Jewelry Culture and Symbolism around the World

While jewelry nowadays is often associated to style and fashion as a way to adorn the body, it has also significant meaning and symbolism in different cultures around the world. 

Roles of jewelry in cultures

The history of jewelry is long and goes back many years, with many different uses among different cultures. As jewelry progressed through the ages, many of the purposes and symbols remain important.

The most common purposes of jewelry include:

  • Wealth security:
Valuable pieces of jewelry can be an investment for the owner even today but most cultures have had the practice of keeping large amounts of wealth stored in the form of jewelry.
  • Currency:
  Alternatively, jewelry has been used as a type of currency or a tool for trading.
  • Status Symbol:
Jewelry often represent a person's social status. People of higher social status or wealth usually own and wear more valuable jewelry.
  • Religion:
Jewelry can also symbolize a particular position within the religion or a group membership, as in the case of the Christian crucifix or the Jewish star of David.
  • Relationship:
A popular purpose for jewelry among the cultures is to represent relationships, as a marker of a personal status. Wedding bands and engagement rings are examples of this type of jewelry.
  • Protection:
Jewelry has a long standing tradition of serving as a talisman or an amulet to provide protection, to bring good luck and ward off evil.
The importance of Beaded Jewelry
Nowadays beads are frequently used in jewelry's fashion world, but they play as well a significant role in many cultures around the world.
  • Africa:
Beaded jewelry in Africa dates back thousands of years indicating a status symbol and affiliation with a particular tribe. African beads traditionally are made of organic materials such as stones, shells, amber and ivory bone. In Kenya beads were made of ostrich eggs.
  • Massai:
In Massai culture, beaded jewelry was used a way to show social status and age. For example, a long blue beaded necklace indicates that a woman is married.
  • Greece :
In Greek culture, a string of beads known as komboloi or worry beads are used to pass time, for relaxation or as an aid in meditation. Unlike the similar prayer beads, worry beads have no religious or ceremonial purpose.
  • Ancient Egypt
Egyptian beaded jewelry often consisted of several strands of beads and gemstones gathered together to form wide collars. Only a particular group of the higher class could wear certain styles of necklaces such as the pharaoh, higher officials, the priest class and even the dancers associated with the goddess.
General Jewelry Symbols 
Many symbols show up frequently in jewelry and these are often traced back to the Victorian era. In an age of complex manners and rules, Victorians used symbolism to speak a secret language. Horticulture was also an obsession during this period, which resulted in the integration of many plant elements into jewelry design.
Some symbols in Victorian jewelry and their meanings:
  • Anchors:
Images of anchors often represent hope. Because of the great importance in navigation, the anchor was regarded as a symbol of safety.
  • Crosses:
Crosses often appear on all types of jewelry as a sign of the Christian faith. People wear them to declare their faith and beliefs.
  • Arrow:
Is thought to represent love. Arrows also serve as a reminder to have the strength and courage to move forward.
  • Coiled Snake:
In Victorian jewelry coiled snakes represented eternity.
  • Key: 
A key is a symbol of authority or the power to unlock something.Is it often representative of the key to one's heart.
  • Dragon:
The dragon represents force and strength and is thought to provide protection and prosperity.
  • Bats:
Bats carry a message of happiness, good luck and longevity.
  • Butterfly:
The butterfly symbolizes beauty, joy and elegance.
  • Evil eye
Evil eyes have been a part of jewelry since ancient times. They are said to protect the wearer from people who want to harm them.

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