Saturday, July 11, 2015

#Throwback Jewelry: A Tribute to the Minoans

I recently read somewhere that Victorian era-inspired jewelry and even the antique jewelry from that period were making a significant comeback on the market. While reflecting on the time period that this jewelry was born out of, it occurred to me that like most art, jewelry styles are reflections of the their historical climate. If looked at closely, we find that different time periods and the people living in each of them are not so different from one another. Which is why we have created a series of entries which are designed to bring to light the similarities in jewelry trends which existed perhaps in a not-so-far-off-time from our own.

Our first entry looks back at some pretty great jewelry which was worn by those who came before the ancient Greeks: the Minoans, around 3000 BC. This is hardly the oldest jewelry known to us, only I felt that its main characteristics resonated with our present day. 

The Golden Bee Pendant, a fine example of Minoan jewelry at its apogee. Circa 1700 BC. Photo courtesy

Minoan jewelry is rather interesting when you take a close look at it. First off, you’ll notice that for the most part, it restricts itself to metalwork. It would only be later on with the emergence of the Myceneans and the Greeks that one would see intaglios made of gemstones. Much like the civilization itself, we find that the jewelry is a testament of the Minoans’ ability to exchange and take part in international trade (at least what was considered international at the time). 

A map of Minoan trade, detailing Import/Export. Photo Courtesy

Though thought to originate from Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey), these island dwellers of Crete would have navigated the entire Mediterranean; as far West as Spain and as far East as Turkey. Along the way, their trade with surrounding civilizations would grant them access to materials and techniques from places as far as modern-day Egypt, India and even Russia. This is how, for instance, imported gold would be introduced to their arsenal of precious metals as early on as 2400BC. Goldsmithing techniques would also be shared; this is why, even beyond the sudden disappearance of this civilization in roughly 1500 BC, we still see motifs of filigree and granulation being used by succeeding civilizations. Later on, Alexander the Great, a successor to both the Minoans and Mycenaeans, would also contribute to this global trade. Best known for his long military and territorial expeditions to the furthest stretches of the Earth, this king created one of the largest empires in the ancient world. Exposure to foreign territories also gave ancient Greeks access to the gemstones which would characterize the Hellenistic period (approx. 300BC).

An armband with Herakles Knot consisting of garnet, emerald & enamel, Circa 3rd-2nd Century BC Fine example of Hellenistic jewelry from the time of Alexander the Great . Photo Courtesy of

When I say that this civilization and in turn their jewelry is similar to our present day, it's chiefly because our time is characterized by the globalization of people. From telecommunications and social media to international trade, we are remotely engaging with the world beyond our street, city, country even continent at a speed which has never been seen before. Interestingly, the trade in the raw materials used to make jewelry is as extensive and global today as it was 5000 years ago.

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