Costume Jewelry | Ancient Roman Earrings, Bracelets | Antique Jewellery

Miscellaneous Ancient Costume Jewelry items

costume jewelry Our online jewelry shop incorporates many miscellaneous items which don't fall into the normal categories. Ancient Roman bracelets did not follow a particular design spectrum. They could be clear or coloured, and often they were set with gemstones or even coins. One costume jewelry case that was found in the grave of a woman from Lyons contained gold bracelets decorated with cameo medallions. One particular medallion was identified as featuring the Emperor Commodus, and this dates it towards the end of the second century. Other contents of the Lyons jewellery case included a matching pair of bracelets made from strands of gold wire, twisted into decorative designs.
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The reason ancient Roman bracelets were so varied in design can at least partly be explained by the geographical range and chronological extent of the Roman Empire. This allowed access to a wide variety of raw materials from which the bracelets could be fashioned.

The earrings, bracelets and necklaces produced in Roman times were purely for decorative purposes, and were almost exclusively worn by Roman ladies as an integral part of their dress. This particular jewellery had no practical function at all, as seems evident from the fact that so much has been found in the ground, often at grave sites. Clearly the estate jewellery was buried with its owner, and that is why it is possible to recover it and learn so much about it today.

In the latter years of the Roman era, narrow bronze hoops were very popular. These were etched with geometric designs, or chip-carved, – a procedure whereby small pieces of metal were removed, creating a faceted appearance which glinted as it caught the light. This is further evidence of the decorative purposes of Roman jewellery.

Many earring patterns have been discovered and documented, ranging from zig-zag lines to punched-out circles. These designs were created by milling the surface or filing or cutting grooves in a regular or random pattern.

One interesting development in the making of ancient Roman bracelets was the stylisation of flattened heads, and the trend towards elaboration in the decoration of the hoops. A simple lattice decoration clearly emerged from attempts to replicate the scales of snakes by engraving the costume jewelry, but as the style evolved, it became more ornamental than representational. Lines, dots and lozenge shapes were common patterns. silver bracelet

There are many examples in bronze of flattened, penannular serpent bracelets. Penannular is the term used to describe pieces which have a gap in the hoop shape, and the term can also apply to brooches. Some of these bronze bracelets are decorative, like the silver equivalents, with beautiful engravings, while others are little more than narrow circlets with flattened oval shapes at the ends. Serpent-shaped bracelets were often worn for their purported healing properties, and even a simple snake shape with flattened ends would have been regarded as being just as powerful for therapeutic purposes as the more ornate examples.

Wire bracelets

Like the simplest finger rings and earrings, many bracelets are of absolutely basic annular or penannular forms that develop naturally from the nature of metal wire or rod and were consequently in widespread use at different times and places in history. Bangles of overlapped wire, construdted like finger rings of Guiraud's type 6 were also already known in Iron Ages. They were common in the Roman period and were made in all possible metals. Some are large enough to have been worn as armlets or indeed anklets. Some bracelets of this form may have been purposely designed so that the overlapped ends form an expandable sliding clasp, enabling the ornament to be enlarged a little while being slipped on over the hand.

Even more common, especially in bronze, are wire bracelets that consist of two or more wires twisted together into a rope or cable and terminating in a catch that is either a hook and eye arrangement or a pair of hooks. The simplest version is made from a single wire folded in half and twisted so that one end forms the loop for the clasp and the two free ends can form the hook, but there many variations.

Other Bronze Bracelets

In addition to the ubiquitous twisted wire bronze bracelets there were other common types of ancient Roman bracelets that have been found. There is an equally wide but simple variety of decoration executed by engraving, punching, casting and possibly filing.


bulla Small ornaments of gold, or leather, worn on a string around the neck, usually singly but sometimes in groups as a necklace or bracelet. A bulla was made of two concave plates fastened together to make a container. The lenticular (lens shaped) form was adopted from the Etruscans and worn by children as an amulet (gold for nobles, leather for freedmen). Other shapes - globes, hearts or vases - were worn by women as ornament or possibly to contain a liquid scent.


Hoops and pendants were ubiquitous in Ancient Roman earrings. In simpler types the ends often hooked together, or were fitted with a pendant club or a bezel-set conical stone. Later variations included a hoop with a shield-like decoration or a dangling pendant. Some hoops displayed an animal or a human head and beads: a style derived from Egypt and the East during the Hellenistic period, and persisting through to the second century. Most Ancient Roman earrings at the time had long, S-shaped hooks for insertion into the earlobe. Some of the more ornate versions displayed clusters of emeralds or pearls.

Ball Earring

A ball earring was a hollow hemisphere of undecorated gold to which was attached an S shaped wire hook for fastening in the ear lobe. This type was common in the first and second centuries AD.

Bar Earring

A bar earrings were popular from the second century AD to the Byzantine period. They were set with a gemstone, below which was attached a horizontal bar from which depended several small pendants or pearls. One such pair was found at Lyons made of a garnet with emerald and pearl pendants.

Chandelier Earring

A large gemstone in a gold setting from which is suspended three other gemstones. The Romans seem to have popularised this setting.

Hoop Earring

A curved wire or band formed to hang below the ear, and threaded with gemstones and glass beads.

Pendant Earring

A simple hanging jewel, such as the second pair found at Lyons, which were an emerald, ruby and sapphire one below the other on a fine gold chain. Some varieties were done in sheet gold, with suspended cylinders of chalcedony.


