Weird Heirloom Jewelry: The Medallion Pendant, Part II: The Search Continues

Heirlooms Jewelry Design History Mysteries

my grandmother's necklace
My grandmother's necklace

Medallions have a storied tradition in jewelry design. Circular amulets and pendants were worn in Greco-Roman antiquity to ward off evil and announce status. In many ancient cultures, Medallions likely developed in parallel with the coin as a store of wealth.

But why was this medallion made? And how was it worn?

In the previous article, I introduced the piece above: a bizarre family heirloom that belonged to my grandmother. It was given to her by my grandfather's mother. Further thought-to-be-known details of it's origin can be found here.

The chain in the above photo of my heirloom medallion is not original to the piece. So, I wonder if it would have been worn as a single pendant or as a one of many charms on a chain, as in this Chanel necklace below, circa 1970s.

Chanel Medallion Necklace Circa 1970s | Photo:
Chanel Medallion Necklace Circa 1970s | Photo:

If you are interested in reading more about the history of medallions, I've created an channel dedicated to the Cultural Significance of the Medallion as Adornment.

There's a fascinating article included there, from Southern Jewelry News about the great charm fad, which spanned from the mid-19th to the mid-20th century.

Per that article, people would collect charms to show that they had traveled to a particular place or had a particular experience. (While our parametric jewelry designs are purposely abstract rather than figuratively literal, they speak to this particular moment in time just as those travel documenting charms did). When our grandmothers wore charms, people would lean in to get a closer look at their craftsmanship and to learn the story they represented. Our pieces have very much the same effect for the wearer.

I suspect the medallion craze of the 60s and 70s may be directly influenced by the preceding charm trend.

To a certain extent, free standing charms could be re-worked into bas-relief medallions to recycle an old heirloom. But the industry may have just needed a visual refresh, finding modernity in opposition to the precedent: in the flat circular disk.

(And this is just an aside, but I can't help but wonder if the grooves on this medallion aren't influenced by those hip new EP records that were all the rage.)

Have you seen a similar piece of jewelry? Or do you perhaps have your own piece of weird heirloom jewelry that you would be willing to post a photo of? I’d love to hear your comments below!


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