In ancient Egypt, both men and women of all walks of life, were great lovers of jewellery and adorned themselves with a profusion of trinkets. Jewellery also showed wealth and status and offered protection from evil. This protection was available for those dead or alive and was thought to bring prosperity in both the present and the afterlife.
There was a variety of jewellery including amulets, necklaces, pendants, bracelets, rings, headwear, anklets, diadems, collars and insignia. Many of the ancient Egyptian methods for cutting gemstones have been lost, but the quality is still there today.
Although the Egyptians had access to many precious gemstones, they preferred to use softer, semi-precious stones such as carnelian, jasper, lapis lazuli, malachite, quartz and turquoise.
The colour of the jewellery and gemstones was very important to the Egyptians, since certain colours were thought to provide protection against evil and good luck. In many ancient cultures royalty was represented by the colour blue, and this was especially true in ancient Egypt, making lapis lazuli one of the most prized of all gemstones.
Turquoise is another opaque gemstone that was favoured by the Egyptians. The colouring is similar to that of the tropical sea and it was used to represent joy, cleanliness and pleasure. The infamous golden burial mask of King Tut was inlaid with turquoise, lapis lazuli and carnelian.
Most of the raw materials that were used to make jewellery were found in or near Egypt, but certain prized materials such as lapis lazuli were imported from as far away as Afghanistan. Queen Cleopatra's favourite gemstone was emerald, and she even gifted foreign dignities emeralds carved in her likeness. Emeralds were mined locally near the Red Sea. Egypt held the monopoly on emeralds till the 16th century. Today, an emerald in perfect condition is worth far more than a white diamond due to the rarity of the stone. Egyptians linked emeralds to fertility, immortality, rejuvenation and eternal spring. Today, a lady wearing an elegant emerald necklace or ring can feel just as much of a queen as Cleopatra.
For ancient Egyptians, the colour of each gemstone had a different meaning. For example jewellery that was green was meant to symbolise fertility and the success of new crops, while a recently deceased person would wear a red-colored necklace on their throat to satisfy Isis's hunger for blood.
The rings worn by men in ancient Egypt were not just ornamental, they were a necessary tool of administration. Official documents were not signed, but sealed, and therefore authenticated. The poor man's seal was a simple copper or silver ring while the rich man's seal was an elaborate jewel. The ring would be set with a precious stone engraved with the owner's emblem such as a scorpion, lion or a hawk.
The Egyptian scarab beetle was used as an amulet or a good luck charm by both the rich and the poor. A depiction of a scarab beetle was used in the making of various types of pendants, bracelets, rings and necklaces. Scarab jewellery was believed to hold strong magical and religious powers and the scarab was a symbol of rebirth. The name of the owner was inscribed on the flat base of the scarab to ensure that protection would be bestowed upon the wearer. Scarab pendants, bracelets, rings and necklaces were often made of precious or semi-precious jewels such as carnelian, lapis lazuli and turquoise.
Due to the religious beliefs of the ancient Egyptians, jewellery items were much needed by the deceased in the afterlife, and an abundance of jewellery was buried with the dead. In fact, ancient Egyptians prepared themselves from early life to the day they died by collecting as much protective jewellery as possible to be buried with them. Immense treasures and jewellery were often buried with the dead for use in the afterlife.
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