If you’re anything like me, this horrid weather and the endless accompanying snow chat is making you long for a bit of sun, so I thought I’d do a throwback travel post and daydream about sunnier times!
For our honeymoon, the Goblin and I went on a Silk Road-inspired tour of Central Asia, and let me tell you, that place is design inspiration from morning till night. Every surface seems to be coated in vibrant blue and turquoise tiles, which contrast beautifully against the sandy brown of buildings and landscapes alike.
It’s no wonder the colours and shapes on the Silk Road inspired some of my latest collection…
Reasons suggested for the proliferation of blue in Central Asian architecture vary, but one I like is that it’s a cultural memory from pre-Islamic Central Asia, where Tengrism was the predominant religion. In Tengrism, the sky is worshipped as a god, so the colour blue is the most holy. This would explain why so many mosques and madrassahs in the region use blue rather than green, which is a more significant colour in Islam. Of course, the popularity of bright blue probably also has something to do with the regional proliferation of the ishkor plant which can be turned into a vibrant blue glaze of the same name…
As well as the gorgeous, historic blue tiling, more modern cities such as Ashgabat and Almaty also provided some inspiration. From Ashgabat’s gold and marble to Almaty’s Soviet gems, there was something for everyone (ok, mostly for me!).
So without further ado, let’s go around Central Asia in 80 patterns…
-sigh- Until next time, Central Asia! I quite fancy the World Nomad Games in 2020…
It’s almost the weekend, so I thought a light treat was in order: another post in my Disney Designs series. This week’s film is one of my all-time faves, partly because it came out when I was little, and partly because it features a badass female hero (let’s just ignore the questionable depictions of the Huns).
Also, it came out 20 years ago this June (I’m not old, YOU’RE OLD), so it seems a good time to look into its jewellery…
For obvious reasons, Mulan wasn’t the first film that came to mind when I was thinking of Disney Designs post ideas. However, the scene where Mulan’s dad gives her the lotus hair comb (awwww) got me thinking. Now, the original ballad of Hua Mulan on which the Disney film is based is set in either the Northern Wei Dynasty (386-534), or during the reign of Emperor Yang of Sui China (reigned 604-617), depending on which source you use. In our case, it doesn’t much matter, because during both periods, hair combs were a popular means of self-decoration and of showing your social status.
Combs began to act as status signifiers during the Wei and Jin dynasties, around 100 years before the first given date for the story of Mulan, and by time of the Northern Wei dynasty, they were all the rage. Comb styles during this period were fine-toothed and delicate, like this:
Fast forward to the Sui dynasty, and they became larger, higher and more ornate:
Unfortunately, Mulan is set fairly early in the history of Chinese hair combs, so I want to take the opportunity to share some of the more fantastic creations the following couple of centuries brought to the country (the Tang Dynasty was when combs really hit their stride as a fashion accessory…):
That’s all for Mulan – which movie should I explore next? Let me know in the comments…
While researching a previous post, I discovered the existence of state gemstones, and I was delighted. Some American states, it turns out, started adopting state gemstones in the late 1960s, as a marketing tool to promote stones which were an important part of their economy. Although this is a rather less romantic origin story than I’d hoped for, I’ve still enjoyed finding out which stones fit where, so here goes…
Alabama – The Heart of Dixie chose its gemstone in 1990…and it shows. Have you ever seen a more 90s gem than this blue star quartz? They do redeem themselves by having our old pal haematite as their ‘state mineral’, though, so we can’t judge them too harshly!
Arizona: Turquoise – I would have thought this would be California’s vibe, but there we go…
Arkansas: Nothing but the best for Arkansas, ‘the Wonder State’: their state stone is a diamond.
California: Unsurprisingly, the Golden State’s official mineral is, well, gold! The state gemstone is one I hadn’t heard of before: the obscure but pretty blue benitoite:
Connecticut: Connecticut doesn’t technically have a state gemstone, but its state mineral is almandine garnet, which is a nice brown colour. Very popular with the Victorians, apparently.
Florida: Despite being full of alligators and serial killers, Florida wins this list because it has my new favourite stone as its state gem: moonstone.
Georgia: I guess Georgia was too busy growing peaches to hone their gemstone selection too carefully, so they just have quartz. Just all kinds of quartz, apparently!
Hawaii: Black coral. It’s pretty, but I’ve never felt the same about coral since I watched Blue Planet and learnt they expand by puking themselves onto other corals and absorbing them.
