If you are in the market for a Sumerian hair ornament from the ancient city of Ur, a string of carnelian and garnet beads from Predynastic Egypt, or a pendant made of hammered gold by Bronze Age Minoan or Mycenaean jewelers in the place we know today as Crete, you will probably be bidding against the likes of the British Museum in London and the Met in New York. But lesser examples of ancient fine-jewelry pieces made from roughly the 7th-century BC through the Middle Ages are still available.

Often an amulet or scarab will be repurposed by modern jewelers as a signature pendant at the end of a long string of newer beads. Decorative bronze items such as belt buckles and clasps from China's Han Dynasty (the 1st and 2nd centuries BC) can sometimes be found in the shapes horses and dragons, while torcs, or neck rings, from northern Europe occasionally pop up. During the Hellenistic age, Greek jewelers fashioned diadems, or crowns, from twisted bands of garnet-inlaid filigreed gold, while the Roman jewelry that followed can be found from England to Egypt.

In the Western Hemisphere, the category of ancient jewelry includes work by the Nazca and Inca of Peru, as well as the Olmec and Maya of Mexico. In Asia, the Chinese of the first millennium AD wore their jewelry primarily in their hair as pins and around their waists as belts, while the Koreans of roughly the same centuries cast plaques out of silver, which were worn on clothing. Meanwhile, techniques such as cloisonne and enameling evolved from relatively humble roots in Middle East to achieve perfection in China and Europe.


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