Jewelry can communicate ideas in a discreet and tasteful manner that clothing cannot. Through rings, necklaces, anklets, and bracelets, humans have conveyed values and beliefs throughout almost all of history.
Straightforwardly, one can sport jewelry with symbols that directly portray their meaning, be it a religious symbol, natural element, or name. Others are more obscure, requiring the knowledge of a group or club to understand the signal
This article takes a deep dive into the many meanings and symbols that jewelry takes on in different cultures and historical periods.
Symbolism Throughout History
The Victorian Era
The Victorian Era is remembered for its industrious boom, however, movements in jewelry, art, and culture remain prominent today. During Queen Victoria's reign from 1837-1901, she was known for numerous and extravagant jewelry pieces. Throughout the kingdom, Victorian jewelry symbolized high class and superior social status. Colored golden rings and brooches depicted natural motifs, often of flowers or leaf designs. Gemstones were crafted into unique pieces to display the wealth of the wearer.
The Romantic Period of this era, inspired by the young love of the Queen and Prince Albert, incorporated gold, pearls, coral, onyx, and diamonds in the natural motifs. Snakes represented protection and healing, whereas birds were the symbol of motherhood and security.
Amber, rubies, and emeralds were crafted into delicate rings, brooches, bracelets, and cameos of trees for wisdom and connection and plants for sincerity. Hair jewelry was common with cascades of diamonds depicting raindrops or flowers. Another popular symbol was the crescent moon, where the phases represent change and the Goddess Moon celebrates female empowerment. Later on, insect jewelry design emerged as women began to enter and succeed in politics, business, and academia. These bold designs reinforced strength and fortitude.
The significance of jewelry in Indian culture and religion cannot be overstated, not only as a show of beauty but of wealth, status, and faith. Jewelry is a celebration, a decoration of "self," and each piece has meaning. Each Indian gemstone holds a connection to tradition.
- Gold purifies as it attracts wealth, health and celebrates the feminine.
- Silver is a symbol of the Moon, honoring motherhood and fighting negativity.
- Copper is used to promote peace, love, and fertility.
- Diamonds, as predicted, are the symbol of success and love.
In Indian culture, a bride is decorated head-to-toe on her wedding day to guarantee a successful and happy future. Each piece connects tradition and culture. The Maang Tikka head pendant lies at the Preservation Chakra to indicate the bridal status.
A gemstone between the bride's eyebrows is seen as a door to her soul. Nose rings are for women of marrying age, seen as seductive and this pressure point can ease childbirth. Earrings promote health and protection.
The Mangalsutra, or bridal necklace, is placed during the ceremony when husband and wife are bound in matrimony. The jingling sound of bangles echoes the joy and laughter of the wedding day. Rings, or Haath Phool, are traditional symbols of commitment, love, and loyalty. Even toe rings and anklets are worn to attract positive energy. Red is a common wedding color to indicate new beginnings and attract prosperity.
Whereas many forms of jewelry hold a meaning unto themselves, the Hamsa hand originating in ancient Egypt denotes protection, power, and strength. Wearing a Hamsa pendant brings blessings and protects against evil energies.
In Chinese culture, symbols have been used for over 5,000 years to represent the hope for blessings and good fortune. Choices reflect status, wealth, loyalty, wisdom, and happiness. Artisans used sophisticated techniques to create jewellery with ornate filigree depicting plants and animals, the sea, the sun, and the stars.
By combining gold, silver, wood, and bamboo, jewelers paid tribute to not only emperors and empresses but nodded to their beliefs in the power of the supernatural. By far, the most important mineral used in jewelry-making was Jade. Confucius himself is said to have written that jade has the human attributes of intelligence and benevolence.
It was believed if you surrounded yourself with the symbols of your desires, your chances of success would improve. Fundamental wishes for good fortune and happiness were captured in bracelets and hair ornaments of bats. One could wear earrings of butterflies to attract joy, elegance, and young love. You could choose a cicada for immortality or fish for a happy marriage.
Different dynasties of ancient times adopted different patterns seen in jewelry to portray themes of enlightenment, mystery, promise, and beauty. The dragon, by far the most revered symbol, represented the emperor, seen as a supernatural link to good fortune and power.
The phoenix, who portrays the empress, is a symbol of good luck and opportunity. Jewelry is given as gifts, a catfish hairpin as a wish for a happy marriage, or a turtle pendant to ensure longevity and to generally bring wisdom or piety and repel bad luck. They were and are used as talismans against evil spirits. The symbols were found not only in rings and bracelets but in art, household goods, and clothing.
A More Modern Meaning
Today, where anything is for sale, consumers can obtain mass-produced costume jewelry just as easily as one-of-a-kind artisan pieces with the click of a mouse. The world is an open book, with the opportunity to learn about foreign traditions and mysterious cultures from our living room. Modern jewelry choices send an immediate visual message to the beholder.
The wealthy have the luxury of displaying their wealth and social status on their wrist or their earlobes. Stunning jewelry, with large diamonds in exquisite settings, is one way of showing the world their success. Advertising their wealth not only fortifies their feelings of self-worth but helps to network and build connections. It surely represents a level of financial elitism that many cannot emulate.
The wealthy use statement necklaces adorned with diamonds, flashy engagement rings, and name-brand charm bracelets to communicate that money is no object.