Idaho: The so-called Gem State is a bit disappointing with their choice of star garnet, which is basically just black garnet as far as I can tell. Shame!
Kentucky: Kentucky’s keeping it classy with freshwater pearls – can’t argue with that.
Louisiana: Finally, a hint of scandal! Louisiana’s state gemstone from 1976 to 2011 was Louisiana agate, but this was ditched in 2011 for Lapearlite, which is the shell of the Eastern Oyster. But why? Well, it seems it was an attempt to boost the fishing industry by publicising this new gemstone, and the Louisiana agate was installed as the state’s first-ever official mineral. They made this change by law – apparently they take their official gemstones seriously!
Maine: Maine’s keeping it varied with tourmaline, which comes in a whole host of lovely colours.
Maryland: Patuxent River Stone Agate is only found in Maryland, and its red-orange colour echoes the Maryland flag – perfect! Excellent marketing there.
Massachusetts: Rhodonite – aka my wardrobe that awful year dressing like you were an extra in Grease was in (circa 2002).
Michigan: Chlorastrolite, another form of the greenstone/nephrite jade we saw earlier.
Minnesota: Lake Superior agate, a local, iron-filled agate.
Montana: These magpies have not one but TWO state gems: the Montana sapphire and the Montana agate. Montana sapphires are only mined within the state, and have a pale, denim blue colour and exceptional clarity.
Nebraska: Yet more agate, blue this time.
Nevada: Another magpie state: black fire opal and turquoise (no surprises there – states near the current (and behind the old!) Mexican border obviously mine a lot of the stuff). Black fire opal is quite full-on, though – I’d probably have just stuck with the turquoise…
New Hampshire: Keeping it classy with a muted smoky quartz.
New Mexico: Turquoise – shocker!
New York: Garnet. Another one of my faves; they get points for this.
North Carolina: Sticking with the cardinal stones, North Carolina has beautiful green emerald as their state gemstone.
Ohio: Ohio flint. I’d argue this isn’t a gemstone, but Wikipedia claims otherwise…
Oregon: Oregon sunstone laboradite. I’m liking states naming their gems after themselves – nice and tidy.
South Carolina: Amethyst – strong showing from the Carolinas!
South Dakota: Fairburn agate (reddish)
Tennessee: Tennessee river pearl – the deep south loves a classic pearl, it would seem…
Texas: Texas blue topaz. For bonus points, Texas also have their own stone cut: the Lone Star Cut. It’s big and over the top, so seems fitting! It looks like this:
Utah: More topaz – no colour, just general topaz.
Vermont: Grossular garnet. Not a grimmer version of garnet, just a type with a different structure!
Washington: Petrified wood. I mean, I get what they’re trying to do but c’mon, guys, it’s not a gemstone. Didn’t your namesake teach you not to lie?!
West Virginia: Lithostrotionella fossil coral. Kind of gross, kind of pretty. What do you think?
Wyoming: Wyoming’s rounding us off nicely – we’re back to nephrite jade.
And there you have it! Not all states have stones (boo), but those who do tend to really go niche with their choices (not surprising if they’re limited to what they can grow in-state I suppose!) which made for some interesting research.
What would your state stone be if you had one? I’m torn between moonstone and haematite, although garnet is a close third…
Although they’re being touted as the ‘latest trend’ by designers from Marc Jacobs to Michael Kors, hoop earrings are almost as old as jewellery itself, and have cultural significance across the globe. Since there are some hoops in my new collection, so I thought it was about time to dive into some of the history and culture of hoop earrings that high fashion designers have glossed over…
The first ever hoops?
Some of the most ancient hoop earrings surviving today are these elegant, gold, Sumerian hoops dating from 2600-2500 BCE, discovered in modern-day Iraq:
Hoops across space and time
As we saw above, hoop earrings were popular among the Middle Eastern Sumerians as early as 2600BCE, and this Neo-Assyrian bust demonstrates that they were still popular in the region by the 8th century BCE:
And hoop earrings remain popular across the Asia of today. They’re a significant accessory, for example, amongst the Hmong women of Vietnam and Laos, whose earrings are always made in silver because of its association with wealth, prosperity and health. Hmong silversmiths are among the most highly-regarded in the world, and genuine, antique silver Hmong jewellery commands a high price amongst collectors.
