Elizabethan Jewelry - Past and Present

By: Ian Maher

Elizabeth I reigned as Queen of England from 1558 to 1603, an era that brought with it much advancement in the Western world. Fashion is no exception, and the Queen's own love for style contributed to many changes in fashion trends of the time. Jewelry of the Elizabethan era reflected in many ways the jewelry of today, though the most valuable metals and gemstones were mostly limited to the upper class or those in a position of nobility.

Necklaces were commonly worn by women of the Elizabethan age, who often wore multiple necklaces at the same time. The carcanet, a wide, collar-like necklace crafted from fine metal and jewels and often worn along with other necklaces is a piece characteristic of the era. Gold pendants were a common accessory for women later in the era, succeeding the popularity of brooches. Pearls, gold, silver, diamonds, emeralds, sapphires and other precious metals and gemstones were incorporated into beautiful necklaces and other pieces of jewelry worn by the upper class. Though gemstones were fashioned into different shapes for jewelry using basic methods in this era, gemstone cutting technology and expertise was quite limited in comparison to the complex, multi-faceted gemstone cuts common today.

Another piece of jewelry common to both Elizabethan era and today is the ring. Similar to modern day practice, rings were worn to symbolize marriage, and were often crafted of gold and engraved with a message. Though rings were worn as a symbol of marriage, they were not typically worn by men, and even wedding rings were mostly limited to the upper class. Rings were sometimes worn on both the first and the second joint of the finger, not just the first as rings are most commonly seen today, and it would not be uncommon for every finger to be adorned with a ring except the middle.

Earrings experienced some popularity in the later part of the Elizabethan era. Women would have both ears pierced, while men would have only one. Earrings were typically a continuous hoop, possibly holding a pendant, as the modern day post style and hook style had yet to be invented.

The Elizabethan era spans forty five years, and no single style exemplifies it directly. In fact, Elizabethan jewelry alone is a topic that has been examined in volumes of literature. Genuine Elizabethan jewelry as well as new pieces influenced by the styles of the era are still worn today. Many jewelry styles of today owe their existence to concepts originating centuries ago during the Elizabethan era of English history.

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