Others choose jewelry to show pride in their heritage and culture. Irish jewelry has Claddagh rings, Indian Hamsa necklaces, and Native American wampum celebrate not only their homeland but can reflect status, religious beliefs, or dignity.
Jewelry passed down through generations holds immense sentimental and cultural value. Family heirlooms are often cherished and worn as a way to preserve and honor one's heritage. These pieces serve as a link to the past and evoke a sense of connection to one's ancestors. This is common in the form of engagement rings, lockets, and signet rings.
Jewelry can also give information regarding your status or association with a certain group or class. In a secret society or fraternity, members may wear rings, pins, or other jewelry pieces with unique symbols that represent their affiliation and denote their social standing within that group. Engagement rings display one's marital status and earrings can reveal one's sexual orientation.
Jewelry choices reflect individual aesthetics and fashion preferences. Whether someone prefers minimalistic pieces, bold statement jewelry, or a mix of different styles, their selection of jewelry communicates their unique sense of style and helps them express their personal tastes.
By wearing unique jewelry, individuals can communicate their originality and differentiate themselves from others. Custom-made or handcrafted jewelry can be a way to stand out and express individuality. These pieces often possess distinct designs or incorporate personal elements that reflect the wearer's personality, interests, or unique thoughts.
You can attract attention, send a message, and provide yourself comfort with an amulet of protection. Jewelry is a way to bring happiness through self-expression.
Rites of Passage
Throughout history, jewelry has been used to mark rites of passage and important milestones. Rings have been used for millennia to celebrate unions and loyalty. A nose ring is worn in India to symbolize marriage and the energy of the reproductive system. A gold quinceañera bracelet can commemorate womanhood in the Latino culture. These examples showcase the excitement and tradition.
Symbols are used in jewelry in almost every religion to transcend our earthly body into having more meaning with the essence of the universe. The Star of David pendant at a bar mitzvah. A cross necklace at first communion. Most religions offer some protection in the form of jewelry and the symbols represented.
Christians hold the leaf as a link to healing or hope. Islam adopts the star and crescent, and Buddhists' symbol is the Dharma wheel. Catholics use and hang beads to facilitate prayer and symbolize their commitment. Hindu culture cherishes the om symbol, wearing om pendants and healing gemstones to symbolize oneness with the universe. These symbols represent what the wearer believes and can offer comfort and fortitude.
The eye motif is one of the symbols found across cultures and contexts. Considered a sign of protection, evil eye pendants are often worn to ward off negative energy. The eye can also be a symbol of spiritual awareness and intuition, giving wearers the ability to tap into their gut instincts and inner wisdom.
Lotus jewelry often carries symbolic meaning relating to the process of life and rebirth out of adverse situations. Renowned for its ability to emerge pristine and pure from murky waters, the lotus can signify resilience, grace, and perseverance. Because of its association with spirituality, the lotus may serve as a powerful symbol of one's spiritual path, devotion, and connection to the divine. Wearing a lotus pendant can be a reminder to seek inner balance, align with one's true self, and find harmony in life.
Hands in a protective or blessing gesture, such as the Hamsa hand or the hand of Fatima, are worn as symbols of protection against evil and negative energies. These hands are believed to ward off harm, bring good luck, and offer blessings to the wearer.
Hands holding each other or a heart symbolizes love, romantic or familial, and connection. Such pieces may be gifted as a token of a bond and caring for one another.
Birthstones & Zodiacs
Each month of the year has a corresponding birthstone that carries with it attributed meaning. For example, January's stone is Garnet, a deep red gemstone. Garnet symbolizes love, loyalty, and commitment.
Zodiac signs refer to the positioning of the stars and planets at the time of one's birth. Many people proudly display their zodiac signs via zodiac pendant necklaces and rings, communicating their connection to the attributed character traits.
Hearts in jewelry signify the obvious: eternal love, romance, and affection. Given as a gift, jewelry with hearts is exchanged between partners as a symbol of endearment or a reminder of the commitment they've made to one another. Hearts in jewelry can symbolize strong friendships and close bonds. Heart-shaped jewelry pieces are exchanged between friends as a token of their connection and to celebrate the strength of their platonic relationship.
More often than not, letters are worn to represent the name of a romantic partner. A girl may buy a necklace with the first initial of her loved one to show them how committed she is to them. It also makes the wearer feel connected to their better half, even when not physically together (as well as displaying her status as not married but not available).
Flowers have long been associated with femininity and fertility. Floral jewelry can symbolize feminine qualities, including beauty, nurturing, and the power of creation. Different flowers carry specific meanings and sentiments. Jewelry featuring specific flowers can convey messages such as love, friendship, gratitude, or remembrance. Roses are symbols of love, lilies are symbols of purity, and daisies have an innocent air to them. Throw on a pair of flower earrings to exude femininity and elegance.
At Shana Gulati, each ring, necklace, and bracelet contains a deeper meaning of its own. Behind the shimmering diamond mosaics, each of our pieces has lived a life in a prior form, getting a second chance to "wow" by being repurposed. Beyond this, traditional jewelry-making techniques are used, ensuring each piece is assembled to last.
We incorporate healing gems, spiritual symbols, and aspects of Indian heritage, crafting modern jewelry with the power of ancient wisdom. Combining the allure of fine jewelry with the values of a sustainable business, Shana Gulati Jewelry adds a modern touch to traditional craftsmanship by creating sustainable, wearable art.