It can be argued that the ancient Egyptians’ jewelry is their most cherished creation. Egyptian gold jewelry in particular was especially popular and widespread, particularly among royalty and the wealthy. Jewelry was worn for various reasons. Some pieces of jewelry were purely for aesthetic reasons and adorning oneself. Jewelry with precious or semi-precious stones could also serve as status symbols. Gemstone jewelry was also often worn for protection or good luck.
At first, the Egyptians primarily used silver to embellish and showcase their most precious gemstones. However, with the discovery of gold in Egypt, Egyptian jewelry was completely transformed. The first civilization to use gold on a substantial scale were the ancient Egyptians. Archaeological evidence suggest that gold came into relatively extensive use during the Pre-dynastic period.
The moment that defines Egyptian jewelry’s rise to prominence was the discovery of Gold. This discovery allowed the ancient Egyptians to mine and amass large quantities of the metal, which was malleable and perfect for creating elaborate and exquisite jewelry designs.
Gold was thought to be a blessing from the gods because it did not deteriorate ever. They believed gold to be the flesh of the gods. After the discovery of gold, the ancient Egyptians incorporated gold into all their jewelry, art and sacrificial statues. Gold became the most popular metal to hold their beloved precious stones.
The first evidence we have of jewelry in ancient Egypt dates backs to the Pre-dynastic period, around 4000 B.C. Jewelry was unisex in ancient Egypt! Women and men alike cherished jewelry and heavily-adorned themselves with a wide array of rings, bracelets and necklaces. Gold jewelry was the ultimate status and wealth symbol.
The ancient Egyptians placed important value on lavish personal adornment. Jewelry was popular across all social classes; however, the type of jewelry varied widely depending on one’s wealth. The mighty statues of kings and gods were decorated with lavish jewelry. Even the deceased were dressed with gold jewelry to take with them into the afterlife.
Men’s jewelry in antiquity was not just for protective or ornamental purposes. In fact, they were considered to be an essential tool of administrations. In ancient Egypt, official documents were sealed for authentication. The average man’s seal was made of cooper or silver. However, for wealthier men or nobility the seal was typically an extravagant jewel. The ring would hold a precious stone carved with the emblem or representative symbol of its owner.
The ancient Egyptians were known for their elaborate and exquisite personal adornment. Whether it came to clothing, jewelry or makeup, the ancient Egyptians were quite lavish. Of course, jewelry differed greatly depending on wealth and social status. The lower class usually wore jewelry made of copper, colored stones and faience. The upper class had access to much more valuable materials. They wore jewelry made of gold, silver, precious and semi-precious stones including lapis lazuli, turquoise and emerald.
Gold jewelry rose to prominence as a status symbol during the pre-dynastic era. Gold was incorporated into all aspects of ancient Egyptian civilization. It played a significant societal and religious role. It was the favorite metal of nobility and royalty. Gold was the most prized and sought after metal in all of ancient Egypt. It was always in demand, especially since it was so favored by royalty.
Gold Egyptian jewelry—with its elaborate designs and intricate details—was a highly-desired trade item in antiquity, with items found scattered around several territories around the world, from Rome, Greece, Persia and what is considered modern day Turkey today.
The Egyptian royalty adorned themselves with ornate necklaces, pendants, belts, hair beads, bracelets and amulets. The most preferred pieces were designed usually in the shape of symbolic animal and deities. This included most notably scarab beetles, jackals, tigers, birds, cats and antelopes. Royalty and noblemen wore their exquisite luxurious jewelry as well. This tradition of securing expensive jewelry in hard to reach places has prevented them from being found by thieves. This has allowed archaeologist to uncover massive quantities of these prized items, all perfectly preserved!
The predominant materials used to create ancient Egyptian jewelry were copper and gold. Copper was often for the masses, while nobility favored the precious gold. Both gold and copper were minded in the Nubian Desert, where ample supplies were found. Silver on the other hand was not readily found in Egypt; thus, having to be imported. It was a rare commodity in ancient Egypt. Jewelers would make handmade gold jewelry from gold that come in various shades of grey, brown and even rose. The variation in the color was a result of the mixing other metals and alloys into the gold, such as copper or iron.
Gemstones were integrated into almost everything in ancient Egypt. Status of pharaohs and gods were lavishly embellished with gorgeous gemstones. The deceased were dressed with gemstone jewelry to carry with them to the afterlife. Ample examples of the ancient Egyptian’s jewelry styles are illustrated on reliefs and tomb murals.
The ancient Egyptians were able to procure all types of precious gemstones; however, they were more inclined to using semi-precious stones such as lapis lazuli, turquoise, jasper and malachite. This is because they are softer, thus more malleable and easier to shape.
Lapis Lazuli was truly one of the most treasured semi-precious stones. It had divine connotations, believed to be of godly importance. In fact, it is believed that Queen Cleopatra herself used powdered lapis lazuli as a sort of exquisite eye shadow.
Along with Lapis Lazuli, Turquoise was one of the most prized gemstones in Ancient Egypt. Turquoise was mined from the Sinai Peninsula. In fact, this practice of extracting turquoise from Sinai still goes on today. Turquoise was adored by royalty and was often worn in necklaces by the pharaohs. It is a stunning opaque gemstone thought to represent happiness and tranquility. The iconic burial mask of King Tut was inlaid with semi-precious stones including lapis lazuli, turquoise and carnelian.
It was popular to carve turquoise into the shape of the sacred scarab beetles for protection. The scarab beetle was one of the most significant religious symbols in ancient Egypt, associated with the mighty sun god, Ra. The Egyptians viewed the scarab as a symbol of renewal and rebirth. The beetle was associated closely with the sun god because it rolls large balls of dung to lay their eggs, a behavior that the Egyptians thought resembled the progression of the sun through the sky from east to west.
Most of the raw material needed to make gemstone jewelry was sourced locally in Egypt or in its surrounding territories. However, valuable gemstones such as lapis lazuli were imported from lands as distant as Afghanistan.
Ancient Egyptian gold jewelry is as popular today as it was thousands of years ago. The ancient Egyptian style of jewelry still have a significant impact on the modern jewelry market.