My husband was complaining about the mess in the attic; my creative place where I design and make my jewelry. I am not calling it a mess, but a creative explosion. Whatever, I decided to organize things.
When I was young I got a present from my parent a silver bracelet. And every year a new ‘dubbeltje’ (Dutch coin) was added until I had a lot of dubbetjes hanging on that bracelet or coin jewelry.
For my 20th birthday I got a new bracelet, with a dubbeltje from 1895 with the portrait of Queen Wilhelmina on one side, and for every year that I lived another dubbeltje with the portrait of Queen Juliana.
Those dubbeltjes are the most beautiful coins in the whole world. And every Dutch girl and guy was very sad when they vanished after the introduction of the Euro in 2002. The worth is 10 cents, made of silver and about 1.5 cm. In 2017 someone sold one for €75.000!!!
Anyway, I really did not know where that coin bracelet was until I was organizing the attic. And there it was, wrapped in soft paper and plastic. My husband was right… it was time to clean up the ‘mess’.
The reason why I was looking for that bracelet was a lecture by a conservator of the Rijksmuseum voor Oudheden in Leiden/The Netherlands. This museum organizes a lot of lectures online and the one I was interested in discussed the importance of the coin treasure found in the North of the Netherlands.
The coin treasure of Wieuwerd/Friesland
Archeologists found a large coin treasure in Wieuwerd, a very small village in Friesland (Northern Netherlands). It contained 37 golden pieces of jewelry from the 7th century and most of them were made from golden Roman coins.
A goldsmith added a gold rim around a coin to use it as a pendant. The golden coins were minted in Istanbul (Constantinople), Ravenna (Italy), Viviers, Arles, and Marseille in France, Sevilla in Spain, and Maastricht in the South of The Netherlands. Gathered from all over the then-known world.
Gold was not abundantly available in the Netherlands in the 7th century and also the mines outside Europe started to run out of gold. For the use of coins, they started with minting silver ones. And the old gold coins were used as material to make pieces of jewelry.
They could use the coin as a start and make by melting other golden coins the golden rim to get a pendant. Archeologists think that this golden coin treasure was the gold stock of a goldsmith.
Or it was the possession of a wealthy leader, who bought the loyalty of his soldiers with golden coins or coin jewelry, giving them a way to start a valuable friendship or show off their status.
Pendants are not the only coin jewelry
Also, rings and necklaces could be made from golden coins, but most of them are from the 7th century. It seems that at that age coin jewelry was very popular.
But to get back to the Dutch dubbeltje…
In our local museum, there is a ring exhibited made from a silver dubbeltje, minted just before WWII. In the war, silversmiths made those coin rings to tease the Germans, who did not alloy any Dutch national symbols.
At the moment we see that coin jewelry or jewelry made of coins is getting popular again. It is common knowledge that coin jewelry is the symbol of good luck and it should bring prosperity, wealth, and good fortune. But why and what? Read on and I will explain everything to you!
The beginning of coin jewelry
You need coins for coin jewelry. And for both of them, you need to know how to work with precious metals. The knowledge about minting and working with gold started around 3500 BC in Mesopotamia (a country between the rivers Eufrat and Tigris in Asia).
Ancient coin jewelry is found in the Etruscan (Italy), Greek, and Roman civilizations. But the coin jewelry found in the Egyptian pyramids/tombs is best preserved. And well available, since in those pyramids only the wealthy people were buried and they were wealthy enough to wear their money as jewelry.
The type of this Ancient coin jewelry were pendants, charms on necklaces, rings, and sometimes even earrings. Although that was most of the time too heavy.
And this type of jewelry was very practical to date the jewelry or the grave in which it is found. Since on the coin was the one who minted or gave the order to mint the coin (most of the time an Emperor or king) and the date of the minting.
During that time there was no official money or exchanging money. People traded by exchanging goods. Around 650 BC the Lydians (now Turkey) were the first who minted coins, according to an agreed standard (weight, size, and shape), and that money was accepted by the people.
And before that… it was exchanging your goods or paying with golden jewelry!
Do in Rome what the Romans do
In Ancient Rome people traveled the world. That is not only voluntary but also as a soldier in an army in the direction of Africa and Western Europe. The Roman tourists and the soldiers brought souvenirs, that they let engrave and repurposed as necklaces, pendants, or rings. This practice is called ‘Gemme Numari’.
The Renaissance jewelry containing coins
In the 1600s they also used coin jewelry, as a gift to a loved one. The coins were often engraved with emotional messages and given away as a ‘love token’ or ‘sweetheart gift’.
