The first used of the arts of metallurgy, gem cutting and the use of colour jewellery were used outside of India by the people of Southeast Asia and Indian Subcontinent, In 3000 BC, the wearing of jewellery was entirely restricted to the pharaohs and their families. In ancient times, Egyptians knew silver before gold, and they know it as a white gold. Aton was the favorite in the metal of the sun, the planet personified by their chief day. The tombs that have survived intact together with coloured statutory and moral paintings form the most valuable sources of our knowledge of the forms and techniques used in making of the precious ornaments in ancient Egypt.
Egyptian jewellery is bases are for the most part, odd items overlooked by pillagers or small buried hoards in the desert stumbled on by accident. This sound rather depressing when introducing what is universally considered to be one of our great cultural heritages from the ancient world, but it is important to realise hoe tiny a fragment of the Egyptian jewellers’ art remains. None the less it is more than sufficient to establish that they were superb gold-smiths and lapidaries during the 3000 years of the Pharaohs.
To understand Egyptian jewellery and realise the significance of its highly formalised design, it is important to know the uses to which it was put. Here we are extremely fortunate. What information cannot be derived from individual pieces of jewellery is supplemented by tomb paintings hieroglyphics (symbols) which help ensure accurate reconstruction of damage pieces and provide an analysis of their meaning and purpose.
Firstly, jewels were produce for the personal adornment of the living of both sexes. These served a dual purpose 1) to enhance their appearance and 2) to act as talismans. This explains the recurring symbols; snakes, scorpions and other vicious animals, which ward of evil spirits; scarabs, falcons and cowrie shells, all of which offered the wearer protection against various types of adversity. Other recurring themes are geometric symbols each with a specific talismanic functions; the Wedjet eye for protection against the evil eye, the Djed, S, Ankh and Tyet signs which offered the wearer health, prosperity, long life and other personal benefits. Talismanic jewellery was also produce specifically for the dead, offering protection in the afterlife. In the case of the Pharaohs, judging by the quantity found in Tutankhanum’s tomb, a proportion of this must have been prepared from the date of accession, thus giving constant employment to the court jewellers.
Another source of work was producing jewellery for orders and decorations. The Pharaohs had a series of honours bestowed on their subjects for gallantry and service to the state. These took the form of necklaces of gold discs or gold flies.
In life, the nobility of Egypt wore every category of jewellery known to us today. Circlets and diadems were made in gold with inlays. Some like the crown of princess Sit-Hathor-Yunet had a geometric design together with a serpent talisman. Earrings were virtually unknown until the beginning of the new kingdom and were probably an innovation from Asia, where they had been popular for more than 2000 years. When they did arrived, however they become very fashionable. Women had their ears pierced with holes of a diameter which almost amounted to mutilation and wore enormous pendant-earrings made from gold and inlays. At the same time ear studs become fashionable. These were simple discs of inlaid metal or carved faience not unlike a modern collar stud, to be pressed through a pierced ear and cover the entire lobe. Collars were popular throughout ancient Egypt. The most common of these known as a broad collar; consisted of parallel rows of strung vertically to form a semicircle gold terminals and a cord which tied behind the neck. Chokers were fashionable in the middle and old kingdoms and were almost identical to bead chokers worn today; a number of parallel strings of stones or faience beads tied at the back of the neck. But perhaps the most exciting form of neck ornament from ancient Egypt is the pectoral (chest ornament) providing superb examples of cloisonné work, with countless inlaid pieces of stone and faience.
The pectorals (chest ornaments) from Tutankhamun’s tomb not only display the brilliance of the craftsmanship, but also contain almost every talismanic symbol found in Egyptian mythology.
A rare find from the epoch of the Old Kingdom, which lasted from the third to the seventh dynasty, was the tomb of queen Hetepheres-I, near the Giza pyramid. In tomb were found all the furnishings which, according to religious beliefs, would provide for the comfort of the deceased in the afterlife and be worthy of her lineage. The bed, the throne and a litter are extensively embellished with solid gold repose work and gold leaf encrusted with precious stones. Among the jewellery there were silver, turquoise, lapis lazuli and carnelians.
In 25 to 21 Century BC, gold was so much more plentiful than silver, which is assumed as a superior value to gold. Today, a silver belt which is belonged to a prince which is now it is found in the Egyptian museum in Cairo. Today this belt is decorated with turquoises, lapis, lazuli, cornelian, pearls and beads of red & black stone.
The motifs used in Egyptian jewellery are mostly either figures of gods, planets or any symbolic abstract forms. In King& Queen’s ornaments the hawk, vulture & cobra are most frequently objects. The form of a cobra usually rises from the centre of the pharaoh’s mitre while a gold vulture encrusted with gems would cover a queen’s head dress with its broad wings.