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  : : Ancient Egyptian Gem Jewelry

Ancient Egyptian Gem Stone Jewelry

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 could bring prosperity in the here- and- now and the after life.

Ancient Egyptian Necklace
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 so the gem stones, was very important to the Egyptians as it provided protection against evil and also provided good luck. In many ancient cultures royalty was represented by the color blue, and this was especially true in ancient Egypt, making Lapis one of the most prized of all gemstones.

Lapis and Carnelian Pendant
Lapis & Carnelian Pendant

Much like the lapis, turquoise is another opaque gemstone favored by 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 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, even to the extent where she 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 diamond due to the rarity of the stone. Egyptians linked emeralds to fertility, immortality, rejuvenation and eternal spring. Today, a lady wearing a dazzling amethyst necklace or elegant emerald ring can feel just as much a queen as Cleopatra.

King Tuts burial mask
King Tuts burial mask

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 the fake, 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.

Each Egyptian stone's color had a different meaning so for example jewelry that was green was meant to symbolize fertility and the success of new crops, while a recently deceased person would wear a red-colored necklace on their throat to satisfy the God Isis need for blood.

The rings worn by the men in Ancient Egypt were not just ornamental but an actual necessity. Official documents were not signed, but sealed and therefore authenticated. The poor man's seal was a simple copper or silver ring while the rich mans seal was an elaborate jewel. The ring would be set with a precious stone engraved with the owner's emblem such as a scorpion, lion or a hawk.

Ancient Egyptian Rings
Egyptian Rings

The Egyptian Scarab Beetle was used as an amulet or a good luck charm by both the rich and the poor. A depiction of a scarab beetle was used in the making of jewelry in the form of various types of pendants, bracelets, rings and necklaces. Scarab jewelry was believed to hold strong magical and religious properties and the Scarab was a symbol of rebirth. The name of the owner was inscribed on the flat base of the scarab to ensure that protective powers would be given to the wearer. Scarab pendants, bracelets, rings and necklaces were often made of precious or semi-precious jewels such as Carnelian, Lapis lazuli and Turquoise.

Tutanhkamun Lapis Scarab
Tutanhkamun Lapis Scarab

Some fine early examples of scarab finger-rings discovered by archeologists were owned by Sithathoriunet, an ancient Egyptian king's daughter of the 12th dynasty, mainly known from her burial at El-Lahun in which a treasure trove of jewelry was found. In each finger-ring the scarab's wings are inlaid with strips of Turquoise and Lapis lazuli, its thorax with Cornelian, its head with green stone and its legs with Carnelian.

Egyptian bracelets were produced in a variety of different types. Some bracelets were anklets and armlets which consisted of plain gold rings, whilst wrist bracelets were made of small beads in gold, Lapis lazuli, Carnelian, and green feldspar, strung on gold wire.

Necklace of Sithathoriunets
Necklace of Sithathoriunet
found at El-Lahun
Gold, carnelian, feldspar, garnet, turquoise and lapis lazuli

Due to the religious significance of jewelry for the Egyptians, items were much needed by the deceased in his afterlife journey, and an abundance of jewelry was buried with the dead. In fact ancient Egyptians prepared themselves from early life to the day they died by collecting as much protective jewelry as possible to be buried with them. Immense treasures and jewelry were buried with the dead for use in the afterlife and this was the main reason why Egyptian mummies were widely plundered.

Apart from gold, lots of jewelry was found that was made from precious and semi precious stones. Four bracelets were found during an excavation in 1901 of the tomb of Djer, the second Pharaoh of Egypt's 1st Dynasty.

Bracelets from the tomb of Djer
Bracelets from the tomb of Djer

They were found still in place on the arm of a woman, the body wrapped in linen bandages and hidden in the wall of the tomb. They are made from Gold, Lapis Lazuli, Turquoise and Amethyst. Many people know that purple is known to represent royalty, but they are not familiar with the fact that it goes back to the amethyst of ancient Egyptian sovereigns.

We hope you've found this article interesting. Why not email us with your thoughts or any questions? We always like to hear from our customers.

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  • First Published: September-16-2011
  • Last Updated: September-17-2011
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    Reproduction (text or graphics) without the express written consent of GemSelect.com (SETT Company Ltd.) is strictly prohibited.
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