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07 december 2012

With an increasing consumer demand, for some people production of church ornaments appears to be mere business. In pursuit of profit their the aim is to make people consume more and more, which inevitably leads to imitation. For this reason, the greater part of today’s crosses and icons cannot be considered true works of religious art. Often it is simply a distortion of its models, designer variations on a religious theme based on the laws of secular aesthetics, or it is imitation of church products taken in the wrong way. Sometimes, modern buyers themselves do not want to notice the difference between mass production and works of art.

Especially today, in the age of high technology, jewelry art is turned into a jewelry industry, while church art boils down to formal manufacturing of religious objects. Where even models for further reproduction are created by way of computer technology, there is not a trace left from spirituality.

Jewelry with religious symbols belongs to church jewelry art, which began to develop in Russia since the end of the 1st century, with the adoption of Orthodoxy. Incarnation of divine images and symbols of faith in jewelry was part of the religious culture of many peoples. Individual ornaments were made by ancient craftsmen using unique jewelry techniques of their time. Part of it was borrowed from the Byzantine Empire, such as jewelry graced with enamel and precious stones and techniques of highlighting fine details by way of niello. Silver inlays, engravings, carvings and "transparent" enamel were popular Russian jewelry techniques in the15th-18th centuries.

Gold and silver are the two main precious metals used to create highly artistic orthodox jewelry. In Christianity, gold is an image of light, a symbol of the divine. Silver is a symbol of purity and holiness. Therefore, gold in church jewelry is often used for gilding, as if giving a glimpse of the divine light to the holy "flesh" of silver. By virtue of their uniqueness, natural precious materials go beyond the material, and there is nothing which could be better to convey spiritual concepts. In a materialistic consciousness the value of gold is often reduced to a synonym of wealth, power and money.

Orthodox icons and crosses worn close to the body are not divided into male and female, or meant for adults or children, but they are clearly divided into such categories in jewelry. For example, women's goods are often decorated with small stones, while male pieces are graced with enamel and they are chunkier. Baby crosses and icons are small and have rounded edges.

In the 21st century, the number of believers in the world continues to increase, according to the data of the annual study, The Status of Global Mission. Every day, 78,000 people are turned to Islam, and 83,000 people (the largest number) join the ranks of supporters of the world's largest religion - Christianity, whose total number of followers reaches a third of the world population.

One’s attention is attracted to such statistics by the fact that in recent years the jewelry market segment dealing with religious ornaments is expanding spurred by demand for such jewelry, which, it seems, is growing proportionally to the number of believers. As a separate category of consumers, believers contributed to a clearer division of jewelry market in two segments - secular and religious. While so far there is no reliable statistics regarding the production and sales of religious symbols in the world, Russia, in particular, is witnessing wanton growth of this market due to numerous religious jewelry exhibitions and the increasing number of manufacturers. The latter include both specialized companies and workshops working under the Russian Orthodox Church, and also separate production lines at jewelry factories.

At BaselWorld  2012, the Russian brand Vladimir Mikhailov displayed a complete collection of Easter eggs made as pendants and consisting of 12 Easter eggs in green and white gold, encrusted with diamonds. The collection was dedicated to the main Orthodox holidays of the year.

The most expensive jewelry piece of this brand - from a limited collection – is the folding platinum Easter egg,  Incarnation worth 15 million rubles, on the wings of which there are shown all the Twelve Great Feasts.

The Western Christian iconography depicts Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary and patron saints on religious medallions. The jewelry collection of Dolce & Gabbana takes inspiration from the Christian symbolism and iconography of the Catholic Church. The brand’s collection includes earrings, pendants, necklaces and bracelets bearing the images of the Virgin Mary and cherubims, prayer beads and crosses. All the decorations are handmade in 18-carat yellow, red and white gold or black sapphires and jade.

Such jewelry is bought not only by believers. Buyers may include people who have nothing to do with religion and are shopping for gifts. The works of church jewelry art are often bought as collectibles.

The world's smallest nativity scene was created by Italian jeweler Aldo Caliro. The tiny group represents the Virgin Mary, St. Joseph and a small angel holding a baby in a cradle. The entire miniature is placed on the tip of a pin fastened to a piece of velvet decorated with diamonds. On the backdrop of these jewels the composition is producing a huge contrast. The jeweler painted his work with just one hair taken from a brush.

Veronica Novoselova, Rough&Polished