During the Middle Ages jewelry was connected intimately to showing social stature and rank. In the Early Middle Ages, the influence of massive chains from the Byzantine Empire combined with the Roman trend for beautiful intricate glass beads and metal disks. For women, their necklaces would have been covered up by the couvre-chef. Still, they must have been of great worth. According to an old Anglian law a mother could bequeath land, slaves and money to her son, and to her daughter necklaces, earrings and bracelets. The trend was massive ornaments, usually large brooches to fasten the tunic, girdles, and belts. The large ornaments relied on heaving carvings, polished stones, and crystal, interlaced with filigree and enamels.
Superstitions about the properties of certain stones made for popular. For example, amber was said to ward away evil spirits. Small lumps, perforated, and strung about the neck have been found in Saxon burial sites.
The trend for beads and pendants made stone, clay, shell, and semi-precious stones gave away to manufactured bead from Venice. But this vogue died too in the Late Middle Ages with the rise of the artist-craftsmen.
Artist-craftsmen were the beginning of trade guilds and fraternities in the Middle Ages. Beads did not show enough skill to be of fashion, but chains of gold sufficed. In 1300, chains began to appear on noblemen. By the 15th century women ‘s heads and necks began to be uncovered and necklaces grew in popularity. By 1390, “caranets”, or chains set with with enameled or jeweled plaques at intervals, were in vogue.
The necklace above, shown on Ann Boyelyn’s great-aunt, is an interesting example of a caranet made with pendant jewels.
For men, the trend of wearing all your gold chains at once ( sounds familiar?) gave away to simply wearing a massive, elaborate jeweled collar which lay on the shoulders. This trend remained de riguer throughout the 16th century.
The woman above wears seven chains, 4 rings, cuff bands, and an elaborate caul set with pearls. The trend of “excessive” jewelry wearing was also adopted by women, who were not to be outdone by men. In some localities women were said to wear all their jewelry at once. This trend indicates the social importance of jewelry, and its symbolism for money, power and rank.
Lester, Katherine Morris., and Bess Viola. Oerke. An Illustrated History of Those Frills and Furbelows of Fashion Which Have Come to Be Known As: Accessories of Dress,. Peoria, IL: Manual Arts, 1940. Print.
*note that all descriptions not cited were sourced from artstor descriptions