Would you like to learn who, when, and why started wearing jewelry for the first time and what changes jewelry underwent throughout its evolution? Then you’re in the right place.
Surprisingly, the first to harness the power of embellishment were men and this happened in the Stone Age era. Naturally, they had a scarce choice of products and materials: fangs, claws, fur, leather, and suchlike stuff found in the wild. Nevertheless, these decorative means successfully served as a reflection of status a man had in the society, as well as distinctive marks and amulets.
Flash forward thousands of years, believes and ideas of our ancestors came up with continue influencing the way men wear their jewelry. Even new trends, if you dig deeper, are not that new; they are well-overlooked old. When looking at the brief history of men’s jewelry, you can see that the sterner sex never shied away from shiny little things.
Jewelry as Amulets and Status Items
We can peep at the millennia-old events only via rock paintings and archaeological finds. Still, these pieces of evidence are more than enough to understand why men wore body ornaments. For cavemen, claws and fangs served as a totem, a mark of belonging to a certain clan, as well as an indicator of strength and valor. On top of that, by keeping a ‘trophy’ from a defeated beast or enemy, warriors received its power.
Social stratification influenced jewelry much later. The more civilized the world became, the more significance was put into body accessories and materials they were made of. The most striking pieces belonged to leaders, rulers, and priests. For the ruling elite, jewelry became a symbol of power. In a way, it showcased the right to the throne. For priests, shamans, and servants of god, accessories put on the neck, arms, and head possessed a sacred meaning. People who served deities believed that special materials and shapes promoted communication with their divine masters and helped preach their cults. All in all, the most expensive pieces of jewelry in the ancient world belonged to people of wealth, power, and influence.
The Middle Ages belittled the significance of jewelry. With the exception of the nobility and rulers, the masses had a pretty ascetic life. The church came up with strict rules regarding wearing rings, bracelets, and other types of jewelry. Basically, the grass roots had no right to possess or wear decoration (they couldn’t afford them anyway).
The jewelry veto was ruled out in the 8th century when morals became much more frivolous. Even the mightiest king of the ancient world would enviously look at this shameless luxury. Gold, silver, platinum, all kinds of precious stones incorporated in jewelry made every affluent man sparkle. Commoners were no longer banned from having jewelry and accessories but what they wore was modest and functional rather than lavish and showy.
Men’s Neck and Head Jewelry
The development of men’s head jewelry was basically brought to a halt with the disappearance of the monarchy. The life of an ordinary man has no place for crowns and tiaras. At least, men managed to save necklaces and pendants from oblivion. Nevertheless, time took away from their meanings and significances.
Today, we look at the images of ancient Egyptians and their sun-shaped pendants or Vikings wearing ax medallions with a smile. True, many guys still choose these ancient symbols for their modish ensembles but they don’t carry the same meanings anymore. Modern people ceased to believe in deities, fate, and magic. Nevertheless, they have the right to wear beautiful neck jewelry, and ancient symbols come very in handy to enhance their style appeal.
Men’s Hand and Wrist Jewelry
Of all the historically established meanings inherent in rings, only two remained to this day: marriage and wealth. However, back in the day, rings had many important roles. For instance, a signet ring featured a reversed monogram or crest image – when being put in hot was, it left an impression that validated a letter’s or document’s authenticity. Archers use very wide metal rings to protect their fingers from bow cuts. Finally, rings were sort of a means of payment for faithful service, currency, and a symbol of a successful career at the king’s court.
Today, gold and silver rings for men are rather decorative than functional. True, some big cheese men flaunt them to display their belonging to a certain community or group (for instance, Popes and their Piscoral rings) but this phenomenon is not widespread.
When it comes to bracelets, their functionality and significance also underwent critical changes. During the crusades and knights, studded bracelets became a kind of auxiliary weapon in sword fights. Leather bracelets that covered the whole forearm served as armor and protection against sword cuts. Priests used stone and wood bracelets in their prayers. Today, when bracelets lost their practical significance almost completely, we can still notice the eco of the bygone eras in their design. For instance, studded leather bracelets are commonplace in biker and rocker communities, and rosaries are one of the hottest trends of the 21 century.
Today, men wear earrings because it is stylish and fashionable. However, our ancestors rocked these little decorations because they served a certain purpose. Earrings were common among sailors and pirates. One could deserve an earring only after crossing the equator. If a pirate died on the land, his earring could buy him a decent funeral. Gunners pierced their ears to affix wax plugs – they helped protect their ears against the effects of a blast.