Glyptics - the art of stone carving

The history of glyptics (the art of engraving or carving stones) goes back to the 7th millennium BC. The Babylonians were the first people to score simple motifs into relatively soft stones such as serpentine, lapis lazuli or turquoise in order to use them as amulets.

In around 2000 BC the Egyptians set engraved stones of this kind into rings, which were initially tied to the finger by a piece of twine threaded through a hole drilled in the stone.

By around 1500 BC the twine and gold wire had been replaced by the more stable gold splints. The invention of the rotating drill and wheel technology made it possible for the first time to work with harder precious stones such as rubies, sapphires and quartz. The most popular motifs in this epoch were scarab beetles and images of the gods. The Egyptians also used such rings as seals, first of all in the form of a cylinder seal, which was used both as a source of information presenting images of events that had happened and as neck jewellery.

The art of stone carving was also known in other ancient civilizations. The motifs showed, among other things, images of animals, battle scenes or heroes. The engraving techniques became more clearly defined over the centuries and the motifs more filigree.

In the classicism of Ancient Greece in the period around 500 BC, the perfect image of the human being came to the foreground as a motif. Large-scale cameos using the relief technique appear for the first time.

In around 50 BC, in the early years of the Roman Empire, technically sophisticated cameos were produced in several delicate colour tones.

In the 2nd and 3rd Century AD we speak of the so-called magical gems, whose images were related to sacred motifs, occult teachings and astrology. Portraits of statesmen and poets were manufactured as mass-produced articles.

In around 900 AD the Carolingians engraved in rock crystal. The jewellery from the Staufer period in the 11th and 12th centuries is also remarkable. The Staufer Emperor, Barbarossa, was seen as the pioneer of the coat of arms in glyptics, which emerged following the change in battle techniques he brought about. Shields bearing coats of arms disappeared increasingly as the symbols identifying entire groups, while knights began sealing official documents using their coat of arms. The engraved signet ring therefore became a symbol for any man with a position in society who was allowed to bear a family coat of arms.

In the Renaissance (15th-17th Century) there was a return to cameos with antique motifs. Paris became the centre of this art which was once again flourishing. Many young Germans from the stone centre of Idar trained there and brought the art back to their home town at the end of the 19th Century. Idar-Oberstein is still the centre of stone engraving in Europe today.