Most of the Inca gold jewelry and artifacts was looted by the Spanish conquerors, melted and taken away to Spain. The largest part of the pieces shown in museums have been found by archaeologist in burial grounds. They show us to a great extent the meaning and use of jewelry in the Inca civilization.
Metalwork was a skill inherited from pre-Inca civilizations, the Incas were not experts in metalwork but many conquered territories had skilled goldsmiths who were transferred to Cusco and to other important cities in the empire. For instance Ichmas and Chimus produced earrings, bracelets, necklaces, rings, ritual Tumis and ceremonial artifacts. There were highly specialized goldsmiths working for the elite, according to cronist Cieza de Leon, most of them were brought from Lambayeque in the coast to work in the capital, Cusco. During the Inca Empire gold was an abundant metal used to make artifacts and jewelry. The Incas believed that the gold shone like the sun and so to honor their main god, the Inti, they wore it and decorated their temples with it.
There were specialized Inca jewelry artists who used different types of material to create special pieces of jewelry. Among the most used materials are gold, silver, copper, wood, seeds, feathers, seashells, gemstones, fine textile and other material suitable for making jewelry.
The Sapa Inca and the nobility decorated their everyday dresses and sandals with gemstones and gold pieces. They wore gold earrings and the heavier the better, as their elongated the earlobes signified high status or nobility in society. Necklaces were popular among men and women alike, some of these pieces were very heavy as they contained a lot of gold. Bangles and bracelets were popular among women who decorated them with seeds, alpaca fibers, shells or gemstones.
The Nose ring made of Inca gold was an important piece of jewelry for the Sapa Inca who wore it during religious ceremonies and special celebrations. The ring was attached to the nose by pressure, there was no piercing. Another impressive piece of jewelry was the Sapa Inca gold crown known as the Mascipacha.
Shin and chest protectors were used by warriors as part of their armor. The use of copper or gold would identify the status of the warrior.