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Necklaces: from their beginnings to present day

It was not until the era of Ancient Egypt that necklaces and chokers had their true splendour. Pectoral necklaces were mainly used by Pharaohs and among the ruling classes. The most popular models were those made in solid gold or those with several rows and many stones beads, such as lapis lazuli or turquoises, also mixed with beads of gold or ceramics.

Greek necklaces were also luxurious, made in gold, and most of them included flat decorations, such as rosettes and palmettes, from which often hung three-dimensional pieces in the shape of seeds, acorns, jugs or heads. The most representative examples from the Hellenistic era are those designed as a chain topped by a carnelian half moon or by an animal’s head.

Etruscan necklaces were known for incorporating their popular technique of granulation, and from which hung their famous circular discs in gold, silver or electrum called “bulla”, probably with protective functions. However, the most magnificent Etruscan necklaces were provided with gold strips from which hung a mesh of gold chains in with intertwined three-dimensional figures, such as mermaids, gorgons, satyr heads, beetles and occasionally hard stones. You can find these models in our necklaces and chokers auctions.

There are very few necklaces from the Republic period, since at that time it was not very popular to get excessively adorned

Necklaces in Rome and Byzantium

There are very few necklaces from the Republic period, since at that time it was not very popular to get excessively adorned, but it can be assumed that Etruscan and Greek models, if they still existed, kept being used. The use of gold as a personal adornment was quite limited, but gold rings, for example, were allowed on certain solemn occasions. During the Roman Empire, the annexation of Egypt brought Hellenistic influences, and wealth, luxury and ostentation slowly replaced the Republican sobriety. Roman jewellery was soon distanced from Etruscan and Hellenistic influences and it developed its own models and began to use coloured gems, such as sapphires, rubies, emeralds or pearls. Byzantium inherited this Roman tradition: we can find chains with precious stones beads from which gilt circular discs hang.

The Renaissance of necklaces

During the Middle Ages, only the elites could afford necklaces, and many times they were long chains or more customized special orders. During the 15th Century, the development of the neckline boosted the popularity of necklaces. Most of them were short, with fine designs and sometimes with a row of pearls and topped by a pendant with a gem or decoration with inlays. There were also other models that were placed flush with the neck, called “drownings”.

During Mannerism, chains of pieces and between pieces became very popular, with more or less openworked decorations of floral or geometric designs, with gemstones inlays richly decorated with enamels. Necklaces with a detachable central pendant were very common. That pendant could also be placed in another part of the clothing. On the other hand, linked chains that were widely used in the Middle Ages, continued being used during this period.

Baroque and Rococo: abandoning sobriety

During the 17th and 18th centuries, the Spanish court abandoned austerity in clothing, and velvet and brocade suits were gradually replaced by the French fashion of lightweight silk fabrics. Thus, together with the new revival of neckline, necklaces played again a key role, often accompanied by other jewels, such as earrings, creating jewellery sets. Pearls necklaces were very popular models, and so were insignia pendants. Faceted gems also began to gain importance and their designs proliferated. In the Baroque period, Mannerist necklaces with little variation were usual, but during the Rococo new models appeared.

Since chest brooches, located under the wide neckline, became more popular, it was imposed the use of short necklaces tight to the neck, often in velvet and sometimes with floral decorations, more or less abstract, more and more openworked, from which hung more or less developed pendants, often in the shape of pendeloques or large bows.

Bows, inherited from the past, became more important, and it was difficult to identify their shape because they were full of precious stones. Those central pieces used to be detachable, in order to put them in other places of clothes. Necklaces were often part of an earrings set, in the shape of girandoles or pendeloques, and also of other head jewels, such as aigrettes or pioches. Rose cut diamond borders outlined the entire design, but it was also common to find other stones, such as garnets or chrysoberyl.

The new classicism

During Neoclassicism, designs became more homogeneous and monotonous. They included decorations of ancient taste, such as laurel, stylized flowers, almond shapes, buttons or guilloché, maintaining the links necklaces. The simple rivière necklace appeared during that period; at the end of the 18th Century, it was usually combined with intermediate pieces, and its design, which is still used nowadays, was later refined. Larger stones were increasingly included, until an endless number of removable pieces were added. We can find models with pearls, diamonds, plaques of micro-mosaic and all kind of cameos, in an attempt to get back to Antique designs.

