History of the Riche Chevesaile [Archives:2006/914/Education]

January 23 2006

Amrita Satapathy
If Adam and Eve were the first humans on Earth, then what must Eve have used to charm her way into Adam's heart? Well if this doesn't raise a storm in your brain, it sure will tickle your funny bone. That's right. We are referring to one of the earliest forms of jewelry in the world – the necklace, a piece of jewelry that has been romanticized to the extent of becoming the paradigm of feminine beauty, chastity, grace and grandeur, as much as of decadence. If collars and chains were the marks of nobility and the velvety, beaded and sequined chokers were aesthetically erotic, the rosary, symbolizing the Virgin Mary invoked strength, power and peace by bestowing conscious understanding. The neckwear has been one of the most fascinating pieces of jewelry, not because it is often crafted beautifully but because it holds a timeless appeal and exudes a magical charm to entice both the wearer and the beholder.

Essentially a necklace is a large ring worn around the neck or near the region of the heart. Because of its positioning around the torso, it is believed that the necklace can accentuate one's communicative skills. It is also a repository of positive energy that is beneficial for the heart and the lungs. Popularly known as the 'Adam and Eve of jewelry', the necklace enjoys the status of being one of the most sought after and prized ornaments through centuries, besides being the first man-made object for wearing round the neck. The prerogative of the rich, the elite and the aristocrats, 5000 years ago this coquettish ornament suggested 'clothing' for men and women. Fundamentally, necklaces functioned as apparel. The pre-historic norm of dressing up the neck and torso was in the form of fibulae (the ancient safety pin), necklaces, brooches, pectorals (breastplates) and belts, etc. They were used to clasp the layers of clothing or to pin them for the sake of convenience. The accessorizing of the necklace and its use as an adornment came into vogue only after the Middle Ages. Medieval necklaces or neckbands were practical and rather simple. The 14th, 15th and 16th centuries witnessed the glamorization of the neckwear as they metamorphosed into sophisticated and intricately designed chains and collars to suit the needs of ladies, damsels, mistresses and lovers.

Great legends and stories have been spun around the neckwear. Of all the ornaments that adorn a lady's boudoir it is indeed the glitziest of all, flaunting an equally flexible attitude. After all it was only a necklace that led to the downfall of an ancient French regime. The famous 'Affair of the Necklace' scandal in the court of Louis XVI was quite an intriguing one as it involved an adventuress – the beautiful Countess de la Motte, the Queen Marie-Antoinette and a diamond necklace worth 1,600,000 livres! It was a mysterious event in the 1780s that incurred the French populace's displeasure, and finally culminated in the momentous French Revolution. In neighbouring Britain, the Earl of Leicester, enamoured by the virgin Queen Elizabeth is said to have gifted her a chain of gold, adorned with diamonds of all shapes and sizes. The necklace had an ornamental diamond studded clock attached to it.

If man was so enamoured by this interesting piece of embellishment, could the Gods be left far behind? According to an old Norse legend, The Brosings' jewel was a necklace, which had been crafted by Brisingas for the Goddess Frejya, the wife of Odin and the goddess of love, fecundity and death. In Greek mythology, Harmonia, (daughter of the Goddess Aphrodite and God of storms Ares), was gifted with a necklace made by Hephaestus on her wedding day. The necklace bestowed irresistible beauty upon the wearer. In ancient Greece, priestesses wore beaded amber necklaces because it was believed that these necklaces were the repositories of exalted energy. It is believed that Eurymachus, an Ithacan nobleman and one of the many suitors of the beautiful Penelope, had presented her a gold necklace entwined with amber. Richly ornamented and gorgeous necklaces formed an integral part of the attire of the ancient Egyptians' life and prominently featured in their folklore. According to the Egyptian mythology, the Ankh was worn as a necklace with a pendant. It was the amulet of life. An indispensable part of the ancient Egyptians was the powerful 'Menet necklace'. The necklace was characteristically associated with the goddess Hathor and her son Ihy. The belief goes that this necklace radiated the powers of Hathor. The queen is often shown as the high priestess of Hathor in Egyptian lore. Thus the 'Great Menet' as it was known, embodied such positive concepts as life, potency, fertility, birth and renewal. Worn as an amulet it was believed, the 'Menat' brought joy and wealth to the wearer.

