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The Rich History of Italian Jewelry Design

A piece of Italian jewelry is much more than merely a fashionable and elegant choice of adornment. What many everyday consumers may not recognize is that Italian jewelry design is rich in diverse cultural history and centuries of artful admiration. A mixture of cultural influences set in the prosperous Roman Empire formed a people who, even today, strongly value creativity and passion. Together with the high demand for the luxury of their craft, these early goldsmiths built the prime catalyst for the impeccable standards and variety of Italian jewelry designers today.

The Early History of Jewelry Making 

Across all times and cultures, people have been crafting rare and beautiful objects into attention-drawing trinkets for men and women to adorn themselves with. From bone fragments to gemstones, objects prized for their aesthetic function as a material for ornamentation have symbolized wealth and style throughout the centuries.

Objects from bone fragments to gemstones have symbolized wealth and style throughout the centuries.

The process has always been similar. A keen-eyed craftsperson will collect raw components — for example, shells and pebbles or precious metals and gems — and then process and shape them through a variety of techniques into the most pleasing state possible. Even before metals were discovered, people gathered items such as stones and teeth and strung them together with plant fibers. Gold made its first appearances in Mesopotamia around 3000 BCE, revolutionizing the craft and making way for the thriving metal jewelry designing industry of our day.

Shifting to the Gold Standard

Gold has been captivating humanity for its malleability and durability ever since its discovery. Even today, jewelers often prefer it to other metals. It does not tarnish and never dulls.

In the early days of jewelry-making history, people felt an innate attraction to its color. The sun, revered as the giver of life, seemed to bestow its shine onto gold objects in a way that led to a sense of worship and admiration. In ancient times, it was as though gold in its glory could connect the human mind, body and spirit to the earth and earn the wearer the favor of the gods.

What has set Italian gold apart from the beginning is the warm, buttery glow of its solid, un-alloyed state. Since certain parts of Italy have excelled in the jewelry-making craft, you can always trust Italian-based design is perfect and distinctive.

The Beginnings of Italian Gold Jewelry

Italian jewelry design saw its beginnings in 700 BCE, with the Etruscan civilization in what is now Central Italy. Before gemstones were commonplace in jewelry design, gold and gold alone was the prime material of choice, crafted across the continent into rings, hairpins and intricate headdresses. The Egyptians heavily influenced the beginning stages of Etruscan gold design. This initial approach produced pieces that were less refined in style than their Greek counterparts, even described as barbaric. But over the course of the next few centuries, Greek influence would mold the Etruscan style into one that emphasized unique and delicate works of art.

Gold use to be the prime material of choice in jewelry design.

The Roman Influence: Jewelry as a Sign of Prosperity

The Romans were particularly influential during this time in increasing the popularity of gold jewelry. Wearing gold began to be a sign of one of the following:

  • Wealth — The Roman rich flaunted their extravagance unlike any other group of society. Their frivolity with absurdly numerous pieces of jewelry even subjected them to Rome's habitual passing of sumptuary laws, which restrict the consumption or use of specific items by certain members of the populace. In 213 BCE, for example, Emperor Fabius restricted women to only wearing half an ounce of gold at a time.
  • Rank in society — Senators, ambassadors and noblemen wore gold rings when present at public or important events to show their position in government, for example. According to another set of sumptuary laws, people weren't allowed to wear these rings in private.
  • Style — No articles of ornamentation were more popular than brooches to secure clothing and gold or iron rings on every joint of every finger. Between the fourth and second centuries BCE, Italian jewelry designers used filigree to interweave golden strands into floral webs, created nature-inspired figures for brooches and earrings and provided golden amulets, or "bullas," unique magic tokens worn on a chain that would protect the wearer from evil.

Because of the rising popularity across the vast territory of the Empire, jewelers of this era were the first to have the influx of numerous traditions and the resources and freedom to experiment and create the foundations for jewelry making today. Goldsmiths from eastern territories like Greece and modern-day Turkey flocked to the Roman Empire, specifically the Etruscan region of Tuscany, where jewelers witnessed the beginning of practices like alloying metals, engraving and stone-setting. During their peak, Etruscans perfected what is known as the "granulation" technique for fine gold jewelry crafting.