Elsewhere in Asia, the Gadaba women of Northern India traditionally favour larger hoops than their Hmong counterparts, and wear them, unusually, through the upper or middle part of the ear. Multiple hoops in each ear are also popular:
Gotipua_Dancevillage_Puri_India Photo by Ingetje Tadros
Hoops are so wildly popular amongst the diverse cultures of North and South America that it seems a little ridiculous to squish both continents into one section, but with such a broad history, it’s no wonder hoop earrings can be a loaded accessory in this part of the world (particularly in the US).
Nobody is saying that any group ‘invented’ hoop earrings but, as with any issue of cultural appropriation, the key issue here is a privileged group taking credit for styles they would judge or scorn on the marginalised groups who popularised them. So, let’s skip praising white designers for being ‘edgy’ (heavy air quotes there), and take a brief look at the American history of hoops…
Many Native American groups have made beautiful hoops in both metal and beadwork for centuries:
Sources: Image 1 from Eleumne – modern Native American designs; Image 2 of a 19th century Native American Girl, from Wikimedia
In Puerto Rico, gold hoop earrings are a traditional gift for a newborn baby girl, whilst in Mexico, silver is equally popular.
As well as being popular in Mexico and other Central American countries, filigree is also found in Peru:
At the bottom of the Americas, in Chile and Southern Argentina, we have my favourite hoops so far in this post: the unusually-shaped traditional hoops of the Mapuche people, which have a distinctive, half-moon shape:
Like many things, it would seem, hoop earrings were first popularised in Europe by the Ancient Greeks.
Fast foward a few hundred years, and became associated with pirates in the 17th century. But why did the swashbucklers of old favour this style? Well, legend has it that it was so that if pirates were shipwrecked or otherwise drowned, and their bodies washed up on some unfamiliar shore, they would be guaranteed a proper burial, paid for by the gold in their ears…
Another – more convincing – suggestion is that sumptuary laws in England during the ‘golden age’ of piracy (17th-18th centuries) stipulated that men couldn’t wear jewellery; a decree to which pirates promptly gave two fingers. They may have been horrendous people, but you have to give them a veeeeery tiny bit of credit for challenging gender-normative and classist fashion rules…*
Flying over to the other side of the globe, hoop earrings seem to be historically less popular than on other continents. In some places, such as Samoa, wooden and shell hoop earrings are often hung from the ear rather than through it, painted in bright colours and floral designs:
Over in the Africa of the past, the Ancient Egyptians were big fans of gold hoops, and put them on their cat statues as a symbol of sacredness. They also wore them themselves, often adorned with the ankh (the symbol of life), or animal heads representing various deities.
Further west, in Mali, the most famous hoops today are those traditionally worn by Fulani women. These ornate hoops, known as Kwoteneye, can weigh up to 300 grams each! Due to their size and weight, they are sometimes supported by an additional cord passing over the head of the wearer. They are made from sheets of beaten gold, twisted into leaf-like shapes, and often partially wrapped in red thread.
Finally, moving south into Kenya, Maasai tribespeople make beautiful beadwork hoops to wrap through their deliberately-stretched earlobes:
Why are hoops so popular?
Hoops are a old as earrings themselves, and mean so many different things to different people. They’re simultaneously hugely different and endlessly derivative across the globe.
That’s the main part of the timeless appeal of hoops, I think: they are so simple but have so much potential as a means of self-expression. You can take an instantly recognisable earring shape and fashion it in a vast range of sizes, shapes, and materials, as well as adding extra adornments or wearing multiple hoops. The lightning run-down of global and historical hoops above (which, by the way, is not meant to be a complete history of hoop earrings by any stretch!) demonstrates the enormous variety this seemingly simple item of jewellery can offer.
If you’re brave enough to go big and bold, there are thousands of gorgeous hoops out there – a personal favourite is this pair from fellow Etsy seller Otis Jaxon:
If you unfortunately work in an office with the aforementioned prejudice against large hoop earrings, or you just like your jewellery dainty, check out my new range of delicate charm hoops at Tiding of Magpies…
On my recent holiday, it almost seemed that jewellery was following me around the Mediterranean – not that I was complaining about it! Possibly the pinnacle of this trend was the day we arrived in Mykonos to find the Archaeological Museum we were planning to visit anyway (first pottery depiction of the Trojan Horse, anyone?) turned out to be almost completely filled with an exhibition on Cycladic jewellery from prehistory to the present day.
The exhibition, titled ‘Vanity’, was laid out in chronological order spanning a very impressive 7 millennia. It was also, as the exhibition leaflet proudly proclaimed, a ‘meta-exhibition’, with the museum itself becoming a giant jewellery box. It all sounded pretty good to me, and that was before we even saw the exhibits.