In the Renaissance, very wealthy people like to get their portraits painted by a famous painter. And due to the coin jewelry trend, they started to order to engrave a coin with their portrait. This form of exhibitionism or egocentrism resulted in a personalized coin, which was used for making a pendant, signet ring, or necklace charm.
Another technique was cutting or sawing the portrait out of the coin and placing it on a contrasting gem or precious metal.
These pieces of jewelry were made in gold and decorated with expensive gemstones. And ended up in museums, since they are too delicate to wear.
19th Century coin jewelry
In the 19th century, there was a great interest in Ancient history, you might even say it was hype. The building looks like Greek temples or Roman buildings. The result was too that the artifacts, and in this case the coins of the Ancient civilizations became popular again.
In coin jewelry history, Castellani is more or less the founding father of ‘modern’ coin jewelry. The founder of Castellani, Mr. Fortunato Pio Castellani opened a shop in Rome in 1814.
He was interested in history. In 1836 the Etruscab Regolini-Galassi tombs were opened and the Pope invited him to study the jewelry found there.
Beginning in the early 1830s to start a collection of jewelry, was designed in an archeological style. The Castellani family got a lot of opportunities to study Etruscan and Roman jewelry and by the 1850s they perfected the coin jewelry collection.
They copied the Etruscan techniques by adding detail to the precious metal, instead of cutting and carving it. They used granulation, wirework, and other old techniques and made those techniques known to the world again.
The great jewelry designer Bvlgari was a great admirer of the coin jewelry of Castellani. From the 1960s he designed jewelry with coins depicting Julius Ceasar of King George III.
Male and female figures on the coins
Bvlgari used male and female figures on the coins used in his jewelry. Those coins were designed by him, and not the original ones. Those coins were scarce and therefore very expensive.
Besides that the figures on the original golden Roman coins were most of the time Roman Emperors that were famous due to their cruelty, making war, or idiocy. He rather used the Greek coin examples, with graceful Greek goddesses.
20th Century coin jewelry
The same thought the Roman soldiers had by taking foreign coins home as a souvenir, which ended up as a piece of coin jewelry, had the WWI and WWII soldiers. They send unique silver and gold coins or coin jewelry home to their loved ones, the so-called ‘sweetheart jewelry’.
In the 1970s some fashion magazines rediscovered coin jewelry, but they did not use the original coins. There were too expensive.
At the time they neither follow the shapes and sizes; they were extremely exaggerated. In the 1990s the exaggeration was picked up by the bracelet designers.
Temporary trends in coin jewelry
The definition of a trend or hype is that one day it is very popular and the other day nobody cares anymore, unless for the fanatics or really interested people.
The same goes for coin jewelry. Popular in Ancient Times, in the Renaissance and the 19th century, and after that the popularity dropped down. But the hype is a hype, and in the 20th century, you find coin jewelry again.
And in the 2010s coin jewelry is in fashion or trendy again, focusing on pendants, rings, and bracelets. The fashion item you must have to have to get accepted by your peers. Celebrities, bloggers (uh… not me), and influencers show the way.
It started in 2011 when Holly Willoughby showed a double coin necklace on the ‘This Morning’ show on ITV. That necklace was handmade in the UK and contained two 22ct sovereign coins. Very expensive!
Kanye West designed in collaboration with the jewelry designer Jacob Araboy a whole coin jewelry collection with 12 coin necklaces inspired by the 14th-century art of Florence (the Italian city!). His now ex-wife Kim Kardashian promoted these necklaces, which are rather expensive (starting from $1500).
Although I am not really a trend follower, more a beautiful jewelry lover in general I am very happy that I discovered my coin bracelet again. And by accident will be trendy. Not because there is a trend going on, but because coin jewelry can be very beautiful.
In an earlier blog, I stated that you just have to leave your fashion items from one year in a closet and after a few or more years they will be trendy again. So don’t throw away beautiful pieces of jewelry. Recycle them into new jewelry, or leave them until you steal the show again in a new age.
FlorenceJewelshop makes unique and exclusive pieces of jewelry. Every design is used only once. I use gemstones and most of the time silver beads that I buy on my travels. Every bead has its own story, which makes the designs extraordinary. My collection is beautiful, but just to be clear… there are no coin necklaces or other coin jewelry in my collection.
FlorenceJewelshop published a PDF about how to accentuate your best features and look stunning with the right jewelry. It is free of charge, so if you are interested leave your name and address and I will send it to you.
Florence from FlorenceJewelshop