History of Granulation

Many of the pieces in the Jonathan Lee Rutledge collection are made with a technique called granulation. This is a 4500 year old goldsmithing process in which tiny gold spheres are used in order to create a design on a piece of jewelry. The technique consists of making tiny gold granules, applying them individually to a

gold surface and fusing them in place. While some of the most spectacular examples of granulation are thousands of years old, it remains a mystery as to how the ancient goldsmiths achieved their success. We do have an idea, however, of this skills journey from the past to the present day…

The oldest example of granulation is from 2500 BC and was discovered between 1922 and 1934. The discovery was made in the royal tomb of Queen Pu-Abi in Ur, a city in Sumer (Sumerians) which would have been northwest of Basra in Iraq. Sumer was a division of Babylonia.The granulation on these examples is very crude in application, thus leading one to believe that the Sumerians were experimenting with this process. Taking this into consideration, and the fact that all of there metals would have had to have been imported, the Sumerians were still very skilled in gold and silver.

It is believed that the technique of the Sumerian goldsmiths spread from Ur, particularly after the destruction of the the city. The process traveled

over western Asia, then north to the Mediterranean and Turkey (Troy in 2100 BC), then west to Greece and Crete.

By 2000 BC, The Egyptian goldsmiths were working in the style of the Mesopotamians. Also, at this time, the Minoan goldsmiths were using this process and were more influenced in their work by Mesopotamia than by Troy. It would be another four hundred years before granulation would be adopted by continental Greece. Even though this skill died out around 1200 BC, in the ninth century BC it would be given new life during the Greek colonizations. Although Granulation might have first been used by the Sumerians, it was the Etruscans who truly developed the technique’s possibilities. The Etruscans (modern day Tuscany) were a wealthy people able to trade for luxuries with Greece and Phoenicia. It is not believed, however, that the Greeks brought the process to Etruria. Instead, it is thought possible that while the Greeks were establishing their colonies, it was the Phoenicians who may have first introduced the skill to the Etruscans. The journey of Granulation from Mesopotamia to the West has been referred to as Ex Oriente Lux, or, the Light Coming from the East.

Etruscan jewelry is thought of in two phases: Early Etruscan (from the 7th to the 5th centuries BC) and Late Etruscan (from 400 BC to 250BC). During the early phase, the Etruscans excelled in granulation. Not only

was it used in the formation of patterns, but also to illustrate entire scenes. It was used abundantly and with much perfection. The jewelry from the Late Etruscan period was rather simple compared to the work that proceeded it. It incorporated large large areas of sheet gold with no ornamentation and only sparingly used gemstones. This change in is Style coincided with decline of Etruria both politically and economically.

In modern times, the use of the ancient goldsmithing techniques such as granulation can find their origin in Rome with the Castellani family. Forutunato Castellani first opened his shop in 1814 at the age of twenty. By 1832 he began to sell what he called his “Italian Archeological Jewelry” to the public. His style was that of the newly discovered and excavated ancient jewelry from Etruria, Greece, Rome, and Byzantium. In the years proceeding 1832, Fortunato had studied the techniques and styles of this jewelry and begun to use and imitate them.

Notwithstanding the Castallani family’s successes in fabricating jewelry in the ancient style, Fortunado Castellani would never be successful at recreating the process of granulation. In fact, the Castellanis used fine particles of solder in order to complete the effect. In his own words: “we have lost procedures, and many other mysteries of a civilization which was the mother of our own”.

It would not be until 1936 that another jeweler by the name of Henry A.P. Littledale discovered a chemical process to attach the grains. Over the next seventy years, this ability would be used sparingly by goldsmiths. And in 2004, Jonathan Lee Rutledge would open his doors for the first time.