For most of us nowadays, wearing jewelry is usually about style and fashion. We wear necklaces, rings and watches because they express our personality, because they look nice, and because they accessorize an outfit. We also wear them for sentimental value; pieces given to us by someone special, or inherited from family heirloom, or that remind us of a time, place or occasion that means a lot to us. In some cases jewelry has a practical purpose too; watches keep track of time, brooches, cufflinks and tie-pins keep various parts of clothing in place, head pieces keep your hair away from your face, and so on.
In different cultures around the world however, the practice of wearing jewelry is about all the above, but also carries a host of traditions, meanings and customs that indicate such things as wealth, status, societal role, and more. We've selected a few exotic destinations and examined what jewelry means to them – starting with Ireland, of course!
Jewelry Customs in Ireland
Ireland's relationship with jewelry stretches back thousands of years, when the Celts ruled the island from top to bottom. The Celts were expert metalsmiths, craftsmen and warriors, and prized beauty and fighting prowess above all. Records state that they often ran into battle wearing nothing but some jewelry adornments so their opponents could see both their athletic abilities and their status in society, the latter of which was indicated by their jewelry. Particular favorites for wearing in battles were items called torcs, essentially neck rings crafted from gold, silver, bronze or iron (depending on how wealthy the warrior was), open at the front of the neck and usually with intricate carvings or engravings.
Ireland has a unique jewelry custom from somewhat more modern times, too; the claddagh ring. This unusual ring design features a heart, held by two hands, with a crown on top, each of which has special symbolism. The heart symbolizes love, the crown loyalty, and the hands friendship. The Claddagh Ring was the inspiration for our signature Handcrafted Claddagh Ring design. The ring originated from the village of Claddagh in the late 1700s, and its design has been credited to a goldsmith named Richard Joyce. At first, it was used by the fishermen of Claddagh as a means of identification, but its unique design soon caught the eye of fashionistas all over Ireland, and it became a must have fashion accessory and a popular friendship or commitment ring for friends and lovers to exchange.
The way you wore the ring had specific meaning; if the heart pointed in towards the arm, the wearer had a love interest, but if it was worn with the heart pointing outwards, he or she was looking for love. Wearing it on the left hand meant you were involved in a serious relationship, or else looking for one, while the right hand was reserved for more casual ties and friendships.Irish Jewelry: The Irish Claddagh Ring
Native American Jewelry Traditions
For centuries, Native Americans crafted jewelry to wear during various ceremonies and events. Different styles and designs originated in the different tribes such as the Navajo, Apache, Hopi and Zuni tribes. They used natural materials such as sea shell fragments and feathers as well as basic metalworking techniques, and often set them in geometric patterns or engraved patterns onto them. The two most common materials by far however, were silver and turquoise gemstones. The turquoise was crafted into beads of all shapes and sizes, engraved or set into metal rings, bracelets, arm bands or pendants. They were occasionally used in small amounts in the elaborate feather headpieces worn by the tribe leaders.
For certain tribes, jewelry played an important role in various ceremonies, particularly marriages. Both the bride and groom wear several items of jewelry with as much turquoise as possible, as it was meant to offer protection. Of course, silver is prominent in each piece of jewelry too. The most important item however was the concho. This was a distinctive and intricately designed belt common among the Zuni and Navajo tribes. It is constructed from braided leather, large round or oval pieces of silver and turquoise gemstones. The gemstones are displayed in specific groups and patterns, which demands a lot of skill to create correctly. The particular layout and design of the stones and engravings is meant to tell a story about the creator, and conchos were passed down through generations, representing an oral tradition important to the family. The concho belt was worn by both the bride and groom, and was the centerpiece of the outfit. In addition, thick beaded necklaces, beaded headpieces, fur and feathers would also have been part of the wedding costume.
Indian Jewelry Traditions
Jewelry is a significant element of Indian culture, and is everywhere; not just on women and men during formal occasions, but in day to day life, on statues, and even adorning shrines and temples. There are three main types of jewelry in India; bridal jewelry, temple jewelry, and spiritual jewelry. Bridal jewelry is the most well known of the three; on her wedding day, the bride is covered head to toe with precious metals, with at least 16 different items on various parts of her body! These include a bandhi (delicate chain that encircles the head), earrings, necklaces, toe rings, anklets, finger rings, and lots of lots of bangles, which must be worn in uneven numbers to ward off bad luck. The jewelry is meant to bring prosperity and protection to the bride's household, and also symbolizes her official transition into womanhood and her new role as a wife. Just before the wedding, the bride is given an ivory bangle by her family as a gift.
Temple jewelry was originally used to decorate idols of gods and goddesses in their temple shrines. They were ornamented with chunky necklaces strung with beads or crafted from intricate filigree, or sometimes studded with gems. Earrings, nose rings, anklets and toe rings were also used. Eventually this same jewelry was used by temple dancers and became more lightweight and less contricting to allow them to move. In time, it was also adopted by Indian brides on their wedding day. Temple jewelry is occasionally worn during certain festivals of worship, as it is believed to offer good luck. Spiritual jewellery varies greatly from region to region, with the specific stones, metals, and designs used to represent different aspects of religion and beliefs. Navratna jewelry, for example, includes 9 auspicious stones in a single ornament to ensure the well being of the wearer.
Chinese Wedding Jewelry
Another culture where jewelry is an important role in weddings is Chinese culture. Several customs dating back thousands of years need to be completed to guarantee a successful marriage, and some of the most important of them involve receiving and wearing jewelry, usually as part of a dowry. The traditional bridal outfit is a red dress paired with a golden crown, as both colors are symbols of good luck and good health. After the wedding ceremony there is a tea ceremony, where wedding guests present the bride with gold jewelry in all varieties; she must wear it straight away in order to ensure good fortune.
Jade is also a very important stone for Chinese people, symbolizing grace, morality, protection and familial love. Jade heirlooms are often passed down through families, so many of the jewelry gifts given to the bride will be gold inlaid with jade. Punching, piercing, and filigree techniques are hallmarks of Chinese jewelry, along with depictions of animals. Dragons symbolized power and good luck, goldfish for wealth, phoenix for good fortune and opportunity, and so on – virtually every animal has a distinct characteristic. As well as animals, clouds, flowers and foliage were also often depicted, as these designs suited the delicate decorative style of the jewelry.
The Maori people of New Zealand have some stunning traditional designs used in jewelry that are unlike anything else in the world. As an ancient society separated for so long from the rest of the world, they developed their own distinct art, language, and mythology, using simple but beautiful shapes inspired by nature and their surroundings to express themselves. Tattooing was a common practice to identify different tribes and regions, but jewelry was also worn, most often carved from jade or bone.
Some of the more popular Maori carving designs are; the koru, which depicts an unfurled fern leaf and symbolises harmony, growth, and new beginnings; the hei matau, or fish hook, which represents prosperity, determination, strength and good health, as well as providing a safe journey over water; the manaia, a spiritual guardian traditionally depicted with the head of a bird, body of a man, and a fish tail – it cares for an individual's spirit and guides it to where it is supposed to go after the person's death; and the hei tiki, a good luck carving considered to be a very valuable possession passed down through families, believed to strengthen character.
Twisted designs were a symbol of the path of life of a person – double or triple twists symbolised the joining of two or more people or cultures for eternity. It is also a representation of loyalty and friendship that remains throughout the many challenges of life. Animal depiction such as whale tails and dolphins were also often used as symbols of protection.
Our designs draw inspiration from the past.
Read more about the symbolism and tradition's behind each of our handmadeIrish Jewelry> here at Claddagh Design.