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The Cartouche: Ancient Egypt’s Equivalent of the Dog Tag

Photo Credit: Shell, Cyprus Pictures

Photo Credit: Shell, Cyprus Pictures

I believe the jewelry you wear should, like a cartouche, make a personal statement of who you are. That’s why I love creating one-of-a-kind art jewelry—because what you wear should be your own. Individuality = value and I love it when a piece I have created lingers through many shows … and then one day, its owner walks into my booth and gasps at the sight of it.

That experience doesn’t happen as often in a department store. Today’s costume jewelry market is overwhelmed with mass production that in future years will be worthless. You have the potential to see your special selection on a million other wearers.

But an artisan piece … yeah. The artisan pieces of today will be the treasured antiques of tomorrow. They will be individual artistic statements about their owners’ lives.

Even back in the days of ancient Egypt, people wanted to be recognized as individuals. Egyptians designed cartouches to wear as name tags and believed them to be shields with powers of protection. Cartouches could be worn around the neck as a pendant or form the focal elements of other pieces such as rings.

Photo Credit: Jan Kunst

Photo Credit: Jan Kunst

Like today’s dog tags, cartouches are oval shields. A cartouche is designed with a stylized rope forming the surrounding frame and seated on a stand. Hieroglyphic symbols representing the sounds in the wearer’s name (not all the letters are needed) are artistically arranged within the rope frame by the designer, usually vertically, but horizontal arrangements can also be used. Placing the name within the rope frame is symbolic of protection for the wearer.

Cartouche is a term of French and Italian derivation, a name given to these ornaments by soldiers in Napolean’s army, while exploring the region of Egypt. The small shield shape reminded them of their cartouches, or gun cartridges. Want to learn a little more? Click here!

Personal identity is a possession in which we take great pride. That’s why identity theft, so common now, is seen as such a personal violation. But a signature piece shows the world who you are. It tells a story. It makes a statement, whether it’s a whisper … or a shout!

Post a picture of your favorite statement piece and share why you like it!

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