The first evidence of jewelry making in ancient Egypt dates back to 4000BC.
In ancient Egypt both men and women were great lovers of jewelry and adorned themselves with a profusion of trinkets. Jewelry also showed wealth and status and offered protection from evil. This protection was available for those dead or alive and was thought to bring prosperity in both the present and the after life.
Ancient Egyptian Necklace
There was a variety of jewelry including amulets, necklaces, pendants, bracelets, rings, head jewelry, anklets, diadems, collars and insignia. Many of the ancient Egyptian methods for cutting gemstones have been lost, but the quality is still there today.
Although the Egyptians had access to many precious gemstones, they preferred to use softer, semi-precious stones such carnelian, jasper, lapis lazuli, malachite, quartz and turquoise.
The color of the jewelry and gemstones was very important to the Egyptians, since certain colors were thought to provide protection against evil and good luck. In many ancient cultures royalty was represented by the color blue, and this was especially true in ancient Egypt, making lapis lazuli one of the most prized of all gemstones.
Lapis & Carnelian Pendant
Turquoise is another opaque gemstone that was favored by the Egyptians. The coloring is similar to that of the tropical sea and it was used to represent joy, cleanliness and pleasure. The infamous golden burial mask of King Tut was inlaid with turquoise, lapis lazuli and carnelian.
Most of the raw materials that were used to make jewelry were found in, or near Egypt, but certain prized materials such as lapis lazuli were imported from as far away as Afghanistan. Queen Cleopatra's favorite gemstone was emerald, and she even gifted foreign dignities emeralds carved in her likeness. Emeralds were mined locally near the Red Sea. Egypt held the monopoly on emeralds till the 16th century. Today, an emerald in perfect condition is worth far more than a white diamond due to the rarity of the stone. Egyptians linked emeralds to fertility, immortality, rejuvenation and eternal spring. Today, a lady wearing an elegant emerald necklace or ring can feel just as much of a queen as Cleopatra.
One of King Tut's Coffins
Not everyone could afford emerald or semi precious gems so, in order, to provide cheap materials for the lower social classes, Egyptian artisans invented the art of fake gemstones. Ancient artisans became so adept at crafting glass bead versions of precious stones that it was difficult to distinguish authentic emeralds, pearls and tiger's eye.