Choker necklaces have been in out and fashion for thousands of years.
Long before they encircled the necks of goth girls in the 1990s or were made popular by the Princess of Wales in the late 1800s, chokers were worn by women in ancient civilizations to protect their necks and to give them power. The history of the choker dates back thousands of years, to the world’s earliest civilizations, the Sumer empire in Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt. Most ancient jewelry was worn to be protective and amuletic.
Jewelry was worn on parts of the body that needed protection, the throat, the head, arms and ankles. The jewelry was blessed and believed to be infused with special powers. For example, gold jewelry was associated with the sun and lapis was connected to the powers of the Nile.
During the French Revolution, women took to wearing red ribbons around their necks to pay homage to those who met their death at the guillotine. The ribbon could be worn around the neck, or another fashion came in the form of an X around the shoulders and back.
When following jewelry trends, always look to art. Paintings always reveal the fashion of their time. While chokers were popular during the Renaissance, the next big moment was at the end of the 19th century.
The Astors wore long pearl necklaces with several strands of the pearls wrapped around their neck, while others donned just a simple black ribbon. Look at the paintings of Degas and see how many dancers are wearing a simple ribbon to highlight the neck.
As happens so often in fashion and jewelry, the affinity of a very public figure aided the choker’s reemergence.
Alexandra of Denmark (1844-1925) was on the British throne as the wife of King Edward VII from 1901 to 1910. Before that, she spent some 38 years as the Princess of Wales. During her reigns, she became an influential figure in fashion and popularized one of her favorite pieces of jewelry, the choker necklace. She layered her chokers.
The tale that has been told through the years is that Alexandra wore chokers to hide a childhood scar on her neck, although the story of the Queen consort’s scar has never been confirmed.
If it is true, Alexandra would not have been the only woman of her time to use her jewelry to hide an imperfection.
Included in the collection of the Victoria & Albert museum in London is a Kropfkette or “goiter chain” made in Austria sometime between 1840 and 1870.
Kropfkettes were chokers consisting of multiple rows of chains with a large clasp at the front. Women in south Germany and Austria wore them to hide the lumps on their necks caused by goiter, a disease caused by iodine deficiency common among those who lived high in the Alps.
Chokers continued to be popular through the Art Nouveau period. René Lalique made some of the most beautiful choker pieces ever designed. During the 1920s chokers became known as “dog collars.”
Rene Lalique dog collar, circa 1900.
Rene Lalique “Cats” dog collar, circa 1906-1908.
The 1940s saw a resurgence. Look at this 1944 Life magazine article.
The choker was back with a vengeance in the 1990s. The black velvet choker and the brightly colored plastic bead chokers were everywhere.
Today, everything old is new again!
*The featured cover necklace is the diamond ‘Lucea’ choker by Bvlgari. It is sold at Christie’s in December of 2009 for $270,000. The retail value was estimated to be $790,000. Sigh….wish I may, wish I might!