I absolutely love to accessorize (especially as I’ve come into adulthood). Jewelry can have many different meanings. There are different reasons for wearing jewelry other than just to look nice or stylish. For some people, they wear a piece of jewelry because it’s special. It’s more than something to adorn your body. It’s extraordinary.
Jewelry, believe it or not, has quite the history. There are so many different styles that were created throughout history in places all over the world. And what they were made of meant something to different cultures and civilizations around the world. Some even influenced others as civilizations rose into power or fell out of it.
Throughout time, cultures’ jewelry symbolism and purposes have changed. Still today, different stones and certain shapes represent different things as well. In some cultures their symbolism differs but it’s often similar.
Personal Reasons It’s Special
We all know that jewelry is stylish and just fun to wear. However, it can be more than just a stylish thing to wear. People have all sorts of personal reasons for wearing a specific piece of jewelry. It might be a family heirloom they want to keep close. It might be a part of their religion that they want to display. It might be a way to represent something special or just be a part of your style. We all have our reasons.
Family heirlooms are something that is passed down from one family member to another (generation to generation). These are often very sentimental pieces of jewelry. This type of jewelry is usually a symbol of love and accomplishment within a family.
I love the idea of passing a piece of jewelry down to my girls that they will cherish and hold onto and hopefully pass onto their daughters one day. It’s like a physical way to keep a family name living on (super cool if you ask me). I also think it’s a great tradition.
For some people, religion is a very personal thing. Many religions have some sort of symbol that is used to represent it. Often we can find charms to wear on a bracelet or necklace so we can represent our religion. Even rings sometimes have the symbol to represent someone’s faith.
Sometimes these pieces of jewelry represent a special time or moment. Maybe you received your first cross necklace when you went through confirmation and took your first communion. Or when you visited Israel for the first time you got a Star of David necklace. Significant moments with your religion can be treasured or symbolized with a piece of jewelry.
In some religions and in other times, amulets were worn for protection (like the evil eye) or expression of faith. For example, the Jewish Chai means life and is intended to remind those who look at it, that life is precious and to make the most of it. There are also different crosses to represent the different faiths within Christianity.
The infinity symbol, yes it’s a math symbol, but in cultures this symbol represents balance between opposites (male and female, light and dark, etc.). It even means equality between two forces. So as you can see, jewelry has a ton of religious meaning for its wearer.
Jewelry is also a way to represent a special moment. Engagement rings and wedding rings are probably the most common symbols of love and marriage. Some people will do a promise ring if they aren’t ready for the more serious steps toward marriage.
But any special moment can have a piece of jewelry that makes it special or symbolizes that moment forever. Birthday or anniversary gifts are wonderful moments to celebrate and give special pieces of jewelry (you know, celebrate those milestones).
Personality and Fashion
Some may not realize this, but jewelry is also a reflection of the person wearing it. It shows off a person’s personality and style. The jewelry you wear shows others if you’re more reserved or if you tend to be bold. It can also be indicative of the culture a person is from or raised in. People also choose their pieces based on what they are wearing. Some may like to match their attire (I like to match mine, it’s fun).
Yes, even in today’s modern times, jewelry can represent your social status. While we may not be as blunt with our social classes, the quality of the jewelry you own or wear is indicative of where you fall. Those in higher classes tend to have more money and are able to buy better quality, more elaborate, more expensive pieces. Meanwhile, those who can afford less buy the lesser quality, cheaper jewelry. There is something for every class and every budget.
Jewelry has a long history. It’s not something we just started wearing or buying for fun in recent times. Early civilizations used to wear jewelry as well. The jewelry then wasn’t quite as fancy as it is now but it meant something to the wearers.
Early civilizations used to create jewelry out of bones, teeth, stones/rock, shells and feathers (basically anything they could find in the wild). In those times, your first necklace may have a bone or tooth from the first animal you brought home to camp to feed your tribe of people. Maybe when an engagement was announced each person received a bracelet or ring to show every that the two involved were considered to be a mated pair.
