Friday, May 7, 2021

When Did It Become BLING? Part One


A work of Cellini, the Italian Renaissance goldsmith. Submitted Photo

A work of Cellini, the Italian Renaissance goldsmith. Submitted Photo

I have often wondered how prehistoric baubles — like for instance, a saber tiger’s fang or a shiny rock tied to a leather cord — evolved to what jewelry is today.

Today it’s diamonds, diamonds and more diamonds. It can be big gold or platinum chains and huge pendants or the gaudiest of rings that would put Elvis and Liberace’s jewelry collections to shame. Ever notice the huge diamond bling earring studs on sports stars? They are basically wearing the cost of an average home on each ear. I don’t know, is this kind of bling meant to impress you and me or outright flaunt to the world… ”Hey! I can put a ball through a hoop in front of thousands of people, so I can afford a pair of $250K earrings! Can you?” I wish a few of these cats would wander into my shop someday.



Through the ages, jewelry (aka a shiny rock) probably began as a simple peace offering that Fred Flintstone offered to Wilma to prevent him from sleeping on the stone sofa for hanging out too late with Barney. Or it could have been to impress her and maybe even make Betty Rubble envious, who knows?

It’s no secret that as the years progressed only the crown royals or the very affluent could afford, let alone wear, really nice gold and precious stone jewelry. It’s a fact that in ancient Rome if a slave was found with even a simple gold band in their possession they could be executed for theft on the spot. After all, how could a slave afford such a luxury? He or she had to have stolen it. Most of the jewelry unearthed in digs in Rome is either copper or bronze, or even iron.

Not meaning to be disrespectful, but the kings of all BLING have to be the jewelry collections of crosses and rings that belonged of the Popes of the Holy Roman Catholic Church, on display at the Vatican. You will leave there speechless after seeing it.

After the dark ages (a long time ago, not talking about the past ten years!) the Renaissance emerged and the rebirth of art (and especially fine jewelry) was a sight to see – and can still be seen in major museums around the world. I lose my sense of time (ask my wife who gets quite perturbed by that fact!) when viewing the masters’ work, such the great Italian goldsmith, Benvenuto Cellini. I enjoy (actually obsess about) visiting countless museums during my travels in Italy, and throughout Europe. I was surprised by the exquisite quality and craftsmanship of jewelry created in Germany for the many royal families around the same time period. I discovered that many young men, mostly young boys were sent to Italy for years as apprentices and learned the goldsmith trade by the masters, then brought their knowledge and skill back to Germany and other parts of Europe. The city of Pforzheim is an important jewelry and clock manufacturing center even today. I have been there several times myself to see production first hand and purchase jewelry directly. (The beer and wine in the region is also outstanding!)

While visiting a museum (The Gold Vault) in Dresden, Germany I was stunned by the opulence of the royal jewels of kings, queens, princesses and princes, quite frankly folks I never even heard of. Heck, the court jester probably wore diamonds! I saw diamonds the size of nickels for simply the buttons of a tunic or vest, priceless gemstone tiaras with hundreds of carats of diamonds, rubies and sapphires and rings and bracelets that would blow your mind. You want to talk about BLING! Back in those days the semi-precious gem amethyst was revered by royalty because of its purple color and was rated high-end with rubies and sapphires. Today the royal amethyst is affordable to all.

The Louvre in Paris is a museum I could spend a year in, just cruising the jeweled artifacts. The intricate quality of the royal French families’ crown jewels is astounding. Napoleon’s old lady Josephine was sporting some serious BLING!

As the years rolled on, a simple gold wedding ring for the bride and groom was obligatory for most Europeans, without the fear of execution of course, and then the wearing of jewelry moved on to simple earrings and pendants affordable to the masses.

This was good news for many goldsmiths of the era, who for centuries were literally slaves of the trade to a king or queen. Now they could leave the confines of the castle and open up a small business in the village and do quite well for themselves.

Richard Alan is a designer/goldsmith and owner of The Harbor Goldsmith of Marco Island located at Island Plaza (currently under a facelift) and welcomes your questions about “All That Glitters.” He can be reached at 239-394-9275 or

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