What Were Common Materials Used in the Making of Ancient Greek Jewelry?

Written by ellen murphy | 13/05/2017
What Were Common Materials Used in the Making of Ancient Greek Jewelry?
This is an example of a gold, Greek funerary wreath from the fourth century BC. (Milos Bicanski/Getty Images News/Getty Images)

The ancient Greeks' jewellery for both men and women included earrings, bracelets, pendants, necklaces, pins, rings, hair ornaments, armbands, thigh bands, wreaths and diadems. The ancient Greeks considered jewellery aesthetically pleasing and a status symbol. They also gave jewellery as bridal and funeral gifts. The earliest jewellery was made of raw, natural materials. Eventually, the Greeks began using metals, especially gold. The conquests of Alexander the Great and the spread of the Roman Empire brought access to new, exotic stones.

Early Jewelry

During the Stone Age, people created jewellery from shells, carved wood, carved stone, animal teeth, bones, seeds, flowers, twigs and other natural materials. They strung beads together with animal sinew or twine. Around 2800BC, people in Greece began using metals.


Ancient Greek jewellers used gold, silver, copper, iron and alloys. Artisans preferred to use gold because it did not tarnish and was easier to shape than the other metals. They hammered metals into thin layers, drew it into wire or granulated it. Although the Greeks used some alloys, gold jewellery was usually more than 85 per cent pure. People panned gold out of rivers and mined it at Siphnos, Mount Pangaion and Thasos. Galena ore from Lavrion was the primary source of silver. People separated silver from the ore by heating, or cupellation. Miners found copper at Cyprus and several other locations.


After the conquests of Alexander the Great (323BC), Greek artisans had more access to semi-precious stones. They used Egyptian emeralds, sapphires from Ceylon and pearls from the Persian Gulf. With the spread of the Roman Empire (27BC), jewellers also had access to topaz, garnet, aquamarine, jasper, sardonyx, lapis lazuli, agates, malachite, feldspar, amethyst, rock crystal and diamonds. Jewellers incorporated these gemstones into jewellery in both polished and rough form. Stones were either set in metal or made into beads. They also substituted glass paste for gemstones to produce less expensive jewellery.

Tools Used to Create Jewelry

Jewellers used hammers, dies, plates, glues, moulds, drills, furnaces, punches and other tools. Goldsmiths formed gold sheets by hammering gold ingots. To make wire, they cut a strip from the gold sheet and twisted it by hand. Jewellers fashioned repeated designs using dies. They also created tiny spheres of gold by shaving gold onto hot coals. Jewellers soldered the individual parts together by melting the edges or by joining them with a metal of lower melting temperature, such as copper. A furnace or oil lamp provided enough heat to melt these metals. At the time, jewellers considered these methods to be trade secrets, so most of what people now know about the creation of ancient jewellery comes from microscopic analysis and experimental reproduction.

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