One must only look at Greek jewelry to behold its impressive beauty, its ornateness and geometry, and to see how it compliments the wearer while also standing out on its own, adding an interesting bold design element to any wearer’s ensemble. Greek jewelry can easily be unisex, but you will find statement pieces for all genders to enjoy. Upon visiting Greece, you can observe how the artisans work on the streets (especially outside of the Acropolis) to create pieces from metal, mainly bronze and semi-precious gemstones, that can be hammered or smooth, and result in high-end pieces that catch the Greek sun and sparkle brilliantly, making them appear much more expensive than they are.
The most recognizable symbol in Greek and Roman history is the Greek key, which is widely used by fashion companies today, especially by Versace in their logo which also contains the Medusa head. The Greek key symbolizes the river Meander, shown in linear form resembling a labyrinth, as well as eternity and flow. There are many variations of the Greek key. Spirals are just as commonly seen in Greek jewelry as the Greek key (also known as the Greek fret). The Greek key came to prominence during the Geometric period and appeared on pottery and in many Roman villas.
The main semi-precious stones found in Greek jewelry are lapis lazuli, amethyst, marble, turquoise, onyx, green onyx, carnelian, malachite, chalcedony, aquamarine, topaz, jade, sapphire, pearl, and many synthetic versions of these stones (buyer beware, always ask for credentials when buying jewelry abroad). Enamel is also expertly used; you will see it in many of the evil eye pieces. Among tourists, a favorite jewelry piece is one that contains the ancient Greek coin. Used in rings, earrings, necklaces, bracelets, it is a way to have an authentic piece of Greek history (until it was replaced by the Euro, the Drachma was the Greek currency), while also appealing to those who love vintage and antique jewelry.
The evil eye, most commonly shown with a blue eye surrounded by the white sclera in an almond shape or a round shape, is used in Greek, Roman, and Egyptian cultures and cultures that practice mysticism. Ancient mysticism was studied as a spiritual guide for people who were superstitious and/or religious, and who believed in higher powers beyond their control and sought to ward off evil by wearing the evil eye amulet. In modern times, the evil eye is worn as a kitsch fashion symbol. It is mass-produced (but can be handmade by jewelers) and not taken as seriously as the word of mystic law of ancient times.
Many Greek bangles and necklaces reflect the visual arts elements found in classic Greek art. The use of friezes (decorative bands) in jewelry is noticeable. The friezes contain scenes of humanity, and/or animals (the donkey is endemic to Greece), represented by crude or semi-realistic figures, between geometric bands to display the classic Greek design elements of the Greek key, a frame, or repeating images of leaves (it may also be comprised of the repetition of floral elements, or geometric elements such as dots (large milgrain) and line work). Bezels settings are preferred to prongs, as they make the stones appear larger and the bezel itself can appear woven, beaded or as an ornate frame. Greek jewelry is anything but boring!
Greek symbolism has been borrowed by many other cultures, so many of these designs are familiar to us, and now the references should be apparent. These graphic elements, like the Greek key, make the pieces exciting to wear and yet contained on the wearer, complimenting any style of outfit, from day wear to evening wear. Although Greek jewelry is used in costume wear for events such as toga parties, Halloween parties, historical plays, and weddings, its connotations have remained the same- it is worn as a sign of prosperity and wealth, to decorate the wearer and reference a time in humanity’s history when civilization was at its peak. Dressing up as Caesar or a Greek goddess is often a playful way to exhibit the over-indulgent, sometimes bacchanal behavior of the Greeks that we all wish to partake in. In contrast to when the Acropolis was the most important city in the world, where government and its people came together to make important decisions that would alter the course of humanity, when wreaths were worn as decorative head pieces, today cheap golden wreaths are worn with almost every Greek costume you would find today. Don’t take my word for it, travel to Greece to experience the excitement of a country that still keeps its traditions- art, food, music, and jewelry are all very much alive and well in Greece.
Contributed by Marissa Pearl