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Written by Hannah Mae Webster 

Through the ages, jewellery has drastically evolved, slowly losing some of its practicality and meaning. Today, jewellery seems to be predominantly judged on aesthetic value, yet many vintage pieces hold a deeper historical message.


A cameo is a type of carving, usually of a facial profile, into materials such as hardstones, glass, and shell. The concept of cameos can be traced back to Ancient Egypt when events would be documented through the carving of figures into stone. Cameo jewellery commonly included rings, brooches, and necklaces. Some designs were often mythological, depicting gods and goddesses.

During the Roman Empire, some cameos were made with a more political intention and meaning. 

Cameo jewellery varied depending on wealth and class, the wealthy upper classes could afford more expensive pieces made with gemstones, whilst glass cameos were created to target the lower classes.

Intaglio Rings

This unusual yet eye-catching ring is essentially the opposite of the cameo ring, in which the design is carved down into the material, therefore creating a depression, rather than a protruding design. Interestingly, intaglio rings were once used as wax seals, and were created using hardstones. In the Roman Empire, important figures would have their own intaglio design for letters, thus making their presence known to the receiver.

The Renaissance

The period of rebirth introduced ornate and intricate styles, which impacted jewellery designs and trends. Colourful and highly detailed jewellery was favoured during this period. The strong influence of religion was also reflected on jewellery, with many designs holding religious meanings.

19th Century

There was a focus on naturalistic jewellery throughout the 19th century, featuring floral and fruit designs. This was supposedly influenced by the connection between romance and nature, as suggested by Romantic poets of the period.

Art Deco

This period experienced revolutionary changes in societal beliefs, as well as fashion and accessorising, and introduced a new era of expression through jewellery. The influence of geometric designs and eye-catching shapes was reflected through unique and dazzling jewellery pieces. Sharp and powerful designs featured striking gemstones and were often accompanied by diamonds. In the early 1930s, gold regained its popularity after being previously overshadowed by platinum.

Costume Jewellery

Introduced as an alternative to expensive, luxury jewellery, costume jewellery prioritised the aesthetic value over luxury, offering the image of stunning jewellery for a fraction of the cost. It was first popularised in the 18th Century, due to high demand for the image of luxury without the expense.

Taylor-Burton's Diamond

This jaw-dropping 69.42-carat pear-shaped diamond ring, given to Elizabeth Taylor by Richard Burton, goes down as one of the most impressive jewellery pieces in history. The diamond was one of the largest to ever come onto the market at the time, and following an unsuccessful auction bid in 1969, losing to Cartier, Richard Burton purchased the diamond ring the following day from Cartier for $1.1 million. However, Elizabeth Taylor sold it only 10 years later, after they divorced.

Yellow Tiffany Diamond

Decades after it was showcased in 1961 by Audrey Hepburn in the ‘Breakfast at Tiffany's’ promotional shoot, Lady Gaga wore this truly showstopping 128-carat Tiffany diamond to the 2019 Oscars.

Princess Diana's Engagement Ring

Arguably the most unforgettable and iconic engagement ring, Princess Diana's Ceylon Sapphire and diamond ring was chosen by her, causing some controversy. The ring chosen by Diana was by the crown jeweller, Garrard, however, was also available in a catalogue for public purchase, therefore many in the royal family questioned her choice.

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