Choker Necklaces in Gold: A History
Lester Fangonilo - November 22, 2021
There is just something so romantic, even glamorous about the look of choker necklaces in gold. Whether they’re the simple satin or velvet ribbons snugly wrapped around one’s neck or elaborate pieces masterfully crafted with gold and precious jewels, chokers have long been a favorite accessory for many women.
This Sumerian choker is said to have been made around 2,500 BCE and is made of gold and enamel
That’s why it comes as a surprise for many people that this seemingly contemporary accessory has actually been worn by women from all walks of life since the earliest days of civilization.
In India, opulently decorated collar-style chokers are part of a bride’s trousseau or dowry. These are also worn by brides on the wedding day itself.
A Few Technical Definitions
But before we delve into the history of these fascinating necklaces, let’s first define what exactly a choker is and see that necklaces need to meet certain criteria in order to be categorized as such.
The technical definition of a choker is that it's a close-fitting necklace, with a minimum length of 14 inches and a maximum length of 16 inches. It is so-called because it is placed so snugly around the wearer's neck, coming short of actually choking the person.
But this morbid realization notwithstanding, it is widely available and may be as simple as a plain silk or velvet ribbon (usually black), usually adorned with a small charm like a cameo brooch; a close-fitting string of beads or several strings bound by a single clasp for a more opulent effect; and neck-pieces or collars made with precious metals and secured by a bit of fine linen or silk.
Worn by valorous men or noble women, the Egyptian shebiu is a ring-style choker made by tightly looping gold wire. Shebiu necklaces were usually awarded to those who had done a great service for their monarchs
How Long Have Chokers Been Around?
The earliest known choker necklaces in gold found by archeologists date back to between 2600 and 2500 BCE and were crafted in the Mesopotamian nation of Sumer (now southern Iraq.) Made with gold and lapis lazuli inlays, choker necklaces were worn by royal wives and concubines as a symbol of their bond to the monarchy.
In neighboring Egypt, however, choker necklaces in gold had a more ceremonial aspect and were considered protective amulets. In fact, a gold choker was just one of a set of amuletic jewelry worn by both commoners and noblemen to protect the most vulnerable parts of the body - a choker for the neck, a band for the head, and cuffs or bracelets for the wrists. The ornaments used to embellish these votive chokers would be made in the likeness of a god or goddess from whom the wearer needed a favor.
Over time, they became an accessory of choice for women throughout the Roman Empire and gold choker necklaces even merited a mention in the Jewish Talmud as an appropriate piece of jewelry for modest and prudent women.
An Association with Vice and Rebellion
However, chokers have not always been considered a symbol of faith, devotion, and modesty. Indeed, it can be said that these snug-fitting accessories have also been used to represent dissent and rebellion - or even prostitution.
During the French Revolution, staunch monarchists in exile and fashionable English women bound a snug length of red ribbon around their necks to protest the Reign of Terror that led a number of France’s ruling class to the guillotine. The position of the choker - just around the place on the neck where the blade would hit - mocked the revolutionaries and the chain of events that would eventually lead to the Napoleonic Wars.
But there was another reason why chokers fell out of favor among the stylish in the 17th and 18th centuries. While some members of high society wore brooches strung through a narrow strip of fabric, the plain black or red choker was seen as a symbol of prostitution as many sex workers wore one around their necks to distinguish themselves from their more modest counterparts.
Imperial Style Takes the Choker to the Top
Choker necklaces would have disappeared from the scene completely if it had not been for a Danish princess who eventually became Queen of England and Empress of India.
In the 21st century, we would say that Queen Alexandra of England was seriously blinged out. But her opulent neck-pieces actually helped hide an unsightly surgical scar.
Princess Alexandra of Denmark, later Queen Alexandra, consort to Edward VII, traveled a great deal with her husband and was particularly enamored with Indian culture, particularly the rich fabrics, flowing saris, and opulent jewelry worn by the women of South Asia. One particular sartorial detail she brought back to the UK was a thick-banded or broad-surfaced necklace worn flush to her neck, often embellished with gold and precious stones.
While some critics derisively referred to Alexandra’s ornament as un collier de chien - literally a dog collar - England’s most fashionable slavishly followed her example, and jewelers had a roaring trade in chokers gussied up with precious metals and gems.
It was discovered later that the queen had another reason for wearing such jewelry: she had thyroid surgery when she was younger and the procedure left an unsightly scar on her neck. Wearing a spectacular piece of jewelry over it not only hid the scar, but it also solidified Alexandra’s position as one of the world’s most stylish women in her day.
Chokers in the Contemporary Context
While choker necklaces in gold have gone in and out of fashion over a number of decades, they enjoyed an upswing in popularity in the ‘90s when they became the accessory of choice for young women who were into either the grunge or goth subcultures. These chokers were usually made of leather and embellished with either gold or silver studs, buckles, or even locks.
But this doesn’t mean that the choker has lost favor with the elite classes. Indeed, celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow, Paris Hilton, and Rihanna have all stepped onto the red carpet with their necks swathed in golden bands or strings of jewels - visible proof that this piece of jewelry has crossed over from being a trend and into a timeless classic.