A-Z of Jewelry: W is for... Wreath

By Vivian Chen

S ince antiquity, the laurel wreath has symbolized victory, achievement and status. An ornamental band in the form of naturalistic or stylized leaves, it has adorned heads during festive occasions, religious ceremonies or given as prizes in athletic and artistic contests.

In Etruscan jewelry, wreaths were worn in processions, dedicated in sanctuaries and, at times, given as funerary offerings. Gold wreaths were also worn as crowns by Etruscan rulers and Roman Emperors. Early Greek examples from the Classical period were made of gold, silver, gold-plated metal or gilded wood, and simulated the leaves of myrtle, oak, olive or ivy. Although known in earlier periods, gold wreaths became more prevalent during the Hellenistic age, mainly due to the increase in the availability of gold in the Greek world following Alexander the Great’s eastern conquests.

Apollo, the god of music, sun and healing and patron of sport, is most commonly associated with the wearing of a laurel wreath. This association originated from the ancient Greek myth of Apollo and Daphne. According to Roman poet Ovid, Cupid, the god of love, shot Apollo with a golden arrow of love, instilling in him a passionate love for the river nymph, Daphne. He then shot Daphne with a leaden arrow of hatred. Apollo pursued Daphne until she begged to be free of him and was eventually turned into a laurel tree. Apollo vowed to honor her forever and used his powers of youth to render the laurel tree evergreen.

The wreath motif has appeared through the history of jewelry design from antiquity to the present day. It continues to captivate jewelry designers and collectors today, with maisons such as Cartier and Verdura reinterpreting and paying homage to the design in modern, yet timeless ways.

The exquisite Cartier headpiece that Rachel Weisz wore to the 2019 Academy Awards was made in Paris in 1903. Previously in the collection of the private financial adviser and friend of King Edward VII, Sir Ernest Cassel, it was purchased from Sotheby’s in 1990 in London by Cartier to add to their heritage collection.

More from Sotheby's

Stay informed with Sotheby’s top stories, videos, events & news.

Receive the best from Sotheby’s delivered to your inbox.

By subscribing you are agreeing to Sotheby’s Privacy Policy. You can unsubscribe from Sotheby’s emails at any time by clicking the “Manage your Subscriptions” link in any of your emails.