The creative profusion in the 19th Century

During that Century there were many trends, and we can find two aesthetic currents within jewels in general, and within necklaces in particular. The first one is realist, based on Baroque’s and Rococo’s naturalism, which includes plants and flowers compositions, fruits, grapes, snakes, butterflies and many more, in a truly realist way, in order to differ from the previous Neoclassical style. The other current was more abstract, and it included decorations from the past, such as rockeries, which are not real nature elements and they didn’t pretend to be recognizable by their users. Many jewels sought to include as many gems as possible, so it was difficult to differentiate the style.

Apart from these two trends, we must not forget the importance of Historicism on that period, so we can find items of Roman or Greek inspiration, as well as Egyptian, and a revival of all the previous styles. So, artists such as Castellani or Carlo Giuliano created necklaces that non-experts may find it difficult to differentiate from old models.

Modernism was a trend that found in jewellery a way to express its new ornamental style, more based on the feminine and on a rather decadent, withered nature, and not so focused on fullness. So, jewels of that period have a great symbolic significance, which is evidenced in pieces created by the French artist René Lalique or the Spanish Luis Mariera. We can find insects, autumn flowers, snowy landscapes, felines, literary monsters… And it was also the golden age of pendants as jewels. In Germanic and British territories there was a more abstract trend in Art Nouveau, which was called Jugendstil and Liberty respectively.

First half of the 20th Century

At the beginning of the 20th Century, the so-called Edwardian or Belle Epoque style gradually emerged; this inherited the rather abstract trends of Classicism, with necklaces by Cartier jewellers, in which a more or less sinuous silhouettes can be seen, but repeating the same schematic decoration.

The favourite base of those jewels was platinum, and they used to be monochrome. Diamonds were the main gem. From then on, pieces became lighter, in an attempt to be more comfortable for users. The fashion of the period included dresses with very vertical lines and a new empire waist, and therefore small jewels were refused and very large necklaces were the favourite ones. Sautoirs, along with negligés became the most popular jewels. They used to include a long pearls and diamonds necklace, topped with a pompom or a pendant of relative importance.

With the arrival of Functionalism and Art Deco, new materials were incorporated, which until then were not much used, such as onyx, rock crystal or less “fine” metals, such as silver, and new kinds of necklaces, such as tubogas, emerged. There were also included new gems, such as aquamarine, in order to escape from the previous monochrome look, as in Fouquet necklaces, in which this gem became the true focus of necklaces, more than the decoration itself. Designs from Japan and Ancient Egypt were a constant during that period, although decorations were more and more geometric. Within this aesthetics, the pieces by Mauboussin or Boucheron stood out.

Second half of the 20th Century

After the Second World War, due to the crisis, yellow gold was used again and necklaces were large and conspicuous, being the tubogas the most common. Only a few brands were truly imaginative, like Verdura or Van Cleef and Arpels. Necklaces were made short again, since fashion changed towards a much more feminine trend in which the feminine silhouette was again visible. Bright colours were back, and the most common gems were diamonds, sapphires, rubies or emeralds. In the 1950s, yellow or white gold lattices became more prominent in daily necklaces, and beading was pushed to the background, while night-time necklaces inherited the Art Déco geometric aesthetics, including a surface full of brilliants.

The sixties were a great burst of creativity, because once the economy revived, jewels added again more original stones such as peridots, citrines, amethysts or tanzanites, in their faceted or rough version. And of course, the short choker remained the queen of necklaces. In the seventies, the long necklaces reappeared, usually formed by beads and links of infinite shapes, highlighting the designs by Boucheron. Bib necklaces were the favourite of the eighties. They are short rigid necklaces, with more or less important geometric decorations. From the nineties onwards, dressing became more discreet and so were necklaces, with pendants being the favourite jewels of the time, or rivière chokers for formal events.