4 Interesting Facts About the History of Brazilian Jewellery

Brazil is internationally recognised by its diversity, creativity and colourful precious gemstones. The country is the second-biggest producer of emeralds and the only producer in the world of imperial topaz and Paraíba tourmaline. Brazil also produces citrine, agate, tourmaline amethyst, aquamarine beryl, topaz and quartz crystals.

But the evolution of jewellery in Brazil started a long time ago, and its history holds many interesting facts. Here are some of them:

Here are some of them

When the Portuguese arrived on the Brazilian coast in the 16th century, they found indigenous tribes adorned with feathers of coloured birds, shells, vegetable fibres, woods, seeds, prey and bones of animals and birds. And it was this rich and varied use of materials and vibrant colours that started the history of personal adornment in Brazil. This original exuberance generated one of the strongest characteristics of current Brazilian jewellery design: the unusual and sophisticated colour combinations of Brazilian gems!

Brazilian indigenous man
Image: Brazilian feather art

It was only in the 17th century that gold, silver and precious gemstones were discovered in Brazil, and the peak of its exploration took place in the 18th century. Severe laws and regulations were then imposed to control the mining, transportation, and accountability of the extracted material that should be sent to Portugal. As most of the wealth obtained were sent to Portugal, jewels were rare at the beginning of colonial Brazil, and those that existed were brought by the Portuguese settlers, evidencing the taste of Portugal and other European countries.

Brazilian Slaves Mining
Image: Watercolor by Johann Moritz Rugendas, 1835

The advent of Brazilian gold and silver jewellery first took place for the manufacture of sacred objects, such as flares, crosses and chalices, produced by artisans, goldsmiths and silversmiths who came mainly from Portuguese religious missions. Independent goldsmiths were prohibited from practising the trade or were heavily taxed, which made it difficult to spread the profession. One can say that Brazil was forged by the Bandeirantes (17th-century Portuguese settlers in Brazil and fortune hunters) by the search for gold and precious stones, mainly diamonds and emeralds, which caused the opening of roads to the interior of the country and the creation of towns and villages far from the coast. It was in cities of the Brazilian coast, mainly Pernambuco, Bahia and Rio de Janeiro, that independent goldsmiths, contrary to the laws in force, developed to meet the orders of an expanding elite formed mainly by coffee and sugar cane farmers, whose styles followed the European fashion.

While in Rio de Janeiro jewellery followed the European opulence of brooches, rings, earrings, bracelets, diadems and tiaras, in Bahia there was a mixture of the Portuguese style with African jewellery motifs, used by the slaves. The large and heavy bunches of talismans were worn by Creole black and mixed race women. “Patuás” and silver “balangandan” bunches, and the “figa” (a traditional wooden hand) are gradually added to the Brazilian jewellery, in a rich mix of religious elements. It is the miscegenation of races that is reflected in the combination of design elements, a beautiful example of the diversity that we can find in Brazil!

Brazilian Slave JewelleryImage: Slave with “balangandans” | Antique Brazilian Slave Belt “Penca” | 19th-century Brazilian slave brooch

Stay tuned for more curiosities about Brazilian jewellery!