The first jewellery known from the territory of modern Ukraine dates back to Mousterian period (Old Stone Age). It is represented by two bracelets from Mammoth ivory with earliest known meander ornamentation and a shell necklace found on Mizyn archeological site.
Between this remote era and a "golden age" of jewellery during Kievan Rus lies ice age and long period of nomadic migrations that brought in their own contribution to jewellery art in Ukraine. The jewellery of pre-Slavic autochton cultures that nevertheless existed in parallel with nomadic is poorly referenced and needs better studies.
Jewellery of peoples that migrated through Ukraine
Trypillians at their early period of civilization used naturally occurring metals such as copper for their jewellery which was rather primitive - simple spiral armlets, rings, necklaces from shells, copper tubes mother-of-pearl discs, more seldom - diadems. Cimmerians brought with them many new ideas. Their vision of the environment was reflected in their floristic or animalistic compositions, made of bronze or sometimes iron. Fertile soils and generous nature along the
Black Sea coast and the Dnieper riverside attracted Hellenes as long ago as in the Iron Age. At the same time, Scythians, who had come from Asia and replaced Cimmerians, appeared on the territory, which lay farther to the North. They resided here for a long time and appeared to be suitable trade partners and rich customers for the Greeks. Many masterpieces created by Greek and Scythian goldsmiths are widely known. For body, armament and harness ornaments, they employed all of metalwork techniques common at the time. These consisted of casting, coinage, engraving, gilding, inlaying, stone setting and others. The images of fantastic animals (griffins, sphinxes, winged animals, and often beasts with human heads) that were depicted in their works, came to be known as the peculiar "Scythian animalistic" style. Techniques, which had once been rather primitive, improved considerably during the prosperous times of the Scythian State. Stylization of images developed into a realistic method of interpreting complicated zoomorphic compositions.
The Sarmatians conquered the Scythian kingdom and thus occupied their living area. This culture brought along new traditions. Polychrome style, the most characteristic of which, is a process by which an animal's body is covered with inserts of blue paste or turquoise in soldered mountings.
Greek art of the Black Sea region made some changes to the Sarmatian style. Most notably it increased the color range. Interestingly, together with precious metals and gems glass is found in the jewellery of this time. Often made in this style were Greek brooch-fibulas.
Besides Sarmatian, Celtic art began to penetrate into southern regions of Ukrainian territory. In Roman provinces the so-called Renaissance of Celtic handicraft took place, in particular, it was manifested in the form of jewellery. These ornaments invaded the region of the Black Sea and to the North in barbarian world. Another way of penetration of Celtic jewellery into the present day territory of Ukraine was trade and cultural contacts with northern tribes. At a certain time Celtic art permeated into the British Isles territory, Germany and the Baltic Sea coast and from there it finally came to Ukraine. As a matter of fact, all archaeological culture from any particular region in Ukraine contains a sufficient amount of Celtic elements in the styles of arms and jewellery production. Jewellery that came to Ukrainian terrain from the East continued its way to the West in transformed shape. It is worthwhile mentioning the Goths, who came to the area without their own distinct artistic culture. Having conquered the cities on the Black Sea shores and having adopted artistic culture of Hellenes and Sarmatian barbarians, they brought to European jewellery polychrome and animal styles that contributed to the development of the original "merovingian" type of jewellery.
Under the pressure of the even greater war-inclined Huns, the Goths left the territory they had occupied. These Asiatic people brought a somewhat different version of the polychrome style, which was characterized by color inlays in soldered partitions and the presence of background patterns of filigree and granulation. During this time, further migration of people from Asia (Avars, Bulgars, Khazars, Ugrs, Pechengs) to the Ukrainian steppes had been taking place. Theses people brought along destruction and captivity. Every one of these tribes moving to the West took a part of local artistry with them, at the same time settling down and mixing with native inhabitants.
Contribution of autochton cultures
Archeological data prove the presence of many precursory cultures (Neolithic Corded Ware culture, Globular Amphora culture, Yamna culture, pre-Slavic Cherniakhiv culture, Zarubyntsi culture, Przeworsk culture and others) that existed throughout all historical periods on Ukrainian terrain. Some of them co-existed with the Trypillian farmers and nomadic tribes. Though creating rather simple jewellery these cultures were advanced in metal craft techniques. Copper production workshops were found at Yamna culture archaeological cites, forging it in the fire and casting it the forms was well developed methods. Artisans of the Bronze Age made armlets, hairpins, pendants, and fibulas. Lost-wax casting and forging became common techniques. Same techniques and some designs were inherited by early Slavs. It is displayed in the Slavic jewellery like Hryvna - descendant of torc, lunnycia (a moon-shaped pendant), beaded earrings.
