A Revival of Egyptian Jewelry: Where Ancient & Modern Worlds Meet Ancient Egypt… it invokes images of outstanding architecture, religious rituals, and jewelry of unparalleled splendor.
Back in the 19th century, as travel and exploration brought the world closer together, legendary jewelers began to look behind for inspiration for the future; and there began the phenomenon of “Revival Jewelry” – pieces inspired by and directly referencing our eternal fascination with a bygone era.
A picture taken on October 20, 2009 shows King Tutankhamun’s golden mask displayed at the Egyptian museum in Cairo. Khaled Desouki—AFP/Getty Images
It Captured Us Forever!
Among the historic civilizations that have captured the imagination; Egypt holds a special place in many hearts. Every few decades, we see a renewed interest in this mystic civilization and – inspired by ancient tombs, films, and art work – stunning creations ranging from bespoke pieces by Cartier and Tiffany to designer and costume Egyptian jewelry take the world by storm. Who wasn’t craving that jewelry after watching Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra?
Consider the “Past is Present” exhibition underway and you’ll realize we’re in a new period of Egypt-inspired jewelry…but are you riding the wave yet? If you’re unsure where to start your own collection of Egyptian jewelry, here are some well-known symbols you can include:
The Great Royal Wife of Pharaoh Akhenaten, Nefertiti is revered as the world’s most beautiful woman and recognized as one of the most powerful female figures in ancient Egypt. Ruling at possibly the wealthiest period in Egypt’s history, the couple was known for engineering a religious revolution – a shift to worshipping a single god, Aten.
Although history is unclear on her fate, she lives on in art and culture. The Nefertiti bust and other works are displayed the world over, and she remains an enduring symbol of feminine power, beauty, and strength – November saw Rihanna, another powerhouse woman, paying tribute to Nefertiti on the cover of Vogue Arabia.
The Egyptians believed that Ra, the sun god, renewed the sun each day before rolling it across the sky in the day and in the “other” world after sunset. And in the physical world, the dung beetle rolls dung balls to be food and home to larvae, creating life from death and thus recreating the heavenly cycle of renewal. This aspect led to the inclusion of scarabs in funerary rites, with a “heart scarab” being placed on the deceased’s chest to guarantee reincarnation.
As jewelry today, we see scarab amulets and winged scarabs in rings, bracelets, necklaces, armbands and belts. In fact, the centerpiece of the “Past is Present” exhibit is an ancient winged scarab and Cartier’s 1924 version of it…truly a reincarnation at work!
The symbol of Upper Egypt, the “lotus” (known today as the water lily) also represented the sun and creation. This aspect stemmed from its nature of blooming by day and then sinking beneath the water at night, only to re-emerge with the next morning’s sun; this mirrored the belief that the world began when Ra emerged from a lotus that rose from primordial waters, and night’s chaos reigned when he retreated into it again.
Rarely physically seen in Egypt anymore, it nevertheless remains a frequent sight in the ancient land’s art, literature, and funeral rituals as a hope for the deceased’s reincarnation.