Given the opulence of clothing during the Renaissance period, it only makes sense that Renaissance jewelry was also an important part of the fashion scene then. Not only were precious gems sewn into clothing itself, but necklaces, rings, and tiaras gave the wealthiest citizens even more opportunities to show off their success — both women and men. In fact, King Henry VIII’s personal collection included more than 500 pieces, mostly rings and brooches, adorned with precious gems.
In fact, the Renaissance period marked a significant shift in the style and appearance of Renaissance jewelry. Previously, jewelry had been primarily limited to metal work in silver and gold. Thanks to exploration and the discovery of the New World, though, the options for jewelry styles increased. Explorers and traders returned to Europe with colorful gemstones from exotic lands, and the wealthy quickly embraced the idea of wearing Renaissance jewelry that featured the stones in elaborate settings.
No one could ever accuse Renaissance jewelry of being understated. In the early part of the period, stones weren’t generally cut, but instead polished into a cabochon or bead shape. It wasn’t until the late 1400s that a Belgian jeweler began to cut stones, revealing their brilliant, multifaceted surfaces. In fact, in the early part of the Renaissance, diamonds were all but dismissed as worthless, due to their colorlessness. That perception changed with the shift toward cut stones, especially those prepared in the rose cut, deemed the “perfect” cut by many of the time. The Rose cut, which was in favor well through the Victorian era, featured a flat-bottomed, faceted cut with a domed point on top — and was the most common style of stone in Renaissance jewelry.
The discovery of the brilliance of cut diamonds did not change the popularity of color, though. In fact, the emphasis on colorful stones is perhaps the most notable feature of Renaissance jewelry. Richly hued stones such as rubies, emeralds, and sapphires, as well as large pearls, featured prominently in many pieces. Usually, jewelry was designed to reflect something from the natural world as well; brooches and pendants inspired by exotic birds and animals were very common.
Perhaps the most lasting contribution to Renaissance jewelry design from the period is the pendant. The upper class often worked with their jewelers to design one-of-a-kind pieces, using gemstones to create works of art to hang on their necks. Because of the abundance of materials available from all over the world, there were no restrictions on how creative these jewelers could be.
The Renaissance period marked the beginning of a style of jewelry that remains popular today. With elaborate designs, colorful jewels, and unique shapes, the jewelry of this time remains some of the most stunning ever created.
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