Ancient Jewellery

See also: Ancient Jewellery: Introduction - Middle Eastern Jewellery - Egyptian Jewellery - Eastern Mediterranean & European Jewellery -Minoan Jewellery - Greek Jewellery - Byzantine Jewellery - Medieval Jewellery - Eastern European & Near Eastern Jewellery

Roman Jewellery

After 27 BC, there were no really innovative changes in jewellery making. The existing shapes of the Hellenistic period continued to be employed in Roman jewellery with only minor differences, and often with a loss of flair and refinement.

Roman jewellery used the same manufacturing techniques as during the Hellenic period, although not so successfully. Filigree and granulation begins to appear less frequently, whereas, the technique of opus interrasile was newly and widely adopted from the third century onwards.

Within Roman jewellery of this period Opus interrasile is a style of cut fret-work in metal copied by the Romans from the Etruscans, often creating a filigree style background with a solid motif left in relief. This style was even more widely used in the following Byzantine period.

Enamelling was increasingly common in Roman jewellery, and the art of cameo cutting reached an apex of technical skill. Cameos, often of great size, were produced in large numbers.

An increasingly fashionable form of Roman jewellery was the fibula, a brooch or safety pin for the toga.

Rings were also increasingly popular forms of Roman jewellery and in the first and second centuries were often worn on all ten fingers, although predominantly in front of the knuckle, not behind it as in modern usage. Hence many Roman rings seem small for modern fingers.

Wearing of finger rings and other items of gold as well, indeed, as the burial of gold pieces was legally restricted in the early Roman Empire, but customs became more relaxed and jewellery was to become lavishly and widely worn. However gold was not cheap and the large number of white fine bronze, arochalcum and silver and even iron rings are very much available to the modern collector and wearer of Roman jewellery.

The favouring of polychrome effects using gemstones increased in Roman jewellery. Rub-over settings were used - a technique of securing the stone by raising a collar of gold up over the edges of the stone rather than using the modern clasp setting. However enamelling diminished and pieces of jewellery lost much of their delicacy.

Other precious and semi-precious stones such as topaz, sapphire, emerald, occasional uncut diamonds and aquamarine were introduced into the repertoire of Roman jewellery. Settings incorporated garnet, cornelian, pearls and even emeralds from Egypt and the Red Sea. Glass, bone and pottery beads were used in some pieces. The technique of niello, known way back in Mycenaean times, reappeared with a modest flourish of skill.

Amber was also in demand for Roman jewellery and, towards the end of the Roman Empire ( from the 3rd century AD onwards), necklaces and bracelets used gold coins as decorative elements, often set within quite elaborate mountings. But the sophistication and high technical skill of Classical jewellery work diminished and soon ended.

As for influences from the British Isles upon Roman jewellery, jet from Whitby in Yorkshire was of very fine quality and was shipped to Rome as already manufactured jewellery pieces.

British pearls were known to Tacitus.


Forward to: Byzantine Jewellery

(alternative spelling: Roman jewelry, Roman jewelry)