Such complicated historical processes preceded the rise of artistic culture in Kievan Rus. Age-old cultural and spiritual experiences of the native inhabitants of Ukraine lay in the basis of these processes as well. Acquirements of previous autochton generations did not vanish, and this was quite apparent in the jewellery. At the same time, alongside with original forms, there is a remarkable Scythian, Sarmatian, Hun, Hellenic, Celtic and Viking influence on Slavic jewellery. The techniques which were familiar to the ancient Slavs are forging, coinage, chasing, granulation, lost-wax and stone forms casting, enameling, niello etc.
Later on granulation, niello and cloisonne techniques reached a perfection that could not be surpassed in our days, and filigree became common. The German erudite monk Theophilus rated jewelers of Kievan Rus second only after Byzantine. Besides the pendants, rings, torque, armlets, fibulas, necklaces and other such jewellery, which had been common to all nations, Slavs had original jewellery - silver armlets of the Kiev type, enameled and three-bead earrings, and diadems. Slavic metal amulets such as spoons, hatchets, horses, ducks, zoomorphic and anthropomorphic sewed plates are also well known.
With the coming of a new religion from Byzantium, many things changed, most notably world view, culture and art. New types of creative works appeared, such as rich book settings, often embroidered with pearls (mainly from the Dnieper river), liturgical cups, crosses, icon setting frameworks, and later on boxes for storing relics, church-chandeliers, cups, and plates. The Tatar-Mongols, who destroyed Kiev and exterminated many of its able-bodied inhabitants, put an end to the bright development of jewellery in Rus. The artisans of Rus were made prisoners and forced to work for the Tatars. This deterioration process lasted for a few centuries. Revived centres in Halych and Volodymyr tried to continue Kiev traditions.
The Renaissance period
A further stage of development of jewellery art in Ukraine happens under the period of Polish-Lithuanian State rule and is characterized by the expansion of a new style of the Renaissance period. The powerful centers of jewellery craft at the time were Lviv, Kiev, Kamianets-Podilskyi and others. Specific feature of Renaissance jewellery in Ukraine was use of decorative elements of ancient Rus. L’viv was the leading center for a substantial period of time. Some of the most famous Ukrainian jewelers whom we know of today were Nykolay, Lavrentiy, Symon, A. Kasiyanovych, and H. Ostafiyevych. They worked hand in hand with Poles, Germans, Jews, Hungarians, Armenians, Italians and Scotsmen. The Independent goldsmiths’ guild in Lviv was founded more than 4 centuries ago. In the works of guild artisans the form of secular dishes and jewellery of the time is often combined with local decorative and functional features. Silver belts were considered to be exclusively Lviv-made. They had characteristic silver, often gilded, engraved plates in the shape of circles or ovals with alternating rectangular plates.
At that time jewelers did not know how to set stones in the right way to strengthen their shine and color. As a rule, they just slightly polished the stone and did not change its irregular form. They made massive cast-seats that considerably covered the stone. Therefore, import of the first faceted diamonds was greeted with high interest.
Unfortunately, the faith and nationality of the goldsmiths of Rus experienced considerable oppression on behalf of official rule and they were gradually transformed from a vast majority into a trifling minority. This even brought about the change of the work material from silver to gold.
Despite all this, Ukrainian jewellery continued to develop under two remarkable influences: western from Augsburg, and Nierenberg and eastern from Turkey by the intercession of Krak?w and Lublin. The former found a good ground in conjunction with ancient Rus’ motifs.
In jewellery centers such as Kiev, Pereyaslav, Nizhyn, and Chernihiv the techniques that were used in making one single piece of jewellery were perfected. They were as follows: champleve, cloissone, painting enamels, casting, coinage with raised and low relief, etching, deep engraving and filigree. Jewellery became smaller and lighter. Pendants were more often worn in pierced ears rather than at the temple or plaited into hair. The form of armlets changed - they were no longer plates on hinges (in the ancient Rus they were used for long chemise sleeves support), but light solid bands or chains made of gilded niello with diamonds or pearls. Pearls, buckles and decorative buttons became popular among men and women of all social classes.