History is filled with stories and lessons on the way we lived way back when. It’s the same for jewelry. Jewelry has a history. And jewelry has represented and signified different things throughout time in many cultures.
Jewelry was common among men and women in ancient Egypt. Clothing was very minimal and very simple. So it was not uncommon for someone to adorn their body with jewelry (literally their whole body). Wearing jewelry was the best way to display their wealth and status. They believed in this so strongly, they were often buried with some of their wealth (they might need it in the afterlife or to pass over to the next stage).
I think jewelry that was made in ancient Egyptian times is extra special. Not only is it a part of history, but mostly is one of a kind. Jewelry makers made things specifically for the wearer and since things weren’t really mass produced back then, no two pieces are exactly the same. They used what they could acquire to make their pieces.
Egyptian jewelry was so beautiful. The types, styles, and quality of jewelry worn was also indicative of a person’s status. For example, pectorals are usually worn by the wealthy class (they hang down over the wearer’s chest.
In Egypt, jewelry had a religious and magical role as well. In addition to admiring the beauty of jewelry and showing off their wealth, they believed that jewelry would ward off evil spirits and protect the wearer. They also wore jewelry for health.
Jewelry from this time is all very symbolic. Egyptians loved to show off the beauty of their pieces but each piece has a purpose or meaning behind it. Different colors represented something different. Red represented blood and strength, blue signified rebirth, white meant purity, and green meant health.
The colors used in a piece of jewelry were then incorporated into a shape which depends its symbolic meaning. Like the scarab beetles. We see this all the time as an example of Ancient Egypt. Scarab beetles represent rebirth (they believed the sun was rolled around the heavens by a giant beetle and reborn each day).
Another important symbol for Egyptians is the water lily (the lotus). They believed that the world was dark until the lotus bloomed. When the lotus bloomed it revealed the Sun God (their God and creator of life). The list goes on. They had hundreds of symbols representing different things in their culture. It’s amazing if you want to try to learn some hyroglifics to learn about some of their different symbols and their meanings.
We know that ancient Greece has a long, very detailed history. But did you know their jewelry does too? Similar to the Egyptians, the Greeks viewed jewelry as a symbol of power, of wealth, of social status, a ward against evil and a celebration of the gods. The Greeks were modest people and that was reflected in their jewelry.
Jewelry started out as a way to show your social class and status. It wasn’t a part of daily life like it is today. It was meant for special occasions. Only the women of the wealthy would wear it.
Similar to the Egyptians, jewelry was also worn to ward off evil (if you could afford to buy some that is). And different pieces of jewelry were worn to represent or pay tribute to different gods. It was also said that to pass on to the afterlife, you needed to be buried with a piece of gold or something of value (like jewelry). So when they buried someone they would bury them with a piece of jewelry to help their soul transition to the afterlife because they believed it would travel with them.
It’s said that they learned the use and technique of gold from their neighbors (the Egyptian and Mesopotamia). Though they may have learned techniques from neighboring nations, their style was not so elaborate. Greek jewelry started out as simple and understated but was also inspired by nature. As time passed, their pieces became more complex but still nature inspired.
The Greeks used molds to create some of their most beautiful pieces out of gold. Those gold leaves that we see on headpieces and wreaths were made using a mold. The olive wreath which was a prize for a champion was originally made of real leaves. When they learned to make them from gold, winners of competitions were given wreaths of gold!
Through the different rises and falls of leadership in Greece, the jewelry continued to change. During the Hellenistic period, they began to use more gemstones with their gold. Turquoise, pearls, amethyst, and emeralds (which are very naturalistic stones) were a favorite and used in many pieces.
There were different styles of jewelry. It was just necklaces, bracelets and rings. They had headpieces and armbands and pendants. They incorporated themes of their gods and animals (and bugs too, like butterflies) to a lot of their pieces (it’s really very creative and beautiful).
In Italy during the ancient Roman times, women did the most jewelry wearing. Women collected jewelry, while men preferred to collect art and sculptures. Men would wear pieces occasionally, but especially if they won a torc for brave acts during battle. This piece became a symbol of the elite soldiers. It was also very common for men to have or wear a ring with their family crest that was used to seal documents with hot wax.
