Hadrians.com, Ancient Touch, www.vroma.org
The earliest Roman jewellery was made of glass, colourful stones and pearls. Lands conquered by the Roman Empire offered emeralds, diamonds, rubies and sapphires as well as semi-precious gemstones such as amber, topaz and jet. Women wore necklaces, earrings, bracelets, tiaras and rings, and men originally wore only one ring. As the empire expanded, so did social norms, and men began wearing jewellery the masculine equivalent of what was worn by women.
Most Common Jewelry
Sardonyx cameo (c.1st Cen AD, setting c. 17th cen), (photo: public domain)
Men and women wore earrings, bracelets and necklaces, but the broach was the most worn piece of Roman jewellery. People of all classes could afford broaches, and many preferred to pin garments together rather than sew them. These broaches were decorated with simple motifs by the common Roman while the wealthier class decorated their broaches with jewels and cameos.
Early Roman Jewelry Resembled Greek and Etruscan
Intricate Roman earring (left). Sphere motifs.
Early Roman jewellery copied designs of the Greeks and Etruscans. Romans were originally more conservative with their jewellery design in comparison to other Mediterranean groups. As time passed and society changed attitudes in style and dress, Roman jewellery took on more ostentatious motifs.
Hoop Earrings Invented by the Romans
One of the most popular pieces of jewellery today comes from the Romans--the "hoop" earring from 300 B.C. Popular among both Roman men and women, hoop earrings were often adorned with finials depicting Eros, the god of love, animals and drunken women.
Boxed Motif a Popular Design
An example of the boxed motif on a Roman necklace.
Roman jewellery borrowed designs from conquered cultures, but still had its own distinct style: a boxed motif. Pearls and gemstones were boxed by gold that framed each jewel and pearl.
Even in Death Roman Women Loved Jewelry
Death portraits on caskets of wealthy Roman women
Wealthy Roman women had their coffins elaborately painted with portraits of them. As shown in the images of two Roman caskets, a woman's favourite jewellery that adorned her in life also adorned her in death.
Roman Men's Rings Took on a Practical Function
A Roman gold ring
Roman rings were usually made of gold. Eventually carved stones or coins were used in men's rings. This practice had a practical function when applied to hot wax as a seal on important documents.
- Hadrians.com, Ancient Touch, www.vroma.org