Alberto Garzoli
Jewellery Advisor
June 2022

History of the collier, necklace par excellence

It is not easy to date the birth of the necklace, for certain we know that it is one of the earliest ornaments worn by man. One of the earliest examples of a necklace was found in a tomb in central Europe and can be dated between 4200 and 3400 BC. The first necklaces made of metal appear during the Bronze Age between 1800 and 1500 B.C. in Ireland and Scotland, but the real creators of the spread of the necklace can be considered the ancient Egyptians: among the most used and most famous models is a necklace made of precious metals, which had mainly celebratory functions and were for the exclusive use of the pharaoh and the priestly caste. The everyday use of this necklace is due to the Greeks and Romans: with them the necklace loses its purely ceremonial connotation to become an object of daily use.

The necklace from the Middle Ages to the present day

The necklace underwent a period of crisis during the Middle Ages when brooches and clasps were preferred. This jewellery made a comeback during the Renaissance around the necks of sovereigns as a sign of royalty. Necklaces remained a sign of nobility from the 14th to the 17th century. In the 18th century the necklace became the central part of the parure, the jewellery set comprising brooch, earrings, bracelet and pendant or tiara. Mainly used in the evening, as it went with a low-cut dress, its use in this sense remained in vogue until the 20th century when the dress became casual and necklaces became more transversal and widespread. An interesting and proper aspect of this necklace is its transformation over the centuries.
Raffaello Sanzio, Portrait of Maddalena Doni, 1506

The collier, the most iconic necklace

An iconic transformation model is the choker necklace: an early example of this ante litteram necklace can be found around the necks of ancient Egyptian pharaohs and the priestly caste. Used mainly as an amulet, it was characterised by the presence of precious and semi-precious stones that were believed to have thaumaturgic powers. The choker was also used as an iron ring around the necks of slaves to prevent their movement.

In the 16th century, Anne Boleyn, queen consort of Edward VIII, wore one consisting of a leather ribbon with a B-shaped pendant hanging from it. The most interesting aspect of this necklace is its use as a ‘political’ means in France during the period of the Terror: women wore a red velvet ribbon in honour of all those who had been unjustly guillotined. The collier also made its debut in the art world thanks to the Impressionist movement that painted models wearing this necklace. The most famous admirer of this model was the Queen Consort of England, Alexandra of Denmark, who used to wear several choker necklaces to cover a scar on her neck. From this moment on, the choker necklace became very famous as the queen was considered an icon of style and elegance.

The necklace disappeared from the scene for a while to make a comeback in style during Art Deco and later, in the 1970s, around the necks of great rock stars such as Mick Jagger, Jimi Hendrix and Elvis Presley who wore it during their performances.

We usually think of the collier as a single strand of gold, typical of the 1980s but, to reiterate the versatility of the necklace, this term has a wide meaning: it is enough to think that when talking in general about colliers, the first question that comes to mind is ‘collier of…?’. The stones used for this necklace are endless and the list would be extremely long. Perhaps the most famous necklace par excellence is the one made of one or more strands of pearls, which have always been the undisputed protagonists of glamour, worn by all the famous women in history, from Queen Elizabeth, whose pearls are still mounted on the crown of St Edward, to Queen Marie Antoinette, from Grace Kelly to Coco Chanel, from Audrey Hepburn to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis to Barbara Bush, pearl necklaces have now become a must-have for every girl and lady. Originally a distinctive feature of the richer classes, over the years the pearl necklace has become increasingly popular among the various social classes. Large or small, natural or cultured, white or black (glossing over the different colour gradations) pearl necklaces can perhaps be defined in their own right as THE c par excellenlierloce.

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