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The Byzantine Empire with Constantinople as its capital remained a very vivid and wealthy center of artistic life until XVth century when the Turks captured the imperial city. In 1204 Constantinople was brutally attacked by Fourth Crusade and its treasures including various precious jewels, church ornaments and relics were carried back to the West where they influenced the decorative art trends in medieval Europe.
During its best times, the Byzantine Empire spread from Mediterranean Sea across Egypt to Asia Minor. The Byzantines had almost unlimited access to raw materials for making jewelry and they were ideally placed for trade between East and West.
Constantinople became a major center for precious stones, ivory, gold and pearls bringing the city extreme wealth and prestige. Although there was a lot of jewelry on the market available not everyone could wear it and use of jewelry was strictly regulated. Ordinary people were allowed to wear gold ring but precious stones were reserved for court and Church, whereas sapphires, pearls and emeralds were only worn by the emperor. The gold flow was carefully monitored as it was a base of trade in the Empire which allowed to maintain the army and thereby the empire’s borders. At that time silver was not much used in jewelry.
Although many jewelers worked throughout entire empire, the majority of artists worked in capital experiencing the rapid growth of Constantinople. However, the jewelry industry was strictly controlled and restricted and only jewelers working directly for Emperor had access to finest materials. Precious jewelry was crafted only for the Emperor and very influential individuals associated with church, court or military.
Emperor’s jewelers also made gift pieces intended for foreign rulers. In XXI-th century two crown made of cloisonné enamel panels were presented to Hungarian kings. One of these crowns was used until XX-th century for coronations.
During early periods Byzantine jewelers created repetitive motifs embossed in gold sheets using inherited decorative techniques. Byzantine also came up with a new way of designing necklaces by drilling a hole through a precious stone or pearl and securing it with gold wire. Engraving and intaglios remained popular techniques throughout Byzantine period.
One of distinctions of jewelry art was the greater use of stones, with a leaning towards more splendor in color. Cloisonné was used in place of stones when more specialized colors were sought. Niello work was often used when decorating gold and silver. Many of jewelry products were decorated with colorful enamel. Many designs were dominated by Christian symbolism and ideas.
Byzantine people wore all elements of jewelry. Necklaces were usually made from pearl and precious stones. Different colors alternated around the necklaces and fine examples combining emeralds, sapphires and pearls have been found. People from lower classes wore necklaces featuring amethyst and green glass. Both men and women wore large pendants attached to gold wires. It was also popular to wear body-chain diagonally across the chest and back instead of necklaces.
Bracelets came in many different styles including bangles and serpent bracelets and were usually worn in matching pairs. As far as rings go, they were also very popular and usually made of silver, gold, copper and bronze. Pendants featured mixed precious stones and pearls. Earrings were made in different sizes and shapes but they usually featured colorful gemstones and gold. To invoke God’s protection, luck, prosperity of health for the wearer the majority of jewelry was decorated with religious inscriptions and sacred monograms.