Historical Characters in the World of Jewelry

The world of jewelry is timeless and far-reaching - almost everyone owns a piece of jewelry, and many have even tried to craft a piece themselves. But there’s a select group of people who will go down in history for shaping the jewelry world that we know today: people who lived and breathed the craft, and took it to levels never before reached. If you’re curious to know what made these people into legends, here are just a few of their stories:

1. Cleopatra

Cleopatra Lapis Lazuli World Atlas

Cleopatra is a key historical figure in the world of jewelry. She was well-known for her love of lapis lazuli, snake-shaped armbands, and golden headdresses (photo source: World Atlas)

Wit, determination, confidence, and charm - the last pharaoh of Egypt simply had it all. On top of the great power and wisdom with which she ruled, Cleopatra is also famous for her love of glimmering gems and ornate jewelry. Any image of the queen is incomplete without one of her iconic golden headdresses or snake-shaped armbands. Some say she loved jewelry so much that she even bathed wearing it!

Amethyst, agate, and carnelian were some of the queen’s favorites, but Cleopatra particularly adored lapis lazuli, so much so that she would often wear it in powdered form as eyeshadow. One of the pharaoh’s most powerful legacies is the Cleopatra Mines, ancient emerald mines that were rediscovered by French explorer Frédéric Cailliaud in 1817. Believed to symbolize eternal youth, emerald served not only as jewelry for Cleopatra to wear herself, but also as a gift that she would often offer to visiting dignitaries. 

2. Queen Elizabeth I

Queen Elizabeth I Royal Museums Greenwich

(photo source: Royal Museums Greenwich)

Elizabeth I was an unlikely queen, faced with numerous emotional and political challenges throughout her lifetime. After losing her mother, Anne Boleyn, at the age of three, and experiencing imprisonment for nearly a year before taking the throne, Queen Elizabeth I was no stranger to suffering - but that didn’t stop her from ruling a nation with wisdom, poise, and grace.

Historians often speak of Queen Elizabeth I’s wardrobe: how it consisted of thousands of gowns ornately decorated with gems. Legend has it that it took her two hours to get ready each day, and she was often adorned in so many jewels that she would dazzle all who looked at her with her “glow”.

The pieces in the queen’s jewelry collection were special because they were rich in both beauty and sentiment. One of her most treasured jewels was a locket ring made with ruby, diamond, and pearl, which, when opened up, revealed two portraits: one of herself and another of Anne Boleyn. It is said that Queen Elizabeth I wore this ring right up until her death - an everlasting link between her and her mother.

3. Sotirios Bulgaris

Bulgari store Greek City Times

(photo source: Greek City Times)

We’ve all heard the name Bulgari, but do you know the story of the man behind this world-famous brand? Sotirios Bulgaris was a man of humble beginnings. Born in Kalarites, Greece in 1857, to a family of eleven children, Bulgaris fell in love with the art of jewelry-making after watching his grandfather Constantine, a street vendor in the villages of Epirus.

In 1884, after several years spent gaining experience working with valuable metals and stones, Bulgaris opened his own small jewelry shop in Rome. His unique jewels became well-known for drawing inspiration from ancient Greek, Roman, and Byzantine art, and throughout his lifetime, more and more Bulgari shops continued to spring up around Italy. When Sotirios Bulgaris passed away at the age of 70, his two sons Giorgio and Constantino took over the company and turned it into the Bulgari that we know today.

4. Louis, Pierre, and Jacques Cartier 

Cartier family 1922

The Cartier brothers with their father in 1922 (photo source: Daily Mail)

 In 1847, a man by the name of Louis-Francois Cartier opened a small jewelry shop in Paris. This jewelry shop would one day be inherited by his three grandsons: Louis, Pierre, and Jacques, who would then turn it into one of the most famous jewelry brands in the world.

The three boys were ages 9, 15, and 18 when they gathered together and pledged to create the biggest jewelry firm the world had ever seen. Through a lifetime of networking and risky yet genius business decisions, these three brothers were able to bring their dream to fruition.

One of their most famous jewels is what is known as the Hope Diamond: a 45-carat cornflower blue diamond that was notorious for being “cursed”. Pierre Cartier rode the wave of the jewel’s notoriety and ended up selling it to a socialite named Evalyn Walsh McLean for $180,000 (what would be $5 million today). The press from this sale is what would eventually launch Cartier into the brand that is renowned worldwide today.

Whether you’re a jeweler yourself or are simply fascinated by the world of gems, it’s amazing to know how these few people elevated the industry to unmatched levels of artistry, passion, and beauty. Though these individuals are long gone, their legacies will live on forever, and the jewelry world will continue to tell their stories with reverence and awe.

 

 

Emily Meneses

 

Sources:

Bergstein, Rachelle. “How the Cartier Brothers Divided and Conquered the World's Richest Women.” New York Post. New York Post, November 30, 2019. https://nypost.com/2019/11/30/how-the-cartier-brothers-divided-and-conquered-the-worlds-richest-women/.

“Cleopatra Legendary Jewellery.” Kaleidoscope Effect, May 15, 2019. https://nasvete.com/cleopatra-legendary-jewellery/.

Gem, The Beading. “The Virgin Queen's Jewels.” The Beading Gem's Journal. Accessed May 18, 2020. https://www.beadinggem.com/2013/05/the-virgin-queens-jewels.html.

Gregorietti, Guido. “The History of Jewelry Design.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., January 29, 2019. https://www.britannica.com/art/jewelry/The-history-of-jewelry-design.

Karasavvas, Theodoros. “Meet the Greek Jeweler That Created the Bulgari Fashion Empire.” News from Greece, November 6, 2018. https://greece.greekreporter.com/2018/11/05/meet-the-greek-jeweler-that-created-the-bulgari-fashion-empire/.

“Sotirios Voulgaris: The Greek Behind Bulgari.” NEO Magazine. Accessed May 18, 2020. http://www.neomagazine.com/2020/03/sotirios-voulgaris-the-greek-behind-bulgari/.

(Featured image credit: New York Post)

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