Personal Luxury

Among the most colorful objects from antiquity were the most luxurious:  small items of adornment, such as jewelry made from precious metals, gemstones, and glass, and small objects made for personal use, such as vessels used to store perfumes and cosmetics. As with all luxury objects, the choice of materials was significant since imported, hard-to-get materials proclaimed wealth and status. Material value, however, was not the only consideration, and objects that stood out as notable examples of beauty, ingenuity, and skill were also considered prestigious.  Although ostensibly private in nature, these objects of personal luxury would have been worn or displayed to one's peers.

Materials associated with personal luxury include, not unexpectedly, gold and gemstones, which were frequently used for jewelry. Gemstones could be polished and carved, and striated gemstones, such as agate, were cut into cameos.  More surprising to the modern viewer, however, is the luxury status of colored glass. Initially, the production of glass was confined to Mesopotamia and Egypt and glass was an important and highly desirable import ware.  Even after the invention of glass blowing in the first century BCE (which allowed for the increased production of traditional blue-green glass), brightly-colored glass objects continued to be luxury goods and were used alongside objects made from materials that we consider to be more precious today. 

Color plays an intriguing role in the assignation of value to these luxury objects. Colors connected with certain materials triggered luxurious associations, such as gold, purple (amethyst), and red (carnelian, jasper), which resulted in the imitation of these materials in other media. Thus, we have gemstones and cameos made from glass. In some cases, color was valued for religious and magical associations. Color also seems to have been valued simply for itself, beautiful alone or in contrast with other colors.