Jewelry 101

A Dazzling Lesson in History

Story and Photography by Becca Barton

One of the chicest ways to study history is through the language of jewelry. Each piece has a story, from cameos hand-carved from shells, lava rocks, and ivory, to Egyptian-inspired Art Deco pieces popularized after the discovery of King Tut’s tomb. Emeralds, rubies, pearls and gold chains carry rich history and tell us a little bit about the women who wore them.

“The Language of Jewelry” exhibit at the Henry B. Plant Museum explores these embedded messages. A Russian snake choker of emeralds and gold symbolizes eternal love. This piece was especially timely, considering 2013 is, according to the Chinese calendar, the year of the snake.

Seeing these breathtaking pieces helped me to imagine the delicate care that went into crafting them. Hand-carved golden posey holders--meant to hold tiny bouquets and to offset the scents of the street-- looked more like chandeliers. And although decidedly less decorated than the women, men even wore jewelry of their own, pocketing golden etched streetcar token holders and adorning their clothing with decorative pins. Rubies were commonly used in jewelry, and also served as a remedy—men and women routinely used ground rubies to ease stomach ailments.

Get VERTICAL…In Your Inbox!