Humans have been adorning themselves from earliest history, using whatever was at hand. Any colored substance such as berry juice was useful for putting on makeup. People soon began to string shells and seeds together to make jewelry and once precious metal could be mined that was added to the mix. Since that time we have had a love affair with jewelry, but did you ever stop to think about the history of our most prized metals and stones? Here's a peek into the history of gold, silver, platinum and diamonds.
Let's start with gold, which people have known about since earliest times. Gold was often to be found lying around in rivers and streams and was widely used long before iron and steel came into their own. Pure gold doesn't corrode or tarnish and has a beautiful sheen. Best of all, it's easy to work, so perhaps that's why Egyptian rulers and others used it so much.
Gold was the stuff of gods and leaders, so from the start it was seen as valuable. Used for money in ancient Greece and the Roman Empire, it's one of the substances that drives the world economy and is still synonymous with value and power. For those with a smaller stake in the economy, though, gold is simply the metal that makes some of the worlds most beautiful and sought after jewelry.
Silver is another metal with a venerable history. The area that later became Turkey, along with the Greek islands, were famous for silver craftsmanship as far back as 4,000 BC, with concerted silver mining efforts beginning 1,000 years later. There were Spanish mines all around Europe. On the other side of the world, from the 16th century onwards, silver was discovered in many parts of South America; and a few centuries later, similar discoveries added new silver mining countries to the list: Australia, Eastern Europe, Japan and parts of the USA, among others.
Like gold, silver was seen as something sacred, and was widely used for jewelry. And, also like gold, it became linked to money and wealth, which is still going on today.
It's hard to believe when we think of how much we value platinum jewelry today, but platinum was once looked down on. It was seen as a hindrance by the Spanish in the 16th century, which got in the way of the search for gold. That said, in ancient times platinum was used for decoration, most famously on the Casket of Thebes, but apart from that, it tended to be discarded, being seen as a metal that was not quite as good or useful as gold or silver.
It wasn't till the 18th century that that began to change and it would still be another 100 years before there was enough platinum around to make it available more widely. Until 1820, the only place you could find platinum was Colombia and those supplies were soon exhausted. In the nick of time, additional deposits were discovered in Russia and then 60 years later in Canada. Today, most of the world's platinum originates in South Africa.
Platinum jewelry became popular from the 1960s onwards, like the leather loveseat, led by an upsurge in demand from Japan - this pure, valuable metal with the excellent color really found favor with them. Since then, platinum jewelry has become prized in a range of international markets.
Gold, silver and platinum are the most precious metals used for making jewelry, but they don't always stand alone. To complete the perfect piece of jewelry you often need a stone, and which better one to choose than a diamond? With their clear, sparkling brilliance diamonds have a special allure for jewelry lovers. Diamonds were not always used for jewelry. Some researchers suggest that in India, millennia ago, they were used to refract light. It was not until the Middle Ages that people began to think diamonds valuable, driven by the discovery of large diamonds in India. Since then, diamond mining has spread out to many other countries including Africa, Australia, Siberia and Brazil.
It's hard to believe that something that shares a history with coal - they are both carbon-based - would have such appeal, but you only have to see the light shining through a diamond to understand its appeal.
This article was written by a contributing "Jewelry Pro".