The women in these times were collectors. Some pieces were for decoration while others were functional pieces, like broaches used to fasten garments together. Yes, the men complained about the demand for more for their wives collections. Jewelry was so popular (regardless of status) that they would replicate the making of precious stones out of glass beads so that it’d cost less. Appearance was very much important to them.
Roman jewelry was heavily influenced by Egypt and Greece. Many of their jewelry makers came from there and produced things in styles from their homeland.
Just like with other cultures at the time, the jewelry you wore indicated what you social status was. If you were of the wealthy class you would be wearing gold and precious gems. Commoners wore jewelry made of iron but occasionally could be awarded something made of gold (which of course they could wear. They loved jewelry!)
Symbols are different for different places. In Roman times, the snake represented immortality. The Romans also loved amber. Though it was beautiful, they believed this stone could help cure illness (which probably made it even more popular). So for this culture, while there is some symbolism and some purpose, style was very important to them.
The crusades had the first real trade between the East and West civilizations, exposing countries to different styles and cultures. However, in the Middle Ages, the royals and churches felt commoners should not wear jewelry. It was a special privilege for only them to take part in.
So, they created special laws to enforce. These laws were meant to curb opulence and regulate what people were allowed to wear. There were four main categories of jewelry. Ecclesiastical rings were to be worn by clergy as their sacred emblems. Curative rings were meant to cure illness. Rings of romance could be worn to symbolize a marriage. Lastly, gadget rings like brass knuckles and pipe stuffers could be used by workers. If you were not royalty, you could only wear a ring within these categories.
The earliest traces of jewelry can be traced to civilizations in the Mediterranean. They began as simple stone amulets and seals. These had spiritual meanings to that culture. They would offer jewelry to the gods. They would even dress up statues and place jewelry on them (that would be fun. We don’t see that much these days).
The Byzantine Empire
The Byzantines demonstrated a rich tradition of their jewelry. They were able to combine the greatness of Greece, Egypt, the Near East and parts of Russia in their style of jewelry.
The Byzantines were their jewelry as a status symbol. The more jewelry you wore the more affluent a person was and the more important they were. Just like during the crusades, they had to place rules on what different classes could wear. They would know what class you belonged to based on the jewelry you were allowed to wear. (I’m glad we’re past this)
Modern Stones and Symbols
There are a lot of different types of gemstones. Each represents or means something. There are also common symbols that continue to signify something, even in today’s times.
Some cultures have very strong beliefs with turquoise. Navajo tribes believed it represented health, happiness, luck, and a connection to nature. The more turquoise on a piece of jewelry, the more wealth and social power a person has. Greeks used to believe it to be a symbol of purity and is often worn by maidens.
In more modern times, people believe it opens the heart and clears the mind. It’s said to improve overall well being and emotional healing. It’s a beautiful stone and used for spiritual healing.
Jade has a lot of hidden meaning. It is called the ‘Stone of Heaven’ or the ‘Blessing Stone’. In China, jade plays a huge role. It’s said that it represents the balance of yin and yang and provides protection from evil spirits, bad luck, and illness. They also believe that the rounded shape represents heaven and the holes are a way to speak to the gods. The holes help their prayers reach heaven to be heard.
Jade has positive meaning in other cultures as well. It can eliminate negativity, inspire creativity, promote healing, give access to the spiritual world, offer good luck, and recharge your energy. Even if you do not follow the chinese beliefs, your jade jewelry can symbolize something that aligns with your personal beliefs.
Jade is also one of those stones that can have many shades and colors to it, so while you sit and think of jade as a greenish or bluish color you will be surprised to find it in a purple, pink, gray and even white color. Take this stunning Blue Jade Ring, for example, it’s far from the green you normally think of. As well as this Pink Jade ring, which is also gorgeous.
