Jewellery for babies and children has become increasingly fashionable in the last ten years, but children have worn jewellery throughout history, for reasons as varied and interesting as the pieces themselves.
There are many references to the wearing of infant and children’s jewelry throughout history, both in historical literature as well as the bible. In ancient times jewellery 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 reasons; 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 jewellery item at birth. Often a simple necklace or bracelet would be gifted – as often to baby boys as girls. Some African cultures used jewelry to gradually stretch the bottom lip, the ear-lobe or even the neck of young children. Using jewelry in this manner was and in some countries, still is, seen as beautiful. Just as jewelry 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 found in Egypt, Italy, China and South and Central America from around 5000 years ago. Jewellers in ancient Egypt crafted jewellery enamels, or cloisonne, producing beautiful pieces worn by men, women and children. In ancient Greece artisans worked mainly in enamel and filigree gold or silver wire shaped into jewellery. Jewellers in Roman times added precious and semi-precious stones to gold and silver pieces. Byzantine jewelry designs included enamelling, an art which is popular in baby and children’s jewelry 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 exquisite 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 jewelry 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. Jewellery making reached the level of fine art in the 17th 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 jewelry 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 jewellery 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.