Let us make a detour and head for the 'Gateway to the East', in our quest for the necklace. For centuries the Arabian Peninsula has enticed its inhabitants as well as outsiders to its mesmerizing array of exquisite and ornate pieces of jewelry. It is a glittering world of silver bells, shining turquoises, deep-red garnets, glimmering gold, sparkling pearls, and jingling coins. The traditional tribal or contemporary chic necklaces along with other jewellry form an obligatory part of the rich Arabian dress code and culture. In the Arabian tradition, the neckwear, unlike the bangles and bracelets or rings, is more than just an item of personal embellishment. It is a form of security, and it is also an important social and economic marker. Most necklaces in this region are made of silver or silver alloys; they are intricately designed, carefully handcrafted and exquisitely encrusted with precious and semi-precious stones. The decoration on the necklaces is done using the techniques of 'embossing', 'repousse' and 'granulation'. The delicate Filigree work, which has been a popular form of Indian art for centuries, is also a familiar modus operandi with the Arabian artisans. The lovely Arabian jewelry owes its opulent appeal to the Bedouins. They are not only aesthetically gratifying but also steeped in history. Its necklaces and other forms of jewelry are direct reflections of skills and styles of long lost civilizations. They are supposed to be the most rapidly evolving of accessories show-casing the influences that migration and trade had on their region. Bedouin necklaces are a harmonious amalgamation of the styles of the Phoenicians, the Etruscans and the Egyptians. 'Arabesque' patterns in the form of esoteric symbols like crescents, geometric shapes, and natural motifs like leaves, flowers and animals and also Quranic inscriptions are heavily used to design them. This practice owes its genesis to Islamic calligraphy. Prevalent in the ancient times they are still a preferred choice in contemporary neckwear. The souqs are filled with a dazzling display of long filigreed chains with gold coins suspending from them. Turquoise embellished necklaces are also a popular pick. Traditionally turquoise is believed to possess the power to ward off evil. Some necklaces are adorned with little bells to frighten away malevolent spirits. Saudi necklaces use a symbol of a hand as a talisman. This is a century old tradition. It represents the 5 tenets of Islam. A sign of wealth, dowry, a gift, a ritualistic ornament or simple decorative piece, the necklaces of the Arabian world are as priceless as myrrh and frankincense.

Dating back to the days of the Indus Valley Civilization, the necklace has all along been an indispensable part of the Indian way of life. The idea of the necklace as 'the accessory' of feminine grandeur and grace is evident from the figurine of the Harappan Naked Dancer, the cave paintings of Ajanta to the many masterpieces of modern day artists. Generations of women have only carried the hoary tradition forward and made it very contemporary. The antique Hindu amulet, 'nauratan', made of a gold plaque with nine precious stones is used to form the famous Nauratan Haar or Necklace. With the passage of time this ornament acquired specific traits of the local craftsmen and folk influences. Thus we have the elaborate silver Filigree necklaces from Orissa, enamelled and Meenakari of Rajasthan, the Kundan necklaces from Delhi and the Nagercoil Temple necklaces. Though the Meenakari and Kundan reflect Mughal influences, they are fashioned into the very modish chokers that go well with Indo-Western fusion wear. The Nagercoil necklaces are traditional with red and green precious stones set on them. They are usually offered to the Gods. In Assam one finds the interesting motifs of orchids, the local flora and fauna on necklaces and pendants. The range of Indian necklaces extend from religious and the domestic to the aesthetic. Temple complexes abound in little shops selling sanctified trinkets. Popular among them are the beaded necklaces- scented sandalwood bead neckwear, rudraksh malas, or the multicoloured silk and gold thread necklaces. One also comes across chains with pendants as lucky charms or divine cures. These are looked upon with veneration as they are supposed to ward off evil. The 'Mangal sutra' (a combination of black beads and gold pendant) is another variety of the ornament for the neck worn by married Hindu women. It symbolizes love in holy matrimony. In Hindu, Jain and Sikh communities a necklace is generally considered as 'Streedhan' ('Stree' meaning woman and 'Dhan' meaning wealth). This is because women usually do not inherit the landed property of their families, so jewellery in the form of necklaces, bangles and rings is their means of security and investment. Amongst tribals and nomads necklaces, chokers and pendants are types of identity markers, assets, decorations and currency. A necklace is often a cherished gift from the elders to welcome the new-born in the family.

