History Of Jewelry Design: Medieval And Rococo Styles

History Of Jewelry Design

Jewelry has been accompanying the history of clothing styles throughout centuries. Starting from the practice of carving the simplest rock pieces into decorations in the ancient times, people were trying to make their looks more diverse and attractive. Jewelry styles all around the world have reflected the main ideas of historical epochs and values people have been guided by. As a matter of fact, ornaments, shapes, and colors have a certain meaning, which appeals to people’s views on religion and beauty. Therefore, jewelry styles have differed throughout history, thus depicturing alterations of the main concepts of each historical period. This paper will focus on the comparison of the Medieval and Rococo styles of jewelry according to the historical background, techniques, and motifs. The main difference between the aforementioned styles lies in the purpose and abundance of decorations. In particular, Medieval style involves religious elements, while the rich ornaments of Rococo style have no specific purpose apart from embellishing. Medieval style jewelry had gained some unique features that are present in a particular culture, whereas the characteristics of Rococo style never depended on a country. Even though both styles were widely developed in Europe, the wealth of their decorations and ornaments differs according to social categories, thus creating certain peculiarities.

The Medieval jewelry style of clothing and jewelry was affected by Christian beliefs based upon humbleness and restraint. As Catholic Church was very influential at that time, clothing and embellishments were connected with religious sphere to a great extent. Byzantine style is a good example of this impact as it represents significant cultural heritage in Europe. The decorations of Byzantine style were sumptuous and made of gold, precious stones, and glass. However, very few of these magnificent pieces remained until nowadays as according to traditions they were buried with their owners. Only some of jewelry pieces have remained until now, for example crucifix pendants and treasure bindings for books. During the ritual of Communion, chalices were used for drinking. Reliquaries were other objects used for a religious purpose, and they contained the remains of saints, called relics. The decoration of these pieces was made of golden and silver materials decorated with stones.

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In the 9th century, Celtic and Anglo Saxon tribes started to make jewelry more accessible for general population because the price of gold became lower. They used enamel as a decoration instead of precious stones, which was much cheaper. Those tribes also manufactured many weapons as they were under the constant risk of Viking’s invasion. Although the jewelry forms were based on Roman styles, they still varied from tribe to tribe. Viking’s jewelry differed because of the usage of silver, which was not typical for the Middle Ages. They used natural and animalistic ornaments, which became more elaborate with the flow of time. Later, they started to use geometric patterns that became a distinguishing feature of their jewelry. Women used jewelry to keep their clothes on, so they usually wore brooches and some other pieces almost all the time. Celts used similar techniques, which can be seen in the design of their brooches (Appendix B). These jewels were not necessarily rich but were distinguished with exquisite ornaments that were usually made of silver.

From the very beginning, Medieval jewelry had a wide range of functions. As women used brooches were used to fasten dresses, men wore decorated belts as a part of their dressing as well. Then, all these pieces started to gain uniqueness as they began to be used as elements of self-expression: brooches and clasps featured initials and casts of arms to recognize a person or a family. Besides, they could involve religious or heraldic motifs. At the beginning of the 14th century, the French influence changed the decorations into more embellished pieces. As an example, belts became broader because of increasing abundance of different ornaments, such as pearls and golden chains. Buttons were also decorated with various enamels, filigrees, cameos, thus providing costumes with brighter and fancier images.

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There are a few popular techniques used by goldsmiths in the Middle Ages. The processes of soldering, plating, and gliding were the main ways of gold utilizing. Jewelers included different techniques while operating with gold ingots and joining them with the other metals, for example, copper or terracotta. Jewelers also used various means in order to apply an ornament to their jewels. For example, inlay and enameling were used to put glass or metals onto the surface of jewelry, thus creating a pattern. Repoussé is a process of using the pressure on a gold sheet to form certain ornament. Filigree and granulation techniques created sophisticated patterns by using grains and wires on a leaf of gold. These ways of decoration made Medieval jewelry beautiful and well-detailed.

On the contrary, the richness of Rococo style has impressed people from its very beginning. It evolved from Baroque and later developed as a unique style. Unlike the Medieval style, Rococo was meant to be a decorative, but not practical style, sometimes exaggerating the means of beauty. Religion had no impact on the development of Rococo style because the meaning of jewelry switched from symbolic to exceptionally decorative. This type of jewelry went against the canons of strictness, symmetry, and proper arrangement of elements.

Even though new tendencies had a certain influence on jewelry, the supremacy of precious stones, diamonds, and pearls was still very noticeable. When Rococo style was on the summit of its popularity, the decorations became even more various and enchased. The whole toilet was a distinct example of the overwhelming luxury as the jewels were quite heavy because of the numerous precious stones of various colors and shapes. Women wore few necklaces, some of which had pendants, incrusted belts, shiny brooches and bracelets, and rings almost on every finger. Some of the jewels might be inserted even around armholes and shoulders. Earrings resembled little chandeliers because of their girandole design. Another distinct type of jewelry was Spanish stomacher brooch, which covered the body from neck to waist (Appendix C). The framework was either gold or silver, and it was decorated with different pendants and gemstones. There were usually no less than fifty different decorations, making the item quite heavy. Men wore gold chatelaines, which were pendants designed in various colors and shapes (Appendix A). The purpose of wearing these chains was not to lost their keys or watches. Women also used chatelaines to carry some trinkets. All these jewels contained decorations, which formed quite an elaborate and beautiful ornament. Rococo style helped to attract the attention as it was hard not to notice a person sparkling from head to toes and clanging with their luxurious jewels.

Rococo style developed a wider usage of materials. The items were mostly made of gold and covered with colored enamel. Even though pieces were decorated with precious stones in both styles, Rococo jewels often included expensive topazes, rubies, and emeralds. Some of the stones were used only in evening toilet, for example, Brazilian topazes or chrysoberyls, which were considered to be more exotic. Moreover, pearls gained special popularity under the influence of the preceding Baroque age. Jewelers used them in decorations as well as separate pieces, for example, in earrings. Rococo’s asymmetrical designs and shapes were opposite to Medieval arranged ornaments. Rococo style preferred sparkling and clanking elements, such as chains, buckles or even personal possessions, which were worn not for practical purposes but simply for decoration. However, Rococo jewels worn by the middle class did not fulfill the purpose of making the owner extravagant because of the lack of expensive materials. People could use substitutions, such as rock crystals, as they were cheaper. Even among the aristocracy, silver jewels with colored glass were acceptable.


In conclusion, Medieval and Rococo style differ in numerous ways. While Medieval style was more discreet and does not involve luxurious elements in people’s everyday clothing, Rococo style was all about splendor and prosperity. The techniques of jewels manufacturing changed the intensity of decorations, thus making Rococo jewelry full of different ornaments and glowing elements. Rococo style was created to draw the attention to the owner of those jewels, especially in the light of candles during balls or other events. On the contrary, Medieval style jewelers focused on simplicity combined with practical features as initially jewels were used as inalienable parts of clothing. Barbarian tribes actively ornamented their weapons with patterns and enamels. Richness and luxury featured predominantly in religious items, for example, cross pendants. Rococo style, however, involved pomposity even in the tiniest jewels. The fashion of that time left some pieces that were impressive in their luxury unlike the Medieval jewels, which were often buried with their owners. Consequently, there is no doubt that the two styles have no similarities due to the approach towards the beauty of each age. Therefore, Medieval and Rococo style are completely different, yet each of these styles is unique and magnificent in its way.

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