African Jewelry takes many forms and has a number of functions besides bodily adornment.
It can be storage of wealth; amassing gold or precious metals or stones in bracelets and amulets; or it can be a symbol of prestige and power reflecting status in society… or it can just simply be a decorative item used to hold hair back.
The oldest African jewelry ever discovered was recently found, in 2004, in the Blombos cave on the southern tip of S. Africa. They are estimated at being over 75 000 years old and are pea-sized, mollusc shell beads that had been pierced. They have worn areas indicating that they were probably once strung into a necklace or bracelet.
Historically, African jewelry is also used to trade and barter with, mainly in exchange for cloth and food, but also very sadly for slaves.
African jewelry is seldom just ornamental; religion, rituals and ceremonies play a large part. Found objects are often included and can carry personal and symbolic meanings for the wearer.
Jewelry is worn by men, women and children, in some cases from a very early age and may be replaced at a certain age or status event like puberty, reaching manhood or marriage.
African jewelry has customarily been created from organic materials like hide, porcupine quill, bone, animal teeth, animal hair, seeds, nuts, husks, sea and land shells, egg shell, wood, ivory and carved stone.
Ostrich shells have been discovered in disc shaped form in Palaeolithic and Neolithic sites. Ostrich bone is one of the oldest forms of material used.
Cowrie shells have an ancient history in Africa and are prized for their durability and their shape symbolizing female fertility.
Tribal African jewelry is dependant upon three things:
For example, the lost wax method of bronze casting in Nigeria and Benin started by the Yoruba in the 13th C has produced very intricate modelling of bronze pieces and copper is another metal historically used.
In Ghana, the coronation of kings and leaders is celebrated with a show of gold wealth that is astounding in its glory. Gold bracelets, necklaces and rings all have symbolic meaning attached to the styling and motifs used in the making.
When tribes are nomadic like the Turkana, Dinka and Samburu in Sudan and Kenya, their creativity is given an outlet in the form of personal adornment.
Jewelry is worn to express tribal association, age, civil and marital status and wealth.
African Jewelry items tend to be big and bold and chunky using ethnic and metal beads, ostrich and ebony discs, beaten silver and mineral stones.
Gemstones, precious and semi precious, new and antique, have decorative and spiritual properties that are highly valued and increasingly in demand.
Luckily, Africa is hugely wealthy with resources in this area and the supply of materials comes easily.
These silver earrings are a new take on traditional Fulani hoops blending natural elements with tribal.
African gemstone jewellery is surprisingly less popular for using its precious stones that its earth is so rich with, as it is for its semi-precious stones of which there are vast resources of. Stones used by African artisans include turquoise, lapis lazuli, sapphires, emeralds and rubies as well as topaz, amethyst, rose quartz and moonstone.
Diamonds are culturally seen as devoid of colour and were not traditionally favoured by the indigenous people of Africa.
African jewelry is interpreted in many ways in the contemporary fashion world. Black models are very in vogue and tribal adornment embellishes and enhances many necks and bodies of all races.
Today jewelry manufacture has become an art form and a way to express one's personality, a form of individual expression.
Since 'jewelry' is derived from a Latin word 'jocale' which means 'plaything' we can see that historically it has been used as a form of adornment that gives pleasure and status to its wearer.
With access to beautiful stones, precious metals and other unusual material source like fossils and ebonised wood, there has been an explosion of phenomenal design in the jewellery world.
Creativity is at an all time high.
Piece - this is a collection that pays tribute to the creative power of the African people and how the use and trade of beads has been so significant in Africa's history and culture. Designed in collaboration with Beauty Maswanganyi, master beader, the collection seeks to reflect the contribution of San bushmen with their ostrich shell beads, the African blacksmith who made cast bronze beads, the Mozambican precious natural resources with hand carved timber beads, West African communities who used cowrie shells as currency.
Coral and amber, both rare and beautiful, and symbolizing status, investment and fertility are majestic additions in the creations.
One of the recurring themes we see when looking at art on the African continent is the way artisans are making the most incredible recycled product. Jewelry is no exception and below are a few examples of the creative energy being applied in this area.
It's an exceptionally good practise for many reasons; the commercial gain of the individual or community; the experience and skills acquired not only in creation of the product but also learning to manage the finances and marketing; the commitment to cleaning up the environment; the artistic growth of individuals and the value perceived in creating something beautiful from very little.
The products featured above seek to do all those things and are effective in achieving success.