Thursday, July 9, 2009

A Brief History of Ancient Jewelry Wire

I was curious about the earliest evidence of wire use in jewelry so I did some "digging" and here is some of what I found.
Although the art of wire wrapping is often credited to the Phoenician Empire, about 1000 BC, there is evidence of wire use in jewelry far earlier.
Biblical scholars have identified wire sculpting as an art form dating as far back as 1446 BC,nearly 500 years before the Phoenicians. They site the event in Exodus 28 of Moses being instructed to create Aaron's breastplate. The breastplate included gold rings and chains as well as 12 gemstones: ruby, topaz, beryl, turquoise, sapphire, emerald, jacinth, agate, amethyst, chrysolite, onyx and jasper. These gems were all set with gold filigree.
Merriam-Websters dictionary defines filigree as " ornamental work especially of fine wire of gold, silver, or copper applied chiefly to gold and silver surfaces."In ancient times filigree was made from gold, silver or copper that had been hammered into fine thin sheets. These sheets were then cut into narrow strips. The edges of the strips were filed smooth thereby creating the wire. This method is generally recognized as the earliest technique for creating wire. There is later evidence of these strips being pulled through holes in stones or shells causing the strip to curl onto itself becoming a thin tube that was then used as wire.
Predating both the Phoenician Empire and the creation of Aaron's breastplate were the Sumerians of Mesopotamia during the Ur Dynasty dating approximately 2560 BC. Some of the jewelry artifacts from this period clearly show the use of wire. The British Museum, the University of Pennsylvania Museum and the Iraq Museum have pieces of jewelry found in the Royal Cemetery of Ur(Iraq) that include gold sheet, beads and gold wire coils and hoops. Both men and women wore large amounts of jewelry in Mesopotamia as well as using it to decorate idols. Mesopotamian jewelers also practiced other techniques such as granulation, filigree, cloisonne, engraving and the art of carving gem stones.
The Ur artifacts were excavated between 1922 and 1934 by C. Leonard Woolley.Photos of many artifacts from this excavation along with the impressive Sumerian headdress of the Lady Puabi can be viewed at the University of Pennsylvania Museum website in the online gallery "Treasures from the Royal Tombs of Ur".
Recently a 2000 year old gold wire earring, set with emerald and pearls, was found in Jerusalem. It was discovered in excavations conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority in the Giv‘ati car park at the City of David, in the area of the “Walls around Jerusalem National Park”. A photo of the earring and excavation site can be viewed at the Israel National News website.
I hope you found this brief look at early wire use in jewelry interesting. I know I did.


  1. Very interesting. Good luck with your blog. :-)

  2. I found it very interesting indeed and your blog looks GREAT! I look forward to following and seeing all of your beautiful work as you make it:)

  3. Wow... very interesting! Your work is so beautiful!!

  4. Thank you Shay and Jennifer! I enjoyed researching for this...

  5. thanks for this interesting article--who knew?
    And Ditto about your blog--Way to Go!