Metallurgy (the scientific and technical concern with the properties of metals) and jewelry-making began at the same time in Mesopotamia around 3500 BC. With no official form of currency and trade consisting of a bartering market, jewelry was used as an unofficial form of currency before coins. The first coins of standardized weight, size and shape weren’t created until 650 BC by the Lydians, a kingdom located in present-day Turkey. Coins revolutionized trade as they were easily-transportable, uniform collateral that spread throughout ancient trade routes. They were valued monetarily as well as from an aesthetic viewpoint. Diversity in coin design and adornment occurred from kingdom to kingdom, who would design coins commemorating local arts, culture and leaders.
The practice of setting coins as jewels, known as ‘Gemme Numari’ - coin gems or nummary gems - traces back to Ancient Rome. As people journeyed the world, the coins acquired from their travels made for wonderful souvenirs that could then be engraved and set to be worn as necklaces and rings. This ancient tradition of coin jewelry that has an interesting look, showcases cultural heritage and makes for great pieces of conversation appealed to global taste thousands of years later.
The more modern prevalence and appeal for coin jewelry came to fruition in the 19th century with the “archaeological revival” movement; Hellenistic, Egyptian and Etruscan artifacts discovered from excavations spurred fascination from the public and the arts. At the time, Roman jeweler Castellani popularized incorporating ancient and antique coins into his creations to add unique, rare elements to their designs to meet this new interest. Taking inspiration from the Castellani, Bulgari began incorporating coins with male figures such as Julius Caesar and King George III into their jewelry in the 1960s. The contrast between the male figures on the coins with the pieces designed with women in mind made for interesting pieces that incorporated high-shine metal with rough-and-tumbled antiquary.
However, the limited supply of ancient coins causes these pieces to command exorbitantly high prices at market. While beautiful in their appearance, many of the historical figures represented on this jewelry had tyrannical tendencies and abused their powers to commit crimes against their kingdoms/republics.
Coin historians and archaeologists seem to concur that the Greeks were the first to commemorate female figures on their currency. The likes of Hera, Artemis, Aphrodite, Athena and others from the Greek pantheon are commonly seen on ancient Greek coins. Their stories and significance to the ancient Greek civilization and the lessons these goddesses have shared with us through centuries are innumerable. To commemorate these figures on an everyday object further affirms just how important these goddesses were to their society.
As an ode to women of past, present, and mythology, we felt that there was no better way to represent how important women are, have been and will continue to be than by putting them on a coin; an age-old tradition that will tell our stories and the values we admire and are inspired by.