Annie Doresca and Michelle Graff welcome Reggie Johnson and Sheryl Jones for a frank conversation on the state of DEI in fine jewelry.
The History Behind … the ouroboros
Snakes have been bent, twisted and bejeweled for adornment’s sake for thousands of years. What is it about this figure--a commonly-feared reptile with scaly skin--that is so appealing to jewelry-makers?
New York--Snakes have been bent, twisted and bejeweled for adornment’s sake for thousands of years.
What is it about this figure--a commonly-feared reptile with scaly skin--that is so appealing to jewelry-makers?
New York jeweler Elizabeth Doyle believes the reptile’s draw lies in the fact that it has held so many different meanings. It is a very powerful symbol that has wound its way through many different cultures and religions.
To the ancient Egyptians, it represented eternal life while others equated the serpent with knowledge. In more modern times, the snake has a darker appeal, the creature that tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden and led to her being cast out of paradise but which many still try to charm.
The ouroboros, the ancient symbol of a snake eating its own tail, magnifies people’s dark fascination with these creatures by what it represents-- something devouring itself in order to survive. “That’s part of the appeal of the ouroboros,” she said. “People fear snakes but they love them.”
Doyle opened Doyle & Doyle, a New York City retail shop, with her sister Irene Pamela in 2000. The store sells vintage jewelry as well as modern collections they design in-house. Their newest collection, set to debut in September, centers on the ouroboros.
Here, Doyle talks with National Jeweler about the history behind the figure of the snake eating its own tail that’s so commonly seen in jewelry.
Where did the word “ouroboros” originate? Doyle said the word “ouroboros” is derived from the Greek terms “ouro,” meaning tail, and “boros,” which translates to eating; so literally, a tail-devouring creature. While the ouroboros is usually a snake eating its own tail, it can be a dragon as well.
When was this figure first used in jewelry? Egyptian jewelry incorporated snakes, including snakes eating their own tail.
The first reference to the ouroboros in text is traced to this time too. Doyle said that a drawing of a snake eating its own tail was discovered in the Enigmatic Book of the Netherworld, the ancient Egyptian funerary text discovered in the tomb of Tutankhamun (King Tut), which dates to the 14th century B.C.
What was the appeal of the snake for jewelry design, and of the ouroboros specifically? Because the snake sheds its skin, ancient people believed that it was regenerating itself, being born again, so the snake came to be equated
It appealed to people’s desire for a long life, vitality and youth--the same desires that exist today--and thus was seen as an auspicious creature to use as adornment.
While it is a symbol of regeneration and eternal life, there’s also a darker side to it, the idea that something has to devour itself in order to survive. “People,” Doyle observed, “really like that balance of evil and good.”
Was there a time period when the ouroboros was most popular? While snake jewelry never really went out of style the serpent motif, including the ouroboros, surged during the Victorian era because Queen Victoria liked snake jewelry and, in fact, received a green enamel snake ring from Prince Albert. The queen was like the Carrie Bradshaw or Oprah of her time; whatever she did, other people followed.
Doyle said ouroboros also were used in Victorian mourning jewelry because it could symbolize one’s eternal bond with another person. These pieces often incorporated turquoise, a gemstone that is symbolic of the idea of forget-me-not in the European tradition.
RELATED CONTENT: The History Behind ... Victorian mourning jewelry
Doyle said it also helped that the Victorian era was the first time jewelry was mass produced, making it available to those outside the upper class.
How can retailers find ouroboros designs to add to their antique or estate jewelry selection, or even their modern stock? If looking for antique ouroboros jewelry, Doyle recommends the Victorian era pieces, as they are easier to find. Georgian examples are scarce, and there’s a greater likelihood of running across fakes.
There are also plenty of modern designers incorporating the snake, including the ouroboros, into their designs.
Besides being a streamlined shape that lends itself easily to bracelets, rings, pendants and earrings, the snake also presents a long, smooth surface on which designers can engrave or etch scales or set gemstones.
“They’ve always been a part of jewelry design,” Doyle said of snakes. “You can do so much with it.”
Jeff Gennette will step down in February 2024, passing the torch to the CEO of another notable retailer.
Artisan Martin Roberts fashioned lunar meteorites into 48 beads to create this out-of-this-world necklace.
Distinguishing natural diamonds from laboratory-grown stones – now more available than ever – has been difficult for jewelers. Until now.
As for new members, the organization welcomed Jewelers of America’s Annie Doresca and Parag Jain of Parag Diamonds.
Jacob & Co.’s new “Billionaire” timepiece features more than 200 carats of yellow diamonds.
Heidi Horten, wife of department store magnate Helmut Horten, collected jewelry from Bulgari, Cartier, Harry Winston and Van Cleef & Arpels.
De Beers Institute of Diamonds provides the very best in diamond verification, education and diamond services.
The jewelry industry insurer and solutions provider is celebrating 110 years in business this month.
The statement came as the National Retail Federation released its retail sales forecast for 2023.
Sotheby’s will auction the diamond, which it says is “arguably the most significant pink diamond to ever appear at auction,” in June.
The retailer, recently acquired by Signet Jewelers, will lay off 119 employees in July.
The Swiss watchmaker introduced 17 new models at Watches & Wonders Geneva.
As part of the promotion, Smith will share his sales expertise during a 90-minute training session.
At Watches & Wonders, the Swiss brand unveiled a follow-up to last year’s Tonda PF GMT Rattrapante.
The “rêve” collection’s engagement rings and wedding bands are geared toward “sustainability minded customers.”
A new word appears on the dial each day of the week.
Bensons Jewelers closed for good Feb. 24, impacted in part by the decline in foot traffic downtown since the onset of the pandemic.
Kolja Kiofsky has been with the crystal and jewelry company since 2010.
The Kruse GWS Auctions sale will include the replica “Taj Mahal” necklace Elizabeth Taylor made with Avon as well as a costume piece Marilyn Monroe wore.
Massimo Basei is moving up, while Chief Commercial Officer Martino Pessina is stepping down.
AGTA GemFair and the Denver Gem & Mineral Show also will have a presence on the show floor.
Sold by Christie’s Hong Kong, this masterwork of complications now holds the record for most expensive watch ever auctioned online.
The watch company expects first-quarter sales to fall as much as 15 percent due to inflation and tough comps.
Adam O’Grady, general manager of the Lightbox Lab, has taken on the new role and will report directly to Lightbox CEO Antoine Borde.
The watch marketplace gathered data from 1.3 million collectors, highlighting the most popular timepieces and exploring value appreciation.
Burgundy has opted not to exercise its option to buy the mining claims Gibb River Diamonds currently owns.