of hanging gold balls or nearly four-inch-long vase-shaped ornaments. By 600 B.C.E. multipieced earrings were worn. These included small coin-shaped pieces that hung on chains from a central larger disc and made a pleasant noise as the wearer moved. During the reign of Alexander the Great earrings became even more elaborate and included designs with dangling figurines and golden flower baskets. The earliest gems to be used in earrings in Greece were pearls. Pear-shaped pearls were especially popular. Two earrings were popular for adult women, but fashionable Greek youths often wore a single earring.
Necklaces and bracelets were also popular. Amber beads or pearls were often strung around the neck. Another popular necklace design featured chains with golden disc or ball ornaments with attached rings or short chains that dangled other ornaments. The bracelet style seen most often was of a gold, silver, or bronze wire twisted around the arm imitating a snake. Jewelry styles similar to those of the ancient Greeks continue to be worn by fashionable women around the world.
Cosgrave, Bronwyn. The Complete History of Costume and Fashion, from Ancient Egypt to the Present Day. New York: Checkmark Books, 2000.
Norris, Herbert. Costume and Fashion: The Evolution of European Dress Through the Earlier Ages. London, England: J. M. Dent and Sons, 1924. Reprint, New York: E. P. Dutton, 1931.