5,000 Years of Jewellery

Pforzheim Jewellery Museum

Whether mythical or mystical, emphasizing a person’s status or worn merely for ornamental purposes: jewellery has a long tradition in all of the world’s cultures. Since the beginning of mankind, people have adorned themselves with jewellery, whether in the form of necklaces, rings, pendants, belts or headgear, whose shapes are as multifaceted as the materials used. The collection of Pforzheim’s Jewellery Museum comprises exhibits from five millennia – from the ancient world up to the present day.

From Troy to the Roman Empire
As is evidenced by two resplendently beautiful ornamental disks, granulation – a technique of decorating a precious metal surface with tiny spherules – was brought to perfection by Etruscan goldsmiths around 600 BC. Greek jewellery created in the Classical and Hellenistic periods is also famous for its remarkable artistic quality and high level of craftsmanship. A masterpiece from this era is a snake bracelet featuring two snakes’ bodies, intertwined to form a Heracles knot, which was regarded as a symbol for warding off evil.

The bronze bracelet symbolizes ancient hunting magic: the stylized heads of a wild cat were supposed to confer the animal’s strength upon the hunter wearing the bracelet.

Granulation, a technique of enhancing a precious metal surface with tiny spherules of usually the same material was used back in the 3rd millennium BC.

Ohrgehänge | 4. Jh. v. Chr. | Griechisch | Gold

In ancient Egypt, the scarab was regarded as a symbol of the resurrection and rebirth of the sun. Presumptively from Asia Minor, this ring was crafted by a Greek goldsmith.

As legend has it, Heracles – a son of Zeus, the father of the Greek gods, and therefore himself a demigod – already performed great feats as a little child. While still in his cradle, he is supposed to have killed the two serpents sent to him by Zeus’ wife Hera, who was jealous of Alcmene, Heracles’ mother. This heroic deed accomplished by the infant Heracles also found its artistic expression in jewellery, in the shape of what is called a Heracles knot, which was believed to have magical powers and is formed in this bracelet from the Hellenistic period by two elegantly intertwined serpents.

Schlüsselring | 2.-3. Jh. n. Chr. | Römisch | Bronze

From Byzantium to the late Middle Ages
The first jewellery featuring Christian symbols was created during the time of the Byzantine Empire. Yet new forms were developed during the Barbarian Invasion, when the Germanic tribes merged their traditions with those of the civilizations they encountered. This is evidenced for example by a pair of Ostrogothic-Pannonian garment fasteners that “migrated” to Northern Italy along with their Ostrogoth owner. In the Middle Ages, goldsmiths practiced their art mainly in the service of the aristocracy and the Church. Only a few pieces of jewellery from this era have survived.

Lunula-Anhänger an Kette | Um 600 | Syrien | Gold, Sardony, Smaragde, Saphir, Perlen

Shaped like a winged altar, this pendant features an enamelled figurine representing Mary, being crowned by angels, on top of two small compartments for relics that no longer exist.

Medaillon: Johannes der Täufer | Spätes 15. Jh. | Silber vergoldet, Email

Kreuzanhänger | Um 1560 | Süddeutschland | Gold, Diamanten, Email, Perlen

Renaissance, Baroque and Rococo
For jewellery in Europe, the 16th century marked the beginning of a long-lasting heyday, i.e. an era that was radically different from the Middle Ages. The aristocracy and wealthy middle class developed an unprecedented predilection for luxury and opulent representation, wearing jewellery enhanced with gemstones, pearls and enamel in the shapes and colours typical of the Renaissance. This vibrant interplay of colours and gemstones was also characteristic of jewellery created in the Baroque period. In the second half of the 17th century, the triumphant advance of diamonds could no longer be stopped. Diamond cuts became increasingly sophisticated and brought out the stones’ brilliance much more than in the early days of diamond cutting during the 14th century.

Its complex design focuses on the perfect harmony between the colours and the shapes of the ornamental scrolls and tendrils, which can be found in almost identical form in both the secular and ecclesiastical architecture of the time.

In the early Baroque period, jewellery continued to be characterized by a vibrant interplay of colours and gemstones.

Bildnisanhänger Philip von Bourbon | Um 1700 | Französisch | Silber, Miniatur auf Kupfer, Diamanten

Hunters’ jewellery became very popular in the 18th century. True-to-life depictions of game in its own natural environment were created in the form of enamel paintings, for example.

Brosche | Um 1750 | Deutsch oder
französisch | Silber, Gold, Topase, Diamanten, Email

Neoclassicism and Biedermeier
During the French Revolution, it was extremely dangerous to wear opulent jewellery. But it only took a few years until people’s desire to wear jewellery in all its diversity gained the upper hand again. Inspired by Neoclassical ideas of forms and designs, a new jewellery style evolved, as is evidenced by the many – unostentatious in terms of shape yet carefully matched – jewellery sets composed of tiaras, ornamental combs, brooches, bracelets, pendants and pendant earrings. The social and economic changes taking place during the course of the 19th century and the educational journeys to the ancient sites in Greece and Italy sparked people’s desire for “souvenir jewellery”, such as the pieces featuring miniature mosaics created in Rome and Naples.

Miniature ivory carvings rich in details, which can only be discerned with a magnifying glass, are nothing less than genuine works of art.

They were elaborately crafted according to the ajour (open-work) technique, with the remaining material’s thickness not exceeding a tenth or a hundredth of a millimetre in some cases. They were referred to as “mirabilia”, i.e. marvels of art, created by the human hand.

Maiandros, the Greek name of the Meander river in Asia Minor, became the synonym of endlessly winding ornamental bands that were particularly popular as a decorative motif in classical antiquity and in the Neoclassical period.