The Middle Ages: Jewelry as a Symbol of Reverence and Devotion

After the fall of Rome, the tradition continued, although dropping momentarily in popularity. A higher number of civilizations settling near rivers led to discoveries of rare and unearthed mineral deposits, increasing the overall supply of gold, which kept the jewelry-crafting trade alive in key areas of Western Europe, serving the purposes of the Roman Catholic Church.

In the Middle Ages, jewels and handcrafted gold items were mainly located in cathedral treasuries or imperial courts.

During this time, jewels and handcrafted gold articles were mainly located in cathedral treasuries or imperial courts. The public wore very little jewelry, apart from key pieces that reflected religious and societal norms or beliefs. The Middle Ages ran from the eighth to the 15th century CE, the first half of which saw very little jewelry use. Metalworks was a broad field, mostly confined to monastic workshops that crafted other metal objects for everyday use.

Classical Rebirth: Italian Jewelry Workshops Return

In the 11th century, these monastery-based workshops began to decline, being replaced by secular craft houses. This freedom led goldsmiths to serve the whims of royalty and nobility once again, creating the first official goldsmiths' guilds in the 1100s. Italian gold jewelry remained the most highly sought-after in the industry throughout the later Middle Ages, claiming the most exceptional secular metal workshops in major Italian cities like Vicenza and Florence, which continue to be epicenters of inspiration for jewelry crafting today.

Among Italian gold-crafted jewelry articles, the classic favorites from ancient eras remained at the highest rank of popularity, although now they often carried a greater religious significance in addition to their aesthetic appeal.

  • Finger rings: Jewels, filigree and other delicate gold work represented good omens and talismans. Rings continued to serve as a seal and remained a sign of governing office.
  • Medallion-style brooches: Round, pentagonal, star-shaped and even diamond-shaped brooches contained jewels and inscriptions on the back to remind the wearer of the religious meaning.
  • Ring-style brooches: These brooches often depicted a scene with small figurines shaped of gold, surrounded by a ring of numerous small stones. Inscriptions on these were also common to describe the motif depicted.

In the 14th century, with the approach of the Renaissance, Italian jewelry spread to other parts of the world with an extension of Italy's foreign trade. Drifting further from the influence of the church and returning to classic styles, mythological-themed brooches and exotic symbolism using fine, solid Italian gold grew in popularity throughout the world.

The Renaissance: An Italian Comeback

Over the next 200 years, a nostalgia for the classical style of Rome skyrocketed the demand for gold jewelry once again. Jewelers' arts in Tuscany soared in performance and expression, thanks to the wealth that began to trickle down to the Italian middle class.

During this period, jewelry designs sat at the same artistic level as the work of revered Italian Renaissance painters, sculptors and architects. Many of these artists, such as Donatello, Brunelleschi and Botticelli, underwent goldsmithing apprenticeships, which helped create a sense of realism and intricacy in the jewelry worn by their painted and sculpted subjects.

The Renaissance featured a wild comeback of jewelry-wearing compared to the previous few centuries. The nobility of various European countries held contests to outdo one another in adornment. Such a widespread, high-end phenomenon had been absent since the fall of the Roman Empire, creating a massive boost in demand for well-crafted jewels.

Colorful Additions and Changing Times

Gemstones became much more widely available during the Renaissance, and the number of wealthy patrons clamoring for them continued to send jewelry manufacturing through the roof in Italy. Gone were the days of pure gold ornamentation, as jewels like pearls and semiprecious stones brought vibrant color and uniqueness to every piece.

Gemstones became much more widely available during the renaissance.

Jewelry making, in general, took a much more bold approach during these years. The creation of jewelry pieces was simple, as long as the stones coming in from other countries were of high quality. It wasn't until the Baroque period that a sense of daintiness and intricacy reappeared, perhaps slowing the massive production seen during the Renaissance, but increasing the appeal of unique design for every piece created.

The Modern Eras: A Steady Journey From 1700 to Now

Italian artisans have been leaders of their craft since the beginning. Styles and trends in popular jewelry have risen and fallen like the tide all over Europe and the world. Throughout the years, though, the classic style of Italian gold continues to offer new designs and has maintained a booming industry. Italian designers consistently bring wealth into their nation, bolstering tourism in the country's most famous regions and producing designers who craft exquisite pieces for celebrities who spread admiration of Italian artistry all over the world.

