Jewelry for infants and children has become increasingly fashionable in the last ten years, but children have worn jewelry for many centuries, for reasons as varied and interesting as the pieces themselves.
There are many references to the wearing of baby and children’s jewellery throughout history, both in historical literature as well as the bible. In ancient times jewelry made from shells, animal teeth, animal hair and wood were worn by babies. These early pieces were worn for fashion as well as for superstitious purposes; for example, to ward off evil spirits.
In many cultures in ancient times, including European, African, American and Pacific, babies were often presented with a jewelry item at birth. Often a simple necklace or bracelet would be given – as often to baby boys as girls. Some African cultures used jewellery to gradually stretch the bottom lip, the ear-lobe or even the neck of young children. Using jewellery in this manner was and in some countries, still is, seen as beautiful. Just as jewellery has evolved over the centuries, so have the reasons for wearing it.
Jewelry making became a craft in Babylonian times. Early forms of jewellery have been discovered in Egypt, Italy, China and South and Central America from around 5000 years ago. Jewellers in ancient Egypt crafted jewelry enamels, or cloisonne, producing beautiful pieces worn by men, women and children. In ancient Greece artisans crafted mainly in enamel and filigree gold or silver wire shaped into jewellery. Jewellers in Roman times fitted precious and semi-precious stones to gold and silver pieces. Byzantine jewellery designs included enamelling, an art which is popular in baby and children’s jewellery today. In ancient Hebrew times, bracelets were the insignia of kings and their sons. In 14th century Italy, it was customary to give newborns a cross crafted from coral which was to protect the baby from “evil eye”. For hundreds of years Cambodian parents adorned the ankles of their babies with silver anklets strung with tiny silver bells. Besides being decorative, the practical idea behind this tradition was to enable mothers to hear if their babies had crawled or toddled off and out of safety. There was another reason for these bells: to ward off evil spirits.
In Victorian times, babies commonly wore beautiful gold, and less often, silver bracelets, pins and bib clips. The bracelets were similar to today’s “ID” bracelets where a flattened area was engraved with the word “baby”. Pins, or brooches, also were sometimes engraved with the word “baby”. Enamelling was sometimes used to in-fill the letters or to add a small floral decoration. Semi-precious stones such as garnets were sometimes set into gold bracelets and brooches. Victorian styles are often copied in today’s jewellery styles for babies and children. Older children in Victorian times often wore gold or silver book-chain necklaces, cameos and bar pins. Many of these items were beautifully engraved. They became family heirlooms and many Victorian baby and children’s jewelry items are now seen on display in museums.
Throughout the centuries, there have been many reasons for babies and children wearing jewelry and these include:
- Artistic visual exhibition
- Protection from evil spirits
- Symbolism to show status or rank or membership
- Functional use such as clips, clasps, pins and buckles which later often evolved into decorative items.
- As currency or to display the wealth of the family.
Jewelry making reached the level of fine art in the seventeenth Century when many sculptors were often apprenticed to goldsmiths. Some jewelry items were created for functional reasons, for example clips or pins to hold a baby-bib in place, but years later, evolved into decorative items as the need for their functions decreased. Some jewellery was created to symbolise religious membership, for example the Star of David, or a crucifix. This use of jewellery continues today and is very popular in modern baby and children’s jewelry, frequently gifted for christenings, communions and bar mitzvahs.
In time, adults as well as babies and children increasingly wore jewellery as a sign of social or religious rank. Today though, the most common reasons for giving the gift of jewelry to a baby or small child are for the fun of wearing it and seeing it worn, and how it will make the little girl or boy look and feel.