Most of us have jewellery we love to wear, and some of it we like simply because we think it looks pretty. It’s that little extra something that makes an outfit complete.
Aside from costume jewellery, you probably have some exceptional pieces you love because of what they represent.
You might have a sentimental pair of earrings that are important to you because they’ve been handed down through generations. Perhaps you have a ring bought for you by a partner, and you’ve worn it for years.
These pieces are important because they’re jewellery with meaning, as was traditionally the purpose. Throughout the ages, jewellery has been a symbol of religion, wealth, and relationship status, amongst many other things – and they’re symbols that we still use today.
Let’s look at jewellery’s symbolism and the meaning behind different types.
Jewellery in its most primitive form dates back to prehistoric times, with people adorning themselves in the prettiest shells and stones they could find.
Symbolic jewellery back then is thought to have been an indicator of status and protection. Hunters, for example, would wear the bones, horns, and claws of animals they hunted as a good luck charm for the next time.
The discovery of precious metals like gold and silver was revolutionary in jewellery development. How important and valuable it was can be seen in how ancient Egyptians buried it with their dead to allow them to take it into the afterlife.
Moving from ancient times up to now, styles of jewellery have changed to follow fashion and to take advantage of the advancements in the techniques used to make it. The process of cutting gems became cleaner and more precise around the 17th and 18th centuries, with glistening diamonds adorning the most luxurious pieces.
The 19th and 20th centuries saw the beginnings of Art Nouveau and Art Deco pieces, with more affordable fashion pieces taking over from around the 1960s.
As seen in the examples below, jewellery can have meaning and symbolism for many reasons, depending on fashion and culture.
One of the most common reasons, traditionally, for wearing jewellery is its religious significance.
In Hindu culture, brides wear jewellery as it is believed that they are often connected to Gods and Goddesses. It is intended to bring blessings to the wearer. The belief is that each different precious metal offers its own powers and protections.
For Christians, many people choose to wear a cross. It’s a piece of jewellery with meaning as it celebrates their faith and offers protection from evil. Christians often give a cross necklace as a gift for baptisms, birth, and holy communions.
The Star of David is also often worn on a necklace and is traditionally known as a symbol of Judaism and Israel. This shape is made up of two overlapping triangles and is thought to represent the shape of King David’s shield.
In Africa, beaded jewellery also plays a big part in religious ceremonies, with each type of bead having its own meaning and jewellery symbolism.
Jewellery in the modern day is often worn simply as a fashion accessory.
While people have expensive heirlooms that they enjoy wearing, the market for affordable costume jewellery is enormous. Consumers often choose a piece of fashion jewellery because it complements a piece of clothing.
Jewellery has followed the fashion for many centuries, with the use of different coloured gems and metals to reflect the colour clothing being worn during that period.
One of the primary purposes of jewellery today is to be fun and to offer the wearer a form of self-expression. The options are endless, and there is something to reflect the style and personality of every wearer.
Some people like their jewellery to be understated and minimalist, while others prefer to be big and bold.
Jewellery that uses precious gems and metals has been used as a status of wealth since almost the beginning of time.
Only those with the money could purchase and wear jewellery, letting others know their importance and rank in society. It frequently served as a status symbol for individuals to show what class of people they belong to.
Even moving forward into the modern-day wearing of jewellery, gemstones such as diamonds, sapphire, and ruby are costly, making them a luxury that some people cannot afford.
Engagement rings and wedding bands are two classic examples of the use of symbolic jewellery in relationships.
It serves the purpose of showing the world that you are dedicated to one another. The ring’s circular shape is intended to demonstrate the never-ending love shared between the couple.
Outside of wedding and engagement rings, we also look to jewellery with meaning for other celebrations. For example, people often give jewellery as a gift to loved ones for a milestone birthday, anniversary, retirement, the birth of a new baby, and for good luck. It’s a gift that doesn’t perish and that can be kept forever.
One interesting use of symbolic jewellery in religion is the Claddagh. This historic emblem consists of two hands holding a heart in the centre. On top of the heart is a crown. The Claddagh symbolises loyalty, love, and friendship in family and friend connections.
