Ancient jewellery: A window onto ancient techniques

Antiquities specialist Hannah Solomon looks at a selection of stunning pieces that draw a direct line between ancient cultures and the ways in which jewellery is made and worn today

‘I love that ancient jewellery provides a window onto ancient techniques and gold work,’ says Antiquities specialist Hannah Solomon. ‘I also think it’s amazing that you can see that styles haven’t changed that much — earrings that would have been worn in the 4th century B.C. in Italy by the Etruscans are quite similar to how we wear earrings today.’

The specialist goes on to look at some standout pieces from the Antiquities sale at Christie’s New York on 25 October. These include a pair of Etruscan gold ear studs from the late 6th century B.C. 

A pair of Etruscan gold ear studs. C. 530-500 BC. Each 1¼ in (3.3 cm) diameter. Estimate $30,000-50,000. This lot is offered in Antiquities on 25 October 2016 at Christie’s in New York, Rockefeller Plaza

A pair of Etruscan gold ear studs. C. 530-500 BC. Each: 1¼ in (3.3 cm) diameter. Estimate: $30,000-50,000. This lot is offered in Antiquities on 25 October 2016 at Christie’s in New York, Rockefeller Plaza

‘The Etruscans were master gold workers,’ she explains, highlighting the tightly fitted beading (known as granulation) and tiny wires (filigree) which are fashioned into spiral shapes. ‘These would have been worn by inserting them into the ear and putting a pin behind them, so it’s very much a modern composition and something we see today with ear studs.’

Solomon also shows us an exquisite Greek olive wreath fashioned from hammered and rolled sheet gold that dates from around the 4th century B.C. ‘Olive wreaths would have been used to crown the winners of contests. We don’t believe that these were worn. We think that they were ceremonial, perhaps used in a funerary context.’ The fact that some of the leaves on this wreath have been burned suggests that it was placed on a funeral pyre.

A Greek gold olive wreath. Late classical period to early hellenistic. 9½ in (24.1 cm) wide. Estimate $250,000-350,000. This lot is offered in Antiquities on 25 October 2016 at Christie’s in New York, Rockefeller Plaza

A Greek gold olive wreath. Late classical period to early hellenistic. 9½ in (24.1 cm) wide. Estimate: $250,000-350,000. This lot is offered in Antiquities on 25 October 2016 at Christie’s in New York, Rockefeller Plaza

This Celtic gold torque from the 4th century B.C. is made from hammered sheet gold, but what makes it quintessentially Celtic are the differences in its design: Greek and Etruscan motifs such as florals and palmettes have been created in raised relief and abstracted so that they turn into faces with spiral eyes and elongated noses.

A Celtic gold torque. C. late 4th century BC. 7⅛ in (18 cm) wide. Estimate $120,000-180,000. This lot is offered in Antiquities on 25 October 2016 at Christie’s in New York, Rockefeller Plaza

A Celtic gold torque. C. late 4th century BC. 7⅛ in (18 cm) wide. Estimate: $120,000-180,000. This lot is offered in Antiquities on 25 October 2016 at Christie’s in New York, Rockefeller Plaza

Ancient jewellery, Solomon suggests, is a wonderful way to get involved with antiquities. ‘There are so many things that are hard for us to understand, be it religion, social structure or politics. But ancient jewellery is quite relatable.’