The interpretation was excellent from the off, with all the exhibits in these gorgeously lit boxes with draws to pull out and read more:
There was also some extra reading if you knew Greek:
I won’t cover everything we saw because there were hundreds of pieces, but here are a few highlights.
We started with Early Bronze Age jewellery, most of which came from Naxos. Like many of the items on display, the majority of these early pieces were found as grave goods, highlighting the important role of appearance and adornment in early Cycladic society. As you can see below, semi-precious beads were a particular favourite. Oh, and check out the phallus charm on the left-hand side; some things never change…
Pins/fibulae and diadems were also popular during this period:
After this we hit the Middle Cycladic Period, where coral beads from the Eastern Mediterranean were all the rage (the suggestion being that their owners believed them to have exotic, special properties):
The Late Bronze Age gave us this absolutely gorgeous necklace made of gold and white glass beads in the shape of lotus flowers. Interestingly, these beads were made in a mould, hinting at a growing market for and mass production of such items. In fact, the display called these shapes ‘standardised’ – the Cyclades were definitely modernising!
The Geometric period, where the Mycenaean world collapsed and was taken over by Greek culture, pins and hair wires were the order of the day. The pins in the bottom left-hand corner are also from Thera, which I was overly excited about. (No, I’m not being sarcastic; we visited a couple of years ago and I was really excited to see some of the artefacts that aren’t at the site.)
Much to my delight, almost all of the artefacts from the Classical period, including little human and animal amulets, were from Thera:
A couple of centuries later, the Hellenic world had completely changed Cycladic jewellery, bringing exquisitely detailed pieces made from gold, pearls, and semi-precious stones. In fact, jewellery got so ornate that Pliny and Seneca complained about the amount being spent on it… Many of the pieces in the exhibition were from Delos, only found because the residents were forced to flee from the pirates of Athenodorus at the end of the 1st century BCE, and hid some of their gems before they left.
Also, here’s Aphrodite riding a goat:
During the Roman period, the Cyclades were flooded with gold hoops, rings, and bird amulets, much like the rest of the Mediterranean, although the Hellenic styles didn’t disappear overnight:
Sadly for The Goblin and I, the Cycladic Middle Ages weren’t enormously well-represented, because of the limited excavation activity around this period; understandable given the amount of ancient history there is to explore in this part of the world.
There was another reason for the lack of medieval Cycladic jewellery on display: the predominance of Byzantine Christianity, which emphasised austerity and inner beauty. However, as the display highlighted, ‘the human tendency to improve outer appearance and simultaneously highlight social status prevailed and jewellery continued triumphantly to adorn both men and women’. The exhibition had several finger rings and Byzantine cross pendants to prove it:
Post-Byzantine/19th century Greek jewellery was a particularly interesting section of the exhibition, marrying themes from ancient and modern jewellery in the typical, ornate ‘Mykonos’ style earrings made from gold and pearls:
This diamond cross pendant was a particular highlight of the later part of the exhibition, having belonged to Manto Mavrogenous, who spent her entire fortune financing the Greek Revolution:
The final historical section of the exhibition featured work by Sofia Thanopoulou. Better known as Maroulina, Sofia was a self-taught creator who was one of the first important Greek jewellery designers in the second half of the 20th century. Her shop on Mykonos (1953-1972) attracted a prestigious, international clientèle, particularly after she began adding jewellery to her ranges of shoes, clothes, and bags in 1955. Combining Art Nouveau and traditional Greek influences, Sofia Thanopoulou created jewellery ‘characterised by the abundant expressiveness of their materials and their dynamic, often unexpected compositions’. Quite the jeweller role-model…
The final room of the exhibition was one of my favourites (and definitely The Goblin’s pick), in interpretation, design, architecture and, of course, contents. This was the place where the ‘meta-exhibition’ really came to the fore. I mean, just look at this stunning set-up:
Venyx by Eugenie Niarchos undoubtedly crafted my favourite piece: a pendant featuring a traditional Cycladic head in a modern, gold setting. As well as being completely beautiful, this necklace seemed to epitomise the exhibition as a whole: ancient and modern Cycladic art and creation brought together in one place and one time.
Every item in the collection (according to the leaflet) was chosen to highlight that most timeless human trait: vanity. The desire to bedazzle ourselves has been around as long as we’ve known how to thread rocks onto a piece of thread. But it also speaks to the endless creative potential and endeavour of humanity; not only do we want to sparkle, we’re willing to invent and graft to do so. It might seem shallow, but the face (or ear, or wrist) you present to the world can matter, and adornment is a big part of that.
