When it comes to gems the hidden ones are often stories, not stones. Welcome to Demystified, where we look beyond the jewelry box, past our closets, and into the depths of our most cherished possessions to reveal their cross-cultural significance.
If the closest thing to a beetle you can handle is the pinstripe-suit-wearing antihero from Tim Burton's whacky 1980s flick, then we regret to suggest that you stop reading here. But if the idea of creepy crawlers possessing extraordinary powers piques your curiosity, then stick with us. With the help of designer Pamela Love, we're about to get up close and personal with the sacred scarab beetle: a bug that's been inspiring jewelry trends since 2000 BCE.
Commonly known as a dung beetle, the scarab is famous for rolling around manure balls as part of an elaborate mating ritual. Although unpleasant in practice, this very act of trundling dung mounds is what earned the beetles their worshipped place in ancient Egyptian culture because of a divine affiliation with the sun god Ra. Along with embodying the concept of existence, development, and growth, the scarab was revered for representing the cycle of life and death: "It was seen as a form of protection," Love explains. The extraordinary bestial was therefore carved or molded into treasured accessories and amulets throughout centuries. Imported from Egypt to the Mediterranean and parts of the Middle East during the Bronze Age, "the symbol permeated the visual language of many cultures," Love says — seeing periodic artistic revivals throughout France and the U.S. during the 1800s, along with a global resurgence during the Art Deco movement of the 1920s.
At a young age, Love added her mother's scarab amulet to an already overpopulated charm bracelet. Having been inspired by the breadth of history contained within the shells of these heavily bodied insects, Love went on to start her own scarab jewelry collection that is now a signature of her eclectic brand. And she wasn't the only designer smitten with the symbol: Bottega Veneta's fall 2010 show was practically overrun with metallic-green, pest-like accessories, while fashion houses like Gucci have released scarab amulets so ornate you'd think they'd been excavated from King Tut's tomb. If you're hoping for a sartorial rebirth of sorts, adorn yourself with the good fortune of the scarab-beetle jewelry ahead (minus the dung) — from understated enamel pieces to glittering pendants fit for Nefertiti herself.
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