The Baroque period
Along with goldsmiths' guilds jewellers also worked in private workshops. The masterpieces of Baroque from the ateliers of I. Ravych, M. Yurjevych, P. Volokh, I. Zavadovskyi (the tsar gate made of solid pieces of silver, altar framework in Kiev Pechersk Lavra and St. Sofia Cathedral in Kyiv) came to our days. This epoch also brought considerable interest to precious stones. Masters of diamond and gem faceting began appearing. This turned jewelers’ attention to the importance of "recovered" stone and metal combinations.
The short Rococo period left almost no marks in Ukrainian jewellery.
In the countryside, the development of rural, non-professional jewellery began. It drew ideas from ancient heathen forms and patterns. At the turn of the century dynasties arose in the Carpathian Mountains, especially in Hutsulshchyna, (among them were brass-masters Dudchak, Medvidchuk, Fedyuk). In the eastern regions of Ukraine dukach - coined medallions or golden coins that hang on a chain or original brooch-knot became widespread. The analogy in Western Ukraine was zgarda - a rope of silver coins in the form of necklace.
The periods of Historicism and Secession in Ukraine have not been widely studied.
The wars at the beginning of the century stopped any progress in the development of goldsmithing in Ukraine altogether.
Under the Communist regime, the situation for Ukrainian artistic jewellery grew much worse. At the beginning, Soviet goldsmiths largely copied old-fashioned patterns of the last century. Instead of the expensive adornments (characteristic of pre-war times) that suited the costly dress of wealthy people, specimens of relatively inexpensive materials with inlays of cheap stones and glass became popular. This “popularity” was promoted by the decision of CC of CPSU and Council of Ministers of the USSR “Regarding the Elimination of Excessiveness in Projection and Building”. This set the task for artists - to find new forms with the use of contemporary materials and achievements in techniques. The fight against “excessiveness” and reproduction of past styles began.
After some time this situation had somewhat changed. The stabilization of social life led to the return of precious materials; forms, however, were left unchanged.
During the period of Socialism a long list of restrictions existed. The right to manufacture any wares of precious metals and stones was granted only to a complete monopoly of state enterprises. Small workshops were allowed to exist exclusively for repairing and mending. The “classic soviet” design (berries, flowers, leaves) became characteristic of industrially produced patterns. Due to the shortage of specialized designers, flexibility in reacting to the needs of the consumer as well as the actual movement and directions of jewellery design was greatly lacking.
For many years Ukraine was deprived of the possibility to participate in the processes of contemporary artistic jewellery creation. There were many reasons for this, such as ideological superstitions of the Soviet regime, lack of information, prohibition for individual artists to work with precious materials, and a general lack of proper artistic education.
Modern timeAt present, there is still no secondary or higher educational institution in Ukraine where one could study jewellery or its design in particular. There are 5 secondary art-oriented institutions where students study the technology and the essentials of the composition of jewellery during 1-3 semesters. In the Lviv Academy of Fine Arts, at the only faculty of art metal in Ukraine, only one semester is devoted to the small forms. It is still impossible to work officially with precious materials in the workshops of the Academy because of confusing and complicated laws.
The absence of specialized galleries and appropriate artistic critics makes it very complicated for individual artists to realize their works. The lack of regular exhibitions and competitions means that creative ideas are not being exchanged continually as they should be. A deficiency of tools and materials complicates the situation still more. In the city of Lviv (worth million) one cannot find any shop of tools or materials even if the number of jewellery workshops during the post-Soviet period has increased almost tenfold. Imperfect legislation allows workshops to be opened by persons who are not professionally skilled. The concept of copyright exists only on paper.
Goldsmiths in Ukraine are still isolated from each other since there is no separate union or association. There are few contacts with colleagues from abroad, and there is still no professional literature in Ukrainian. The first attempt to congregate and to collate jewelers from different regions of Ukraine was the 1997 exhibition "Treasures of Ukraine" in the newly created museum of the NBU (National Bank of Ukraine) in Kiev. In 1999, for the first time ever in Ukraine industrialist jewellers exhibited their production in Kiev at the "Yuvelir-Expo" exhibition. In Ukraine, there are 4 state jewellery factories, 2 state factories of stone cutting, and 1 state enterprise of mining and processing of amber. Only just recently Ukraine began to extract its own gold.
Recently, some signs of hope have been appearing, which hint at a better future for jewellery in Ukraine. Small private companies founded in recent years look much more interesting than their "state monster" counterparts. In the last few years, some personal and group exhibitions of goldsmiths have taken place in Kiev, Lviv and other cities. Ukrainian artists participate and are usually successful in competitions and exhibitions abroad. Year after year more and more young artists are joining the search for new forms and surprising unusual materials.