Welcome to Jewel School! In this series, Jewelry Designer Paraskevi of Paul’s Jewelers will explore Classical Greek themes in jewelry and adornment.
Classical Greek themes in jewelry
For centuries, our rich culture has influenced artisans around the world. Let’s examine the impact of Classical Greek Themes in jewelry design.
Trinkets or treasures?
In a nostalgic moment, you open that small wooden box again and gaze at the jewelry pieces you’ve collected over the years. Your fingers find, among the trinkets, treasures that remind you of the past. Perhaps it’s a gem-studded stavro your Yiayia gave you from Greece, a blue glass mati from your trip to the islands, and a small Greek Key ring from a friend. Then two pieces stop your gaze: a caramel-colored Cameo brooch with a graceful figure of a woman in relief and a ring with an historic hero engraved on its rectangular dark gem surface. Why did their delicate beauty draw you in when you spotted them at the corner antique shop? Perhaps it is because the familiar aquiline features of these objects have artistic origins that can be traced to Ancient Greece.
These are examples of Cameo, where the figure or motif is projected out from the background; and Intaglio, where the figure or motif is carved into the surface. PHOTO: PARASKEVI FOR PAUL’S JEWELERS
Influence of classical Greek themes in jewelry
The art world is filled with classical Greek themes and subjects but do you know that the World of Jewelry is equally influenced by our rich history? My father, Polychronis (Paul) loved all things Greek. This inspired his work. He passed down this love to me, and now my work is inspired by our rich heritage and faith. I’m particularly fascinated by the world’s love for Greek themes, and how this has influenced jewelry design. Let’s explore this further.
Mount Olympus on a tiny surface
When I was young, my father told sublime stories created by our ancient ancestors to explain common events. He recounted tales of Demeter and Persephone and the change of seasons, Pandora and the reason for strife, Prometheus and the origin of fire. Bringing to life these super-real gods and goddesses from Mount Olympus, he pointed out that just as sculptors with their hammers and chisels created monumental works of art, jewelers with tiny engravers created intricate masterpieces on miniature surfaces equally as impactful, noteworthy, and everlasting.
The Greeks were the first to excel
James David Draper of the Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote about the Hellenistic influence, in his article, ‘Cameo Appearances’.
“The Hellenistic Greeks were the first to excel at carving small hard stones with figures in relief, often in the images of deities or other talismanic signifiers even though the practice seems to have been rooted in Ancient Mesopotamia.”
Early works by ancient jewelers show the more simple figure of a man shooting an arrow, or leaning over his dead prey for use as signature or signet rings but these primary pieces evolved into the more elaborate mythological stories and scenes of which all Greeks at the time were familiar. After the 5th century BC, the cameo was introduced and the likeness of stern-faced Zeus and proud Hera seated on their thrones, the sun god Helios on his chariot, galloping across the heavens were fashioned. Through the years, ownership of these pieces became a sign of wealth but since the 16th century to the present, they have become collectable works of art in small-scale, available to everyone.
Do You Own a Treasure?
Some of your pieces of Cameo and Intaglio may be valuable. One easy way to determine importance is to see if there is a signature on the back of the piece by the artist. Most vintage pieces, regardless of their intrinsic value, are remarkable and timeless, so please don’t leave yours hidden away in that wooden box. Wear your classic Cameo brooch or intricate Intaglio ring proudly.
There’s infinite evidence of the influence of Classical Greek themes in jewelry, For, as my father, Paul, and his favorite movie character, Mr. Gus Portokalos, that now-famous modern Hellenic philosopher and historian would say … “These too, come from the Greek!” And so it goes.
Paraskevi, also known as Vivian Paul Anton, is a 2nd generation jewelry designer, certified gemologist, and proprietor of Paul’s Jewelers in Milwaukee, WI. She trained at the Gemological Institute of America and at the Kulicke-Starke Academy of Arts. Early in her career, she interned with Ilias Lalaounis in Greece. Her pieces have been featured in major magazines and acquired by actors, athletes, and patrons all over the world.