A Claddagh ring reveals the relationship status of the wearer. A relationship is indicated with a Claddagh ring on the right hand with the heart towards the wearer’s body. An engagement is symbolised by the ring on the left hand, with the heart pointing away from the body. After getting married, the ring is kept on the left hand but is turned around, so the heart faces the wearer.
For many years symbolic jewellery has been used to wish someone good luck.
Bracelets adorning lucky charms such as a four-leaf clover, wishbone, and horseshoe are common to give on birthdays and in anticipation of significant events.
When a loved one goes on a big trip, they may receive a St. Christopher necklace. St. Christopher was the Patron Saint of Travellers, and it is therefore intended to offer protection to anyone who wears it.
Families pass jewellery down as an heirloom through the years. It’s an important way of remembering family members who are no longer with us, and wearing something that belonged to them helps to keep them alive in some way.
For many, it may also be the most valuable possession they own. A piece of jewellery can be worth thousands of pounds, increasing in value over time. It makes a wonderful legacy to leave a loved one that they can keep and continue to pass on to their own children.
The interesting thing about jewellery is that it’s unique in how it can be repurposed and made into something new. Passing something down as an heirloom allows that recipient to make it into something that suits their own style.
Throughout history, jewellery with meaning has been used as a form of payment or as a tool to trade with, even dating back to the trading of decorated shells.
Due to its often high value and expensive materials used in making it, it is universally recognised as being worth a lot of money.
Some cultures still use jewellery as a currency, and others hold onto precious pieces they have because of the amount of money it’s worth.
Jewellery has a long history of acting as a talisman and blessing the owner with good fortune. Swords and weapons would be covered in gems and gold plating to protect the wielder from harm.
In many cultures, people wear jewellery to feel safe or protected. One famous example is the evil eye charm. This piece of symbolic jewellery is thought to ward off bad luck.
Personalising jewellery yourself is a way of adding symbolism and sentimental value to a piece of jewellery.
One particular way people choose to personalise a piece of jewellery is by engraving a special message onto a watch or bracelet, for example. This is popular on special occasions such as for christenings, birthdays, and as wedding gifts between a future husband and wife.
People have also been wearing lockets for generations, keeping pictures of their loved ones close to their hearts.
While a piece of jewellery makes a beautiful gift, having it personalised for the wearer makes it extra special. It gives them something unique to them that no one else has.
● Anchor – an anchor is used to symbolise hope
● Crosses – crosses are used in religious jewellery and demonstrate a person’s Christian faith. It reminds them of their dedication to God and asks for His protection.
● Horseshoe – a horseshoe is intended to bring the wearer good luck.
● Evil eye – evil eyes in jewellery date back through to ancient times. They are said to offer protection from harm to the wearer. An evil eye is often accompanied by a hamsa which is said to also bring protection and happiness.
● Shamrock – wearing the image of a four-leaf clover, or shamrock is intended to bring the wearer good luck.
● Arrows – an arrow is thought to be a representation of love. They remind the wearer they have the strength and courage to move forward.
● Eggs – eggs are used as a way to symbolise fertility and springtime.
● Infinity – This figure-of-eight shape on its side symbolises infinity and represents the idea of something being long-lasting.
Jewellery is the perfect gift to give or hand down to a special someone in your life. It helps us remember people we’ve lost, and it’s something that stands the test of time.
Many families have had pieces of jewellery with symbolism passed down through generations. It is a way of keeping that person’s memory alive.
We hold a lot of sentiment in the jewellery we wear. Wedding and engagement rings are chosen with love and symbolise the everlasting bond between two people. Religious pieces such as crosses help the wearer to feel closer to God.
Because of the value, both monetary and sentimentally, of the jewellery that we wear, it’s a good idea to have it valued regularly and ensure it’s insured against damage, loss, or theft.
Here at TH March, our team of experts are on hand to provide you with specialist insurance for you and your loved ones can relax and cherish your special jewellery for many years to come.
TH March offers its customers access to elite levels of support. A dedicated claims handler will deal with your claims, easing the process for you. Get in touch with TH March today to discuss your jewellery insurance needs.