The beaded necklace was known as the Tamasay or Tamasai in ancient Japan. The Ainu women wore it during special occasions. If the necklace had a medallion it was known as the Shitoki. Fashioned out of large glass beads, the Shitoki represented the white-tailed sea-eagles that the Ainu tribe hunted. The more the strands and beads the more valuable the necklace. Highly treasured, this necklace was a kind of heirloom that was passed on from generation to generation. It was worn during ceremonies and rituals, because it protected the wearer from evil spirits. In some parts of Japan, women also wore a necklace called 'Rekutunpe'. This was a long, narrow strip of cloth with metal plaques attached to them. For the Chinese, Jade necklaces were a very common ornament. Jade was considered to bring good luck as it represented nobility, perfection, constancy, and immortality. So most necklaces were carved with a Jade figure or an ideogram. The belief goes that a Jade worn by a person will gradually darken as it absorbs good energy from the wearer. And in times of need, it will break or lighten to release the energy and protect the wearer from bad influences.

The neckwear has undergone a sea change in the present context. Once upon a time necklaces used to be fashioned out of ivory, horns, berries, seeds, stone beads and other indigenous materials. The oldest known necklace dated over 25,000 years old is made of fish vertebrae!!! But nowadays it has innovative nomenclatures attached to it. Enter the dazzling world of Costume neckwear, Cocktail neckwear, Funky neckbands and Junk necklaces. The idea is to wear your attitude around your necks with panache. Commonality is out and individuality is in. Unlike the older generation, women prefer to swap their party and daily neckwear as they straddle across their multidimensional lives. Necklaces with semi precious stones, swarovski crystals, feng-shui charms, coloured stones and beads are now considered as hip and happening. These days necklaces are being aptly teemed with capris and a T-shirt to suit the fashion sensibility of the chic gal. It is no longer mandatory to wear them with traditional attire. The Gen Y has learnt to adapt the age-old accessories with new-age couture trends. They like their necklaces to be ethnic- a blend of the old and the new. The Neo-Man, too does not shirk away from sporting a pendant with a shark teeth, a bullet, or a medallion with inscriptions. It's the statement of the 'cool dude'. Every famous young thing is endorsing them like crazy.

The necklace has fanned the imaginative genius of many a poet, writer and moviemaker. How can one not remember the necklace that becomes the turning point in the life of Mathilde Loisel? The fake necklace that poor Mathilde mistakes for a real diamond one. We are talking of Guy de Maupassant's 'The Diamond Necklace'. Maupassant brilliantly uses the motif of a diamond necklace to create a story of female vanity and pride. It is indeed a profound study of the female psyche that yearns for the beautiful things in life. One night's extravagance robs the stunning Mathilde of her beauty, her youth and fills her life with sorrow. The sellers of candyfloss dreams on the silver screen placed the necklace on a pedestal when it was presented as “The Heart of the Ocean”, in the film Titanic. The blue diamond necklace that Rose wears captured the imagination of many a beating heart. It became the ultimate symbol of everlasting love. As a tribute to this stunning piece of jewelry one can only say what Geoffrey Chaucer says of the necklace, or chevesaile as known in French in 'The Romaunt of the Rose',

“About her necke of gentle entaile,

Was set the riche chevesaile,

In which there was full great plenty

Of stones fair and clear to see.”