It always amazes me how many different types of chains there appear to be. It would be good to find out more about when certain types of chains were invented but this information is hard to find. I also wondered if chains could be grouped into agreed categories. Anita Mason in ‘An Illustrated Dictionary of Jewellery’ claims that there are really only three types of chains – trace, curb and fancy – although there are lots of varieties of each.
A trace chain is defined by Mason as: ‘a chain of equal-sized … links which when stretched out does not lie flat because the links are set alternatively in a horizontal and a vertical plane’. A trace chain is also called a cable chain or a link chain and some varieties of it include belcher chain, fetter chain, paperclip chain, anchor chain and Figaro chain. A curb chain is one in which the links have been twisted to lie flat while a fancy chain is a chain made up of combinations of trace and curb chains, often with decorations.
Oppi Untracht, in her book ‘Jewellery Concepts and Technology’, offers a broader description of chain types, listing 11 different chain groupings. She includes simple link chains, twisted chains (called curb chains) and fancy chains but adds more varieties.
I am not sure if it is really necessary to agree on the categories of chain, however. We do know that chains made of individual links were being made and worn in the Bronze Age and we also know that chains have provided the building blocks for necklaces since that time.
Some of the earliest chains made were called loop-in-loop chains, from the early Bronze Age in the Middle East, through the Classical period until the end of the Middle Ages. With this chain, soldered links are pressed into an oval shape and then bent upwards so they form a u-shape. Then more loops are added by threading through the loop formed by the preceding bent link so that a woven effect is created. It was quite a complicated process and the chain only needed soldering at the clasp .
Some beautiful examples of chains from the Greek classical period show chains joined together along their length to form a flat band, from which small objects shaped like acorns could be hung. The Egyptians and Greeks also produced beautiful woven chains as did the Etruscans.
Roman wore chains extensively. Gold chains of various types of links remained popular throughout the 3rd and 4th centuries, sometimes with a pendant or amulet added or interspersed with gem beads.
Trichinopoly chain, a plaited chain, first appeared in the 9th century and similar versions, also known as Viking Knit chain, came in around the 10th and 11th centuries.
From the 12th century to the last quarter of the 14th century, neck ornaments for women disappeared almost completely due to the wimple.
The Renaissance saw large gold necklaces being worn, often just made of simple links, but containing lots of gold. Heavy, large, opulent pieces illustrated the wealth of the wearer. But the next century saw changes to styles and I will talk about it a bit next week.
Alba Cappellieri, ‘ Chains: Jewellery in history, function and ornament’
Anita Mason, ‘An Illustrated Dictionary of Jewellery’
Oppi Untracht, ‘Jewellery Concepts and Technology’