Egyptian Magic! Revival Jewellery to Channel Your Inner Cleopatra This Week
Today marks the opening of the Metropolitan Museum of Arts exhibition Ancient Egypt Transformed: The Middle Kingdom, which highlights the cultural and political renaissance that flourished in the civilization over the span of nearly 400 years. Among the pieces on display is a large-scale sculpture of Pharaoh Mentuhotep II, canopic jars used for mummification, and ornate royal jewellery inlaid with precious stones and coated in gold.
Even more than 3,000 years later, a dash of bright gold—prized by the Egyptians as a divine and indestructible element and associated with the sun god Ra—still makes our hearts flutter.
Though we are all not Cleopatra's, we can however, have a piece of rare and collectible Egyptian Revival jewellery which will make any outfit fit for a modern queen .
Left - Cleopatra movie | Elizabeth Taylor in and as Cleopatra (1963 Movie)
Right - Claudette Colbert as Cleopatra - 1934 - Cleopatra - Costume design by Travis Banton
You might think the intrigue surrounding the ill-fated Cleopatra, last queen of the ancient Egyptians, first inspired the trend for exotic jewellery styled like Ankhs and scarabs. In fact, the interest in Egyptian motifs wasnt widespread until the late 1700s, when Napoleons military campaign in Northern Africa helped to popularize fine jewellery featuring the exotic aesthetic. The British fell for Egyptian styling after the 1798 Battle of the Nile, and soon wealthy women all across Europe were wearing Egyptian-inspired jewelled brooches, headbands, and flower-shaped pins in their hair.
The demand for Egyptian designs boomed again during the 1920s, after the discovery of Tutankhamens tomb in 1922 spread Egyptian imagery throughout the western world. Newsreel footage of archaeological digs and Hollywood depictions of the gilded Egyptian empire sealed the deal: Egyptian style was red hot.
Not only was Egyptian jewellery linked to ancient opulence, it also held the allure of a legendary culture and its mysterious symbols. Often Egyptian revival designs were pulled directly from Egyptian amulets worn for good luck—the Udjat, or eye of Horus, was a common motif, symbolizing healing and protection; scarabs and lotus flowers represented rebirth and resurrection; and the Ankh was a symbol of eternal life.
Produced by major fashion-jewellery firms like the Napier Company in New York, Egyptian revival jewellery was typically made from flashy golden forms featuring carved hieroglyphics, pharaohs heads, sphinxes, and even mummies. Bigger was always better, especially for exotic pieces like headbands with dangling forehead pendants, oversized bib necklaces, or heavy chain-link slave bracelets.
Costume jewellers such as Whiting & Davis, Lisner, and Monet quickly produced revival pieces of their own, using enamel inlays in the plique jour style to showcase animals like falcons, jackals, scarab beetles, and cobra snakes. Other emblems of the desert, from pyramids to palm trees, adorned long necklaces and fringed earrings inlaid with semi-precious stones or rhinestones. Since the '20s, the Egyptian revival trend has returned every few decades. Some of the most ornate pieces were made by Joseff of Hollywood for the 1963 epic Cleopatra, starring Elizabeth Taylor.
Harlequin Market is proud to have an important Egyptian Revival piece in our collection. This stunning Egyptian Motif Necklace. Signed POLCINI NK 1960, came from the estate of Ann Miller. Johnnie Lucille Collier, known professionally as Ann Miller, was an American dancer, singer and actress. She is best remembered for her work in the Hollywood musical films of the 1940s and 1950s.
This necklace is highly collectible and is for sale HERE
John Galliano for The House of Dior Spring/Summer 2004, Haute Couture- Egyptian Influenced Jewells
Linda Darnell 'Everybody Does It' 1949
Adding to the Egyptian fashion furor was the building of the Suez Canal by Frenchman Ferdinand de Lesseps. The jewelers Mellerio, Boucheron and Baugrand, inspired by the pioneering achievement, created Egyptian jewels in homage to their countrymans efforts in North Africa. Four years after the Suez Canal opened in 1867, the first performance of Verdis Aida at the inauguration of the Cairo opera house sparked even more interest in Egyptian-inspired fashions, particularly following the eight years the opera toured Milan, New York, London and Paris.
By the late 19th century, Europes finest jewellers, including Giuliano, Castellani, Fontenay and Cartier, were beginning to experiment with the various Egyptian symbols and motifs in their jewelry. Scarabs, pharaohs, sphinxes, snakes and lotus blossoms proliferated in embossed gold jewels, with smatterings of turquoise, cabochon garnets, carnelian and lapis lazuli. Hieroglyphs were also frequently used in jewelry designs in the 1870s and 80s.