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A necklace is an article of jewelry that is worn around the neck. Necklaces may have been one of the earliest types of adornment worn by humans. They often serve ceremonial, religious, magical, or funerary purposes and are also used as symbols of wealth and status, given that they are commonly made of precious metals and stones.
The main component of a necklace is the band, chain, or cord that wraps around the neck. These are most often rendered in precious metals such as gold, silver, and platinum. Necklaces often have additional attachments suspended or inset into the necklace itself. These attachments typically include pendants, lockets, amulets, crosses, and precious and semi-precious materials such as diamond, pearls, rubies, emeralds, garnets, and sapphires.
Early European barbarian groups favored wide, intricate gold collars not unlike the torc. Germanic tribes often wore gold and silver pieces with complex detailing and inlaid with colored glass and semi-precious stones, especially garnet. Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian groups worked mainly in silver, due to a deficit of gold, and wrought patterns and animal forms into neck-rings. In the Gothic period necklaces were uncommon, though there are a few records of diamond, ruby, and pearl necklaces. It was not until the adoption of lower necklines later in the Middle Ages that necklaces became common.
1400 C.E. – 1500 C.E: During the Renaissance it was fashionable for men to wear a number of chains, plaques, and pendants around their necks, and by the end of the 15th century the wealthiest men would wear great, shoulder covering collars inlaid with gems. Women typically wore simpler pieces, such as gold chains, or strung beads or pearls. By the end of the period, larger, more heavily adorned pieces were common among the wealthy, particularly in Italy.
1600–1700: Few men in the Baroque period wore jewelry, and for women necklaces were unsophisticated, often a simple strand of pearls or delicately linked and embellished strands of metal with small stones. Later in the century, after the invention of new diamond cutting techniques, priority was for the first time given to the jewels themselves, not their settings; it was common for jewels to be pinned to black velvet ribbons. Miniatures also grew in popularity, and were often made into portrait pendants or lockets.
1700–1800: Portrait pendants were still worn, and in extravagantly jeweled settings. The newly wealthy bourgeoisie delighted in jewelry, and the new imitation stones and imitation gold allowed them more access to the necklaces of the time. In the early part of the century, the dominant styles were a velvet ribbon with suspended pendants and the rivière necklace, a single row of large precious stones surrounded by other precious stones. By mid-century colorful, whimsical necklaces made of real and imitation gems were popular, and the end of the century saw a neo-Classical resurgence. In the Age of Enlightenment gowns often featured a neck ruffle which women accented with neck ribbons rather than traditional necklaces, but some women did wear chokers inlaid with rubies and diamonds. Seed pearls were introduced to the United States during the Federalist Era, leading to an increase in lacy pearl necklaces.
1800–1870: The low necklines of the court gowns fashionable at this time led to the use of large necklaces set with precious jewels. In Napoleon's court that ancient Greek style was fashionable, and women wore strands of pearls or gold chains with cameos and jewels. In the Romantic period necklaces were extravagant: it was fashionable to wear a tight, gem-encrusted collar with matching jewel pendants attached and rosettes of gems with pearl borders. It was also common to wear jeweled brooches attached to neck ribbons. Some necklaces were opulent that they made to be dismantled and reconfigured into a shorter necklace, brooches, and a bracelet. Highly embellished Gothic style necklaces from England reflected the crenelations, vertical lines and high relief of the cathedrals.Empress Eugénie popularized bare décolletage with multiple necklaces on the throat, shoulders, and bosom. There was also an interest in antiquity; mosaic jewelry and Roman and Greek necklaces were reproduced. Machine made jewelry and electroplating allowed for an influx of inexpensive imitation necklaces.