Roman: 5th century BC - 5th century AD Design Period

Roman: 5th century BC - 5th century AD

Roman 5th BC-5th AD

Roman: 5th century BC - 5th century AD

Roman: 5th century BC - 5th century AD

Prior to Imperial Rome being established in circa 27 BC, Rome existed as a republic. With government elected government officials and detailed laws, it is said that this system was the basis for modern democracies. During this era 510 BC-27 BC, jewellery would have been largely influenced by the Etruscans. However, gold was scarce during this period, and its use in jewellery was often discouraged, in order for it to be used in trade and warfare. It is extremely rare to come across examples of Roman jewellery from this time.

The Roman Empire was established in 27 BC following decades of war which eventually saw Octavian become the first emperor and take the name ‘Augustus’. During this time, the use of jewellery as a form of personal adornment became increasingly popular.

One of our largest sources of knowledge of 1st century AD Roman jewellery is in Herculaneum and Pompeii, where much jewellery was buried in the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD. In this jewellery there is evidence of many abstract designs.

The Hellenistic style was initially popular in the early years of the Roman Empire, and much inspiration was also taken from other great civilisations, including the Egyptians. In turn, Roman jewellery later influenced many other cultures, as these pieces were dispersed throughout the Empire.

As Roman jewellery was made chiefly out of gold, many decorative processes were available to the goldsmith. Some of the most ornate processes were filigree and granulation work. These closely related processes were used for decorating gold jewellery by the application of wires and grains of gold. Filigree consists of fine gold wires which are soldered in patterns on a background. We have many fine examples of these techniques in our collection.

Amethyst, emerald and pearl were popular gemstones for the Romans, and diamonds also began to appear in jewellery. Along with precious gems, glassmakers were highly skilled and produced glass for jewellery that looked exactly like gemstones.

Emeralds from Egypt were left in their natural hexagonal crystal form and other gems, such as carnelian and garnet were featuring in intaglios. Eventually, the working of gemstones surpassed the importance of goldworking, which is reflected in later pieces.

Gemstone engraving was a very important art form in the Roman era, and due to the hardness of the gemstones it was something only the most skilled and specialist craftsmen could achieve. The designs would take months to be cut into the stone using abrasive powder ground from an even harder gem material. The complexity of the image was important in ensuring the seal could not be copied and used without the owner’s permission. Whilst intaglios were often used as seals, they were also worn for their decorative value. Mythological scenes and figures were a popular choice for seals.

Ancient roman rings were made by anularii and not goldsmiths. Anularii only made finger rings due to the highly specialised nature of metalworking in this period. Rings were seen as a status symbol and were only worn by certain social groups, however within these groups, they were worn by men, women, and children. Whilst rings worn by men had a function, women wore rings purely as decoration. These rings were often set with gemstones such as agate, carnelian and garnet.

Earrings were a popular choice for women, and were often hollow, so they could be both ornate and comfortable. Gold earrings were often decorated with colourful glass beads and patterns would be made in sheet gold and cut out using a chisel. It is rare to find a matching set of ancient earrings in wearable condition today.

The Roman Empire fell in 476 AD, but its influence is still felt. Considering the scale of the Empire, jewellery finds are relatively rare, but these pieces of history can still be worn and enjoyed today.

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Examples from our catalogue

Ancient Roman charioteer silver ring hatton garden
Ancient Roman charioteer silver ring, circa 3rd century AD.
Ancient Roman Cupid intaglio ring, circa 2nd century AD.  Hatton Garden
Ancient Roman Cupid intaglio ring, circa 2nd century AD.
Ancient Roman signet ring berganza hatton garden
Ancient Roman signet ring, 1st-2nd century AD.
Ancient Roman engraved ring featuring Victory hatton garden
Ancient Roman engraved ring featuring Victory, circa 2nd-3rd century AD.
ancient roman intaglio gold ring hatton garden berganza
Ancient Roman ant intaglio ring, circa 1st century BC-1st century AD.
Ancient Roman fishermen intaglio ring hatton garden
Ancient Roman fishermen intaglio ring, circa 3rd century AD.
Ancient Roman gold ring with Minerva intaglio hatton garden
Ancient Roman gold ring with Minerva intaglio, 3rd-4th century AD.
Ancient Roman cameo ring, circa 3rd 4th century AD hatton garden
Ancient Roman cameo ring, circa 3rd-4th century AD.
Roman gold ring with minerva intaglio berganza hatton garden
Ancient Roman goddess Minerva intaglio ring, circa 2nd-3rd century AD.

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Updated 28/01/2023 at 1:34PM

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