The Egyptian Revival Jewelry Movement

Above: Figure 1. Tiffany & Co. Egyptian Revival Gold and Colored Stone Necklace (left) and Castellani Micormosaic and Carved Scarab Necklace (right) (Courtesy of Sotheby’s.)1

The Egyptian Revival Jewelry Movement: Exploring the Ethics of Cultural Influence

By Angela Nguyen


Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, the allure of ancient Egypt swept across the globe. Its grand architecture, enigmatic gods, and powerful civilization sparked a worldwide fascination, which reached new heights with the 1828 release of “Description de l’Égypte,” chronicling Napoleon’s expedition into Egypt, the historic completion of the Suez Canal in 1869, and culminating in the groundbreaking unearthing of King Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922. These moments brought ancient Egyptian wonders to the forefront, which became mainstream culture via fashion, art, and architecture in a wave known as “Egyptomania.”

This fascination did not escape the notice of the world’s leading jewelry designers, including fine jewelry companies like Bulgari, Castellani, Cartier, Tiffany & Co., and Van Cleef & Arpels. Drawing inspiration from ancient Egyptian jewelry’s rich iconography, materials, and aesthetics, these brands created pieces that sparked the Egyptian revival jewelry movement. Their creations combined ancient Egyptian culture with modern design, dreaming up pieces that acted as wearable art pieces and bridges between times. However, while this artistic movement highlights the beauty of ancient Egyptian jewelry, it also raises ethical dilemmas surrounding using ancient cultural heritage in art. Modern creatives have to walk a fine line between drawing inspiration from and cultural appropriation of ancient civilizations. 

To truly appreciate the essence of Egyptian revival jewelry, it is crucial to grasp why jewelry was so significant in ancient Egypt. For ancient Egyptians, jewelry was not just an accessory; it carried deep amuletic meanings. It acted as a talisman that provided magical protection and endowed the wearer with special powers to shield them from harm.2 As a result, jewelry played a vital role in funerary contexts, where it was believed to protect the deceased in the afterlife. Popular amulet shapes like the scarab and the ankh symbolize rebirth and life, respectively. The materials used—gold, turquoise, lapis lazuli, and others—were not just chosen for their beauty; they symbolized the natural world, from the night sky to vegetation, connecting the wearer to divine forces.3

However, when modern designers draw from ancient Egyptian culture, they may miss these profound meanings, focusing instead on aesthetics or commercial appeal. It is essential to recognize that while designers like Louis Comfort Tiffany of Tiffany & Co. were inspired by ancient Egypt, they sometimes engaged with it superficially; Tiffany incorporated Egyptian motifs into not only his jewelry but also lavish, culturally themed parties, showcasing a fascination with the aesthetics rather than the heritage. For example, Tiffany hosted an Egyptian-themed costume party in 1913, which featured a reenactment of Mark Antony’s return to Cleopatra in Alexandria.4 As a result, even his renowned menat-style necklace, celebrated for its elegance by Sotheby’s, reflects this trend of appreciating ancient Egyptian culture more for its visual appeal than its deep, historical roots.

Moreover, this menat-inspired necklace by Tiffany utilized the scarab motif and ancient menat-style necklace without necessarily understanding the historical significance. The scarab, for example, was considered a symbol of rebirth and regeneration in ancient Egypt, and its use in contemporary jewelry without proper understanding or acknowledgment of its cultural significance can be seen as a form of cultural exploitation. Additionally, the menat necklace was a ritual object worn by ancient Egyptian priestesses during religious ceremonies to appease deities. Due to this, the use of this style in contemporary jewelry for purely aesthetic purposes can be seen as a disregard for its religious purpose. It is also significant to note that this style of jewelry does not correspond with Tiffany’s typical styles during the time, which were usually Art Nouveau and Art Deco jewelry. This further suggests that ancient Egyptian culture represented a pursuit of aesthetics rather than a genuine appreciation for the culture. Therefore, the need to understand ancient motifs and styles in Egyptian revival jewelry, such as this Tiffany necklace, might be construed as cultural appropriation rather than appreciation.


Figure 2. Tiffany & Co. Egyptian Revival Gold and Colored Stone Necklace5 (left) and Ancient Egyptian Menat Necklace6 (right) (Courtesy of Sotheby’s and The Met)

To navigate the fine line between drawing respectful inspiration and engaging in cultural appropriation, jewelry designers should strive for an approach rooted in understanding and respect. The concept of transformative inspiration allows designers to celebrate the beauty of culture in their creations without exploiting it. This approach involves a thoughtful engagement with the elements of a culture—its color schemes, iconography, and materials—and weaving them into unique designs that honor the original context. Jewelry designers can respectfully explore cultural influences by understanding and acknowledging the source of inspiration.

In my own journey as a handcrafted jewelry maker, I have created a piece that reflects the influence of ancient Egyptian artistry with respect and sensitivity. My approach involves deep research into the symbols, materials, and techniques that defined ancient Egyptian jewelry, ensuring that my work follows my own jewelry style and honors its culture. By doing so, I want to demonstrate how modern artists can take inspiration from the past in a manner that is both transformational and ethically conscious.

Inspired by the symbolic colors of ancient Egyptian jewelry—reds for vitality, blues for sky and water, greens for vegetation, and yellows for the sun—I aimed to blend these hues into a design that respects their rich meanings. I selected materials revered in ancient Egypt, like carnelian, lapis lazuli, glass, and shells, incorporating them alongside motifs such as the life-affirming lotus and ankh into a necklace centered around a shell pendant, highlighted with intricate wirework.

This design journey showcases the balance between paying homage to ancient cultural influences and crafting something uniquely meaningful. It underlines the creative potential in respectfully drawing inspiration from the past, illuminating a path for designers to follow in celebrating the richness of ancient cultures through modern artistry.

Figure 3. Image of Ancient Egypt-Inspired Handcrafted Necklace 
Figure 4. Close-ups of Pendants and Lotus Charm

As we reflect on the Egyptian revival jewelry movement, it is crucial to thoughtfully navigate the fine line between homage and appropriation. This dialogue around the Egyptian revival movement is not just about jewelry; it is a broader conversation on how we, as creators and consumers, can celebrate the past while leading a future that honors the richness of all cultures.


Angela Nguyen (College ’25) is a student at the University of Pennsylvania studying Classics.



  1. Reddinger, “Collection of Extraordinary Egypt-Themed Jewelry,” Fig. 1.
  2. Andrews, “Egyptian Amulets,” 6.
  3. Scott, “Egyptian Jewelry,” 223.
  4. Sotheby’s, “Louis Comfort Tiffany.”
  5. Sotheby’s, “Louis Comfort Tiffany.”
  6. The Met, “Menat Necklace.”



Andrews, Carol. “A Short Introduction to Egyptian Amulets.” Introduction. In Amulets of Ancient Egypt, 6–13. London, United Kingdom: British Museum Press, 1994. 

“Louis Comfort Tiffany for Tiffany & Co. Egyptian Revival Gold and Colored Stone Necklace.” Sotheby’s, 2022. 

“Menat Necklace from Malqata: New Kingdom.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Accessed April 26, 2023. 

Reddinger, Paige. “A Collection of Extraordinary Egypt-Themed Jewelry Is Heading to Auction at Sotheby’s.” Robb Report. Robb Report, September 20, 2022. 

Scott, Nora E. “Egyptian Jewelry.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 22, no. 7 (1964): 223–34.