SINCE ancient time human beings have adorned themselves with jewellery for the same reasons people all over the world still do today. In Western culture, religions and spiritual symbolism has largely faded our of jewellery in recent times, and wearing it has become more closely tied with fashion and self-decoration. But the desier to adorn oneself is remarkably universal across cultures and across time.

Ancient beads and other jewellery rarely survive intact, and much of it has been modified (restrung or reset) for collectors of antiquities. The jewellery of ancient Mediterranean cultures has also inspired a host of imitations and inspirations over the centuries.

The ancient Mediterranean was by no means the only place where jewellery was worn and valued. Samples from Asia and the Americans demonstrate that the instinct to adorn, and to express status through jewellery, is as old as human civilisation.

Jewellery has long served as a maker of life’s passages. The birth of a child, courtship and marriage, even death and mourning, are all seen as occasions to be commemorated by the giving and wearing of jewellery. These important social milestonse inspire a range of forms and designs. The choice of adornment may herald an individual’s change in social status in a very visible way, as in the large jeweled g’au necklaces that Tibetan women wear. Other forms of jewellery are more intimate in nature, with personal rather than public significance. This sort of meaning is easy to lose, if the original owner’s history is not kept intact. Jewellery made of gemstones and other luxury materials is designed to impress or win favour, particularly during courtship and marriage. Materials are also chosen for their sentimental value, as seen in jewellery incorporating locks of haif from a loved one.

The most powerful people ofany culture are the most likely to adorn themselves with jewellery made of precious materials. In every culture, wealth equals power. Different cultures, however, have a wide range of ideas as to what is precious. Some precious materials -such as gold, silver and gemstones – have been widely associated with wealth for thousands of years. In other cultures, colour, texture or scarcity can endow a material with inherent value and give it status.

Somehow, ‘dazzle’ is an idea that is linked to powerful people. Once this meant the social and political rulers of a people – emperors and sultans and other aristocratic folks. Since the 1920s, however, movie stars, sports stars and other celebrities have become the new jeweliery-wearing role models, and their influence is increasingly global in its reach.

Jewellery – especially that made for cultural leaders – has alwavs served as a showcase for the artistic skill and craftsmanship of its makers, but its intrinsic value has usually been a key element in its cultural value. In the second half of the 19th century, the idea arose that jewellery could be more about art than about precious materials, Jewelers began using materials that were not highly valued, and began using gemstones artistically, for their colour rather than their carat weight. In the 10th century this was carried to its logical conclusiop with the use of plastics, glass and other non-precious materials to produce jewellery that gives the wearer sta-