Each piece of vintage jewellery tells a story that helps us understand the world around us. It helps us express express ourselves, connect with the past and - importantly - helps us feel amazing. And Egyptian Revival jewellery is about as amazing as it gets.
There’s a reason Cleopatra is still considered by many to have been the most beautiful woman to have ever lived. Formidable and powerful, she single handedly built Egypt’s economy, was fiercely intelligent, and made Mark Anthony fall madly in love.
And she had some really amazing jewellery.
Fans of antique jewels have been fascinated by the style for hundreds of years, with everyone from Tiffany to Cartier, Van Cleef to Dior designing pieces inspired by the mystery and glamour of ancient Egypt.
People often think of revival jewellery as a movement that started in the 19th Century. But the truth is we have been looking to the past for inspiration since about 3100 BC, with trends and themes being recreated time and time again over the centuries.
Egyptian revival jewellery became particularly fashionable during the Art Deco period, but revivalist designers had already been making Egypt inspired pieces long before then. The British fell in love with the Egyptian style following the Battle of the Nile in 1798, and the fascination continued through the building of the Suez Canal in the 1860’s.
By the turn of the 20th century, society’s best dressed were buying exotic Egypian pieces from Tiffany, but it was the discovery of King Tut’s tomb in 1922 that led to the explosion of Egyptomania. Arguably the best jewels of the period came from Cartier and LaCloche Frères, featuring a riot of rich turquoise, gold and blue embellished with bold, beautiful motifs.
Symbols played an important role in the ancient Egyptians’s way of life, so the jewellery of the time is instantly recognisable by features such as the Sphinx, the Eye of Horus, the Ankh and the scarab.
Symbolising strength and the restoration of life, scarab beetles were commonly found all over Egypt, with their images adorning everything from art to good luck charms. The rich colours of scarab designs also had meaning, with reds symbolizing the sun god Ra, green representing growth, blue signifying the River Nile and yellows celebrating the desert and the sun. Scarabs were also sown into the chests of Egyptian mummies to guide them safely on their journey to the afterlife.
Castellani was one of the most famous Revivalist jewelers of the 19th century. Inspired by ancient Egypt and the mosaics found in his native Italy, he embellished his jewellery with micromosaics. A particularly famous Castellani necklace featured 15 scarabs, each carefully carved from sciatite with tiny micromosaic patterns to reflect light from every angle.
As well as fans of luxury fashion houses like Tiffany and Cartier, Egyptian Revival jewellery also became hugely popular with collectors of costume jewellery. Fashionable women everywhere sought bold, colourful pieces from Whiting & Davis, The Neiger Brothers, and Monet, featuring emblems such as pyramids, palm trees, snakes and native birds. And when Elizabeth Taylor starred as Cleopatra in the 1963 movie, wearing ornate designs by Joseff of Hollywood, no self respecting jewellery box was complete without Egyptian Revival.
Egyptian jewellery remains hugely popular to this day, providing us with an irresistible mix of opulence, glamour, mystery and strength. This is a style that’s big and bold - think oversized bib necklaces, chain link bracelets and glittering headbands.
At Woodward & Fox we are all about bringing forgotten antique jewellery back to life, so if you are looking for some Egyptian Revival pieces of your own, we will be delighted to share our treasures with you.