Agate is also called ‘The Earth Rainbow’ because it comes in so many different shades of colors. Agate is from the quartz family and used in jewelry from different cultures around the world. Different colors may have some slightly different variations in meaning, but its common meaning is strength and harmonization between energies (between positive and negative).
Amethyst is so pretty. It’s most commonly a purplish color (but can range from red to purple) and is February’s birthstone. But there’s a little more to it than that. This is the stone of spirituality and peace. It is most commonly known for its ability to calm the mind and soothe emotions. I think a lot of us need this stone in our life.
Opal has made a comeback. It’s a very popular stone today. It’s so pretty with it’s rainbow effect. This stone is said to inspire hope. It also signifies purity, love and happiness. A beautiful simple stone with strong meaning.
Opals have either a clear opaque color with a iridescent look to them or they are white with an iridescent look, either way they are both really pretty and elegant looking.
There are a few Celtic symbols that are still very meaningful today. The Claddagh, the Celtic Knot, the Trinity Knot, and the Triskele.
The claddagh is a personal favorite of mine. It’s a traditional symbol with two hands holding a heart in the middle and a crown on top of the heart. The symbol as a whole represents love, loyalty, and friendship in relationships. I just love the simpleness of it but it means so much.
If you’re wearing a claddagh ring, it will show the wearers relationship status. To show you are in a relationship, you wear it on your right hand with the heart facing toward your body. To represent an engagement, it’s worn on the left hand with the heart facing outward. Once married, flip the ring so that it’s facing inward (left hand).
The celtic knot is a very popular, very recognizable symbol. It features interwoven loops with four curved edges. It represents interconnection and timelessness because there is no beginning and no end in the design. (It’s the celtic version of the infinity symbol).
The trinity knot is similar to the celtic knot in that it has no beginning and no end. However, instead of four edges it has three points forming a more triangular symbol. Those who wear this symbol, wear it for protection. It also represents love and honor.
Others may wear it for a more religious purpose. Each point represents the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. So depending on the reason, this symbol has different meanings all depending on the wearer.
Triskele has three curving legs that come out from the center. This symbol often represents three related elements, just depending on the wearer’s intent. Some wear it to symbolize the bond between mother, father, and child. Others may wear it to represent creation, existence and destruction while others may wear it for past, present, and future. So all depending on your intent, your triskele can represent whatever three related items you want.
The tree of life is a very popular symbol in today’s times. It’s usually featured with many curving branches and the roots of the tree are visible. The tree itself has many different meanings depending on the culture.
The tree is important to some religions. In Christianity, it is said to represent the Garden of Eden. In others, it’s a home to the Gods because they believed that Gods lived in Trees. Some also believe that trees represent life and death or death and rebirth (because of the natural cycle of the tree through the seasons).
One of my personal favorite meanings of the tree is family (we’ve all heard of our family tree) and growth. The tree symbolizes growth from a strong base (the trunk) and it continues to stretch and grow (the branches). It helps serve as a reminder to keep stretching and growing as a person.
General and Common Symbols
There are many symbols that are commonly found and used to represent different things. Anchors are often a symbol of hope. Arrows represent strength and courage. If you’re looking for some good luck, you’re going to want a horseshoe.
Animals and insects even represent different things. Butterflies represent beauty, elegance and joy. Bats carry messages of good luck and happiness and longevity (who knew). A coiled snake (a snake in a circular shape) represents eternity. Doves are also a sign for peace and love.
As you can see nature plays a part in the meanings of our jewelry. From beetles to snakes to the birds in the sky. It seems everything is a sign or symbolic of something.
What Does Your Jewelry Mean?
Take a look at your jewelry. Do you remember the reason you bought it or why it was given to you? What does it mean for you? What shapes or animals do you have on your jewelry? Do you know if your pieces have a history? If you’re super curious, you can search the symbolic meaning of your pieces. You might learn something very interesting about your collection.
Be sure to check out some other nifty functional craft ideas through our other posts here on Craft-ILY as well as checking out some videos on DIY and How To’s over on YouTube. Look for “Crafting Unedited” to see!