Certain Italian jewelry staples have remained popular throughout the centuries, including:

  • Gold chains — The delicacy and durability of Italian gold chains keep their significance in the world at large among the greats, for both white and yellow gold alike. Of course, a chain is only as noticeable as the stone-studded pendant that swings upon it.
  • Gold rings — Whether we're talking about engagement diamond rings, which steadily gained popularity through the centuries, or about fashionable bands of pure or alloyed gold, Italian designers have always come through with gorgeous and timeless ring designs.
  • Delicate gold earrings — Humans have adorned their ears since ancient times, a trend that has led to some of the most intricate jewelry designs in history. Studs and dangles alike have fair uses, and they remain at the peak of popularity today.
  • Gold bangle bracelets — White gold, yellow gold, with gemstones or without, bracelets come in numerous varieties. While people may no longer wear them from wrist to shoulder as women in ancient times did, exquisite Italian gold bracelets still run the show.
  • Brooches: Perhaps dwindling today in popularity, all throughout the years until the 20th century, these elaborate pins depicting animals, florals and stone-studded shapes were a sign of wealth and personal style.

We can't deny the timelessness of Italian jewelry designs. While we may not be living in a new Renaissance in the 21st century, the market for Italian jewelry continues to rise and gain popularity. Perhaps it is about time you added a piece of this fine, evergreen craftsmanship to your collection.

The Effects of Italian Designer Jewelry Today

Today, Italian jewelry brands are characterized by the expert use of 18-carat gold or higher, artfully alloyed sterling silver and colored glass. The jewelry industry continues to boom, with more than 10,000 companies throughout the country employing and training around 40,000 people in the arts of the trade. In one year, Italy alone processes more than 500 tons of fine gold and 1,500 tons of silver to feed their jewelry production.

With the distinct yellow color of Italian gold and the country's historically esteemed reputation as the center for the finest pieces in Europe, the demand for Italian designer jewelry doesn't show signs of diminishing anytime soon.

Vicenza and Roberto Coin Jewelry

One of the main areas in Italy known for its gold jewelry today is Vicenza, famous for its fine gold plating and custom designs and for hosting the World Premier Jewelry Fair, the Vicenza Oro, every year. Also known as the City of Gold, Vicenza is a source of endless imagination, serving as the birthplace and inspiration of designers like Roberto Coin, who graces the jewelry industry with his romantic and renowned designs of 18-carat white and yellow gold.

Vicenza is a source of endless imagination serving as the inspiration of designers like Roberto Coin.

The old knowledge of Vicenza brought Roberto Coin some of the best craftsmen in the world to bring his imaginative designs to life and tell his story through their skills. Each piece he creates is part of a deliberate and thorough process that crosses cultures and analyzes nature and the classic styles of the past. Style, he says, is part of life, present in every expression.

With his signature ruby casting, attention to diverse markets and exclusively conflict-free origins for his materials, Roberto Coin's brand sits unparalleled at the top of international quality, while simultaneously representing his culture's rich influence in the art of jewelry design.

Florentine-Inspired Gold Jewelry by Ippolita

Thanks to the visionary goldsmithing guilds that rose up in the 1400s, the jewelry industry in Florence began to thrive under strict regulations and high crafting standards. Original designs brought to life using traditional techniques continue to sparkle down the Florentine Ponte Vecchio today, focusing on top quality and attention to detail.

Balancing the creativity and craftsmanship she learned during her years as a sculpting student, jewelry designer Ippolita Rostagno relishes the classic Florentine look and the simple richness of Italian culture that inspires her work. Among her beautiful designs, you will find handmade pieces with hearty curves and delicately cut gemstones that emulate the works of great sculptors found throughout Florence's history.

As a trailblazer for comfort, color and exuberance in feminine jewelry, Ippolita celebrates women of all ages, creating an aesthetic of wearable art to inspire confidence and wonder. Any piece from her collections exemplifies classic elegance.

Find Your Next Italian Gold Treasure at Mountz

High-quality products like our exquisite lines of Roberto Coin and Ippolita Italian gold jewelry allow us at Mountz Jewelers to provide the most incredible jewelry shopping experience of your life. In no time, we will find you a perfect piece so you can enjoy this Italian artisan craft for yourself.

For luxury brands and top-notch customer service in the central Pennsylvania area, Trust Your Special Moments to Mountz!