The mass production of glass in Ancient Rome prompted the development of glass jewellery. Core-formed and cast-vessels were first produced in Egypt and Mesopotamia, but only started being imported around 500 BC. However, the Roman Glass industry developed to full maturity during the first half of the first century. This was likely due to Rome’s emergence as a political and economic strength in the Mediterranean world which attracted skills artisans to the city, but also coincided with the invention of glassblowing.
The ancient Romans considered jewellery to be an essential accessory, for it provided a public display of their wealth. Glass elements in jewellery such as beads, cameos and intaglios were created to imitate semi-precious stones like rock crystal, carnelian and sapphire. Roman jewellery at first followed trends set by the Etruscans, using gold and glass beads, but as the power and spread of the Roman Empire increased, jewellery designs became increasingly elaborate. Different cultural styles from Greece, Egypt, North Africa, and the Orient were all incorporated to reflect Rome’s prosperity as a dominant, conquering city.
The ageing process of glass endows Roman glass jewellery with unique qualities. For instance, contaminants manufactured into the glass, exposed to the surrounding environment over thousands of years, result in beautiful lustres and speckling, where the glass might formerly have been transparent.