One could even argue it’s part of humanity to deck ourselves in glittery gubbins; after all, ‘Vanity’ has 7000 years of archaeological proof that we just want to be…
I recently got back from a Mediterranean trip, and things took a surprisingly jewellery-themed turn (even for me) everywhere we went, so a few historical/travel-themed posts are on the way.
One of the highlights of the trip was undoubtedly the ancient city of Ephesus in Turkey. A historic centre of jewellery-making, Ephesus is famous for its Temple of Artemis – one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World – where worshippers left beautiful jewellery as votive offerings:
Goddess Artemis (?) Electrum statuette (7th BCE), found in the foundations of the temple of Artemis, Ephesus, Turkey Height 3 cm – weight 10 g
Artemis of Ephesus was a cross between the Greek Artemis and the Anatolian mother goddess Cybele, and she’s been getting giggles from schoolchildren (and probably some adults) for centuries:
Laughing at her many bosoms might not be the wisest idea, though, since she was the guardian of all civilisation, and ruler of all nature. Oh, and she was the queen of bees – a literal queen bee – which is why bees feature so heavily in the gold and silver offerings to her, and even in Ephesian coinage:
Other symbols incorporated into jewellery dedicated to Artemis of Ephesus included crescent shapes (Artemis was goddess of the moon), sparrowhawks, rosettes, and double-headed axes.
“The holy bird of Artemis”. Hawk with streched wings. Gold clasp (1st half of 6th BCE) from the foundations of the temple of Artemis Ephesus, Turkey Height 2.6 cm – weight 45 g
The first mint and gold refinery in Anatolia was founded in the seventh century BCE. In fact, some scholars argue that the first metal coins ever issued were used in in Ephesus around 650. With the amount of metalworking activity going on at Ephesus, it’s little wonder that the vast majority of surviving jewellery in the Eastern Greek style during this period comes from the repository found at the Temple of Artemis – jewellery which is made even more interesting by its Oriental and Mycaenean influences.
Goddess Artemis (?) Electrum statuette (7th BCE), found in the foundations of the temple of Artemis, Ephesus, Turkey Height 3 cm – weight 10 g
Later, around 53CE, Ephesus was made famous for a different reason by St Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians. St Paul, misogynist and killjoy extraordinaire, spent some time in Ephesus in the mid-1st century CE, and was not impressed with what he perceived as the excessive covetousness of the locals. Obviously this didn’t go down too well with Ephesian silversmiths, who relied on the cult of Artemis for their livelihood, and a mob apparently dragged some of Paul’s pals to the theatre. Paul himself decided not to go and face an angry mob made up of people who were presumably good with small, pointy tools (probably wise), but luckily for him, the group eventually broke up.
Unfortunately, the silversmiths turned out to be right about the spread of Christianity killing their trade in Artemisian offerings, and the whole episode highlights the importance of Ephesus as a seat of early Christianity. Supposedly the Virgin Mary died there – not really surprising that a cult of Artemis morphed into a cult of the Virgin Mary. It’s quite a sweet little house, actually:
Sadly, our archaeologist guide, Hakan, confirmed that it’s a 6th-7th century church, so definitely not the house of the Mother of God (shocker).
We opted to visit Ancient Ephesus (with its Terraced Houses) and Didyma instead, and I think we made the right choice. (Side note: we went on a private tour with Meander Travel, and it was incredibly interesting as well as being amazing value for money – I’d definitely recommend Meander if any of you visit Turkey (they do tours all over the country, including in Istanbul). We were able to design our own tour to suit our interests and everyone at the company was lovely, helpful and knowledgeable. And no, I’m not being paid to write this – that’s how good they were!)
The Terraced Houses at Ephesus
The Terraced Houses at Ephesus
Kusadasi, the port city near Ephesus, continues to ply the jewellery trade into the 21st century. In fact, Turkey as a whole is a major player in gold and silversmithing today, processing 400 tons of gold and 300 tons of silver annually and employing 300,000 people. Unfortunate geopolitical circumstances at the moment meant the sites were incredibly quiet, which was great for us tourists but terrible for the Turkish tourism industry. It’s a real shame, because Kusadasi and the surrounding sites are some of the safest and most stunning in Turkey – definitely recommend a visit if you’re thinking of heading to the Eastern Med!
Antique Turkish jewelery
Greek and Roman Jewellery, Reynold Alleyne Higgins