Early Egyptian Jewelry: Bracelets and Rings Part 3

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Sculptures and paintings represent bracelets by bands of red or blue color on the arms, and show that the Egyptians wore four—one on the wrist and one above the elbow of each arm. Some of the earliest are composed of glass and gold beads threaded so as to form various patterns. The more solid forms of bracelet are ornamented with inlaid work. Rings for the arms, as well as the ankles, are generally of plain gold—both solid and hollow—sometimes bordered with plaited chain-work. Bracelets of thick and occasionally twisted wire, found as early as the twelfth dynasty, usually have the ends beaten out into a thin wire, which is lapped round the opposite shank so as to slip easily over the wrist. Bracelets in the form of serpents belong to the Ptolemaic and early Roman periods.

The commonest ornament is the finger ring. The ring was not only an ornament, but an actual necessity, since it served as a signet, the owner’s emblem or badge being engraved either on the metal of the ring or on a scarab or other stone set in it.

There are three main types of Egyptian rings. The first and simplest, composed of a seal stone with a ring attached, is formed of a hoop with flattened ends, each pierced, which grasp the scarab. Through a hole made in the scarab was run a wire, the ends of which, passing through the extremities of the ring, were wound several times round it. The revolving scarab exhibited its back when worn on the finger and the engraved side when necessary to use it as a seal. The general outline of the ring is like a stirrup, a form which of course varied in accordance with the size of the scarab.

In a second type of ring the swivel disappears, and the ring is in one piece. Its outline retains the stirrup form, but the inside of the hoop is round and fits closely to the finger. Of this type are rings, dating from the eighteenth to the twentieth dynasty, formed of two hoops united at the top and having the names and titles of the owner deeply sunk in hieroglyphics on oblong gold bezels.

A third type, almost circular in outline, is of similar form to the signet-ring of the present day.

In addition to those which were actually worn in life, are models of real rings employed solely for funeral purposes to ornament the fingers of the wooden model hands which were placed on the coffins of mummies of the eighteenth and nineteenth dynasties.

The model rings are made of faience with fine glazes of blue, green, and other colors, with various devices, incuse or in intaglio, upon the bezels, which are generally of oval form.

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Early Egyptian and Phoenician Jewelry Part 1

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Most of the forms met with among the jewelry of the civilized nations of later times are found represented in the ornaments of the Egyptians. It is fortunate that important specimens of all descriptions of these have come down to our days. This we owe to the elaborate care which the Egyptians bestowed on the preservation of the dead, and to the strict observance of funeral rites, which induced them to dress and ornament their mummies with a view to future comfort both in the grave and in the after life.

The ornaments, however, buried with the dead were frequently mere models of what were worn in life, and the pains taken in making these depended on the sums expended by the friends of the deceased after his death. While those who were possessed of means and were scrupulous in their last duties to the dead purchased ornaments of the best workmanship and of the most costly materials, others who were unable or unwilling to incur expense in providing such objects were contented with glass pastes instead of precious stones, and glazed pottery instead of gold.

With the exception of many finger rings worn by both sexes and some female ornaments, the greater number of jewels discovered in the tombs are of inferior quality and value to those which the deceased had worn when living.

A peculiarity of the jewelry of the Egyptians is that, in addition to its actual purpose, it generally possesses something of the allegorical and emblematic signification, for which their mythology offered plentiful material. Among the emblems or figures of objects which symbolize or suggest the qualities of deities, the most favorite is the scarab or beetle, type of the god Khepera.

The use of scarabs in burial had reference to the resurrection of the dead and immortality. Other important emblems include the tiza or tttchat, the symbolic eye—the eye of Horns, the hawk-god; the cobra snake, the emblem of divine and royal sovereignty; the tet, the four-barred emblem of stability, endurance, and lastingness; the human-headed hawk, emblem of the soul. These and many others, as well as figures from the animal world, were worn as ornaments, and especially as amulets to bring good fortune or to ward off evil.

Color plays an important part in Egyptian jewelry. This love of color was displayed in the use of glazed ware, incorrectly termed porcelain, but properly a faience, much employed for all articles, as necklaces, scarabs, and rings, and particularly for the various kinds of amulets which were largely worn as personal ornaments.

The most usual and beautiful was the cupreous glaze of a blue or apple-green color; yellow, violet, red, and white are also met with, but less frequently, and chiefly at later periods. But color showed itself above all in the surface decoration of jewelry, produced by the application of colored stones and the imitation of these inserted in cells of gold prepared for them. The chief materials employed for the purpose were lapis- lazuli, turquoise, root of emerald or green feldspar, jasper, and obsidian, besides various opaque glasses imitating” them.

With the exception of enamel upon metal, which is only found in Egypt in quite late periods, the Egyptians appear to have been acquainted with all the processes of jewelry now in use. Chasing and engraving they preferred to all other modes of ornamenting metal-work, as these methods enhanced the beauty of their jewels while retaining a level surface. They were also highly skilled in soldering and in the art of repouss work. The great malleability of gold enabled them to overlay ornaments of silver, bronze, and even stone with thin leaves of this metal ; while ornaments were also composed entirely of plates of gold of extreme thinness. In articles where frequent repetition occurs, for instance, in necklaces, patterns were produced by pressure in molds, and then soldered together.

Continued in Part 2

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