Both necklaces and neck chains were worn. Neck chains would be wound several times round the neck or worn down over the breast, occasionally with a pendant. Pendants of small bears or other animals or carvings in relief with busts of one or two people are not uncommon, and it is possible that these latter were given as gifts to mark an anniversary or at a wedding.

Pins (acus)

For hair or clothes, made of wood, bone, ivory, jet, gold silver or other metal. These were decorated at the head end, sometimes with complex ornamentation in-the-round.


Rings for fingers or thumbs were worn by men and women, sometimes several at a time. They were made from gold, silver, bronze, iron, lead or glass. Some have a small key attached. Betrothal rings (anulus pronubus) were given, made of iron when gold was restricted, and still popularly of iron even at a later date. Signet rings were important and were often large and ornate, perhaps with the seal engraved on a gemstone. In fact engraved gems were popular. Cameos were made by carving the weathered surface of a gem or pebble in relief, leaving the rest of the stone as a dark background. Rings set with gold coins only became popular in the late empire.


Torcs were a British item of costume jewelry made during the later Bronze Age in the first century BC onwards. These usually took the form of two circular gold alloy bars twisted together like rope, with ring terminals (decoration soldered onto each end) or loop terminals (formed from the ends of the bars). The Snettisham torc from Norfolk is mid-first century and is made from electrum. Torcs were worn by Celtic warriors and women, and may have been currency jewellery.


An ornamental band of naturalistic or stylised leaves worn on festive occasions or by visitors to the games. The wreath developed later into the diadem, which was more like the modern tiara.

Shipwreck Items

In 1730 at CA MAU there was a Chinese shipwreck and many items were recovered from the salvage and are on sale today. More info on the shipwreck

Egyptian Goddess Rings

Ma'at was the goddess of the physical and moral law of Egypt, of order and truth. She said to be the wife of Thoth and had eight children with him. The most important of her children was Amon. These eight were the chief gods of Hermopolis and according to the priests there, they created the earth and all that is in it. Ma'at is depicted in the form of a woman seated or standing. She holds the sceptre in one hand and the ankh in the other. A symbol of Ma'at was the ostrich feather and she is always shown wearing it in her hair. In some pictures she has a pair of wings attached to her arms. Occasionally she is shown as a woman with an ostrich feather for a head.

Another symbol of Ma'at is the primeval mound upon which the creator god stood at the beginning of time. It was when the world was created and chaos was eliminated that the principles of Ma'at were set in place. The Egyptians believed that if the pharaoh ever failed to live by and maintain Ma'at that chaos would return to Egypt and the world and all would be destroyed. Thus, the pharaohs of Egypt saw it as their cosmic role to uphold the principles of Ma'at, and were due to Ma'at that the pharaohs had the authority to rule the land. Amenhotep stated that Ma'at was placed upon his breast by Amon himself.

Akhenaten, the "heretic" king who was accused of deviating from her laws by his successors, repeatedly emphasized his adherence to Ma'at on many of his monuments. When the dead were judged, it is the feather of Ma'at that their hearts were weighed against. If hearts of the deceased are as "light as a feather", they were granted eternal life in the Duat. The near-weightlessness of their hearts indicated that their souls were not burdened with sin and evil. If their hearts did not "measure up", the soul of the deceased was consumed by Ammut. This judgment occurred in the "Hall of the Two Truths", Maaty. The last role of Ma'at was to help guide the Sun-god Re as he made his journey across the skies. It was she that determined the course that his boat took across the sky each day.

It was sometimes said that she actually traveled in his boat with him, guiding its direction. Seal A seal is an instrument of stone, metal or other hard substance (sometimes set in a ring), on which is engraved some device or figure, and is used for making an impression on some soft substance, as clay or wax, affixed to a document or other object, in token of authenticity. The use of seals goes back to a very remote antiquity, especially in Egypt, Babylonia and Assyria. Herodotus records the Babylonian custom of wearing signets. In Babylonia the seal generally took the form of a cylinder cut in crystal or some hard stone, which was bored through from end to end and a cord passed through it. The design, often accompanied by the owner's name, was engraved on the curved part.

The signet was then suspended by the cord round the neck or waist upon thy heart.... Upon thine arm, one seal hanging down from the neck and another round the waist; In Egypt, too, as in Babylonia, the cylinder was the earliest form used for the purpose of a seal; but this form was in Egypt gradually superseded by the scarab (= beetle-shaped) as the prevailing type. Other forms, such as the cone-shaped costume jewelry were also in use. From the earliest period of civilization the finger-ring on which some distinguishing badge was engraved was in use as a convenient way of carrying the signet, the earliest extant rings being those found in Egyptian tombs. Other ancient peoples, such as the Phoenicians, also used seals. From the East the custom passed into Greece and other western countries. Devices of a variety of sorts were in use at Rome, both by the emperors and by private individuals. In ancient times, almost every variety of precious stones was used for seals, as well as cheaper material, such as limestone or terra-cotta. The word "seal," both substantive and verb, is often used figuratively for the act or token of authentication, confirmation, proof, security or possession.

The seal itself was made from hard stone, glass or Egyptian faience. Many varieties of material such as hematite, obsidian, steatite, amethyst and carnelian were used to make cylinder seals, but lapis lazuli was especially popular because of the beauty of the blue stone. Graves and other sites hoarding precious items such as gold, silver, beads, and gemstones often included one or two cylinder seals. Cylinder seals are a form of impression seal, a category which includes the stamp seal and finger ring.