The trend in the Neoclassical period was to idealize mountain ranges into heroic landscapes.

Mourning jewellery incorporating human hair was widespread in the 18th and 19th centuries.

If we consider the small size of the image space available, we’ll appreciate the goldsmith’s mastery in terms of his skilful elaboration of only some few, expressive details.

Siegelring (Detailfoto)

In the second half of the 19th century, jewellers like the Castellani brothers made a name for themselves with jewellery that weds elements characteristic of classical antiquity with those typical of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. People’s veneration of classical antiquity and of past epochs in general was the main source of inspiration for the motifs used in those decades. We can even speak of fashions, many of which were inspired by contemporary events. The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, for example, sparked a new wave of enthusiasm for Ancient Egyptian designs.

Drachenanhänger | Entwurf 1582, Ausführung später | Antwerpen | Gold, Email, Perlen

Oval locket enamelled by Antoine Tard in the Japonizing style, depicting two cranes on the front. The reverse shows a floral motif and Japanese characters wishing a happy New Year, protected by a glass lid.

The bracelet consists of ten links, decorated on both sides in the style of illuminated medieval manuscripts. Medieval art and that of the Renaissance were important sources of inspiration for the brothers Alexis and Lucien Falize.

The bracelet displays the names of the customer's children on the front ...

... and their dates of birth on the back.

Anhänger | Firma Wilhelm Stöffler | Um 1885 | Pforzheim | Gold, Shakudo-Platte, Email

Anhänger | Firma Abrecht & Keppler (?) | Um 1893 | Pforzheim | Silber vergoldet, Email

Art Nouveau
A movement in the arts, artistic crafts and architecture referred to as Jugendstil in Germany and Art Nouveau in France lasted for only a few years. This “youth style” or “new art” found its sources of inspiration in nature. Enhanced with or metamorphosed into ornamental elements, human beings, animals and plants served as the motifs that – quite often also endowed with symbolic meaning – characterized the works created around the turn of the 19th to 20th centuries. The French glass designer René Lalique is also considered an outstanding jewellery designer of the time.

A nude golden female figure reclining on a seashell is being menaced by an octopus. Representing the water, the plique-à-jour enamel is bordered by tendrils set with diamonds.

A crowned octopus, composed of two baroque pearls, is attacking a polychrome enamelled butterfly.

Female figurines radiating an erotic aura are a prevalent theme in the Art Nouveau period.

Art Deco
During the 1920s and 1930s, in the Art Deco period, jewellery artists had a preference for austere refinement in terms of both designs and choice of materials.

Crafted in the ornamental style – with a sophisticated three-dimensional structure – typical of Theodor Wende's work, the upper third of this escutcheon-shaped pendant features a facetted aquamarine.

Modern Art Jewellery
In the early 1950s, a new concept of jewellery and of the goldsmiths’ self-image began to manifest itself in the jewellery world. Exploring new paths and focusing on the wearer as an individual, jewellery makers created pieces that initially were still made of the familiar precious metals, but had rough surface textures, for example. They increasingly also used various other materials, including plastic, and introduced new forms and shapes, as well as unusual material combinations. Although not created for showcases but for people, many pieces of modern jewellery have found their way into museums as testimonies to their creators’ in-depth involvement with artistic as well as societal issues.

Reinhold Reiling (1922-1983) was one of the trailblazers of modern art jewellery in Germany.

Jens-Rüdiger Lorenzen’s jewellery is characterized by its affinity with abstract small sculptures.

Armreif von Friedrich Becker | 1997 | Düsseldorf | Edelstahl, synthetische Korunde

Keen to experiment, jewellery artists in our day and age deliberately question commonly held notions of value and traditional craftsmanship. What’s more important to them is the artistic idea and its aesthetically apposite implementation.

Armreif von Peter Chang | 1998 | Glasgow | Acryl, Polyester

Brosche von Georg Dobler | 2008 | Pforzheim | Silber, Rauchquarz

Featuring serene views of nature, photographed and etched into zinc plaques, the pieces created by Bettina Speckner can be described as poetry transmuted into jewellery.

Ring "Fette Beute" von Andreas Zidek | 2009 | Gold

Halsschmuck von Ute Eitzenhöfer | 2013 | Verpackungskunststoff, Perlen, Silber geschwärzt

Ornamental watches
Pforzheim’s Jewellery Museum is also home to a precious collection of pendant, pocket, bracelet and ring watches created primarily as decorative accessories. From the 16th to the mid-18th century, the ornamental character and thus the prestige value of a watch far exceeded the practical value of the technically rather immature timekeepers back then. Early watches were pieces of jewellery representing their wearers’ standing in society and demonstrating their good taste. Watch case makers used the same crafting and decorating techniques as goldsmiths.

Taschenuhr mit Châtelaine | Uhrwerk von Just Vulliamy | Um 1760 | London | Gold, Perlen, Diamanten, Email

The beetle’s hinged wings were usually closed. To read the time, the wearer simply had to press together the beetle’s hind legs.

Taschenuhr | Frühes 19. Jh. | Pforzheim | Gehäuse Silber, emailliertes Zifferblatt

Credits: Story

Fritz Falk: Jewellery 1840-1940. Highlights Schmuckmuseum Pforzheim. Stuttgart 2004

Fritz Falk: Serpentina. Snake Jewellery from around the world. Stuttgart 2011

Fritz Falk, Cornelie Holzach: Modern Jewellery 1960-1998. Catalogue of the Modern Collection in the Schmuckmuseum Pforzheim. Stuttgart 1999

Cornelie Holzach: Schmuckmuseum Pforzheim. Museum Guide. Pforzheim 2015

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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