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Jewelry Blog: Gold
Symbolism in Jewelry
One attribute that differentiates humans from other animals is our ability to understand symbolism. Symbols have been an important aspect of jewelry virtually since the first proto-human put a string and a shell together, and symbols remain an important motif in today's ornamental wear. One symbol often used in rings, earrings and pendants is the Claddagh -- two hands holding a crowned heart between them. This Irish symbol has come to represent a range of affiliations, from friendship to marriage. Jim Morrison, legendary singer of the 60's band The Doors, helped popularize the design as a wedding band. The elements are said to represent love, friendship and loyalty. While the design originated in the 1600's, it is no doubt an extrapolation of earlier motifs. The name comes from the Irish village of the same name.
 claddagh gold cross pendant
Another popular design is the Celtic knot, either as a raised pattern on a sold background or as intertwined gold threads without backing. The design can be traced back at least as far as monk's illuminated texts such as the Book of Kells dating back to the 8th century.  As you might expect, the knot motif has always been associated with attachment and devotion, and therefore is often used in wedding bands. Artisans continue to enjoy pushing the boundaries of intricacy with the knot design. A favorite extrapolation of the knot theme is the ribbon and bow, a festive design that is particularly appropriate for holiday wear.
Continuing on the Irish theme, another design often given in friendship is the clover, or shamrock. The three-lobed design hearkens back to St. Patrick's conversion of the Irish in the 400's, when it is said he adopted the shamrock to represent the Holy Trinity.

A design that transcends any single country is the heart, familiar to us all as the ultimate symbol of love, as well as a container for fine chocolates. The heart as the foundation of human qualities, both good and not-so-good, can be traced back to the earliest passages of the Bible, and plays an equally important role in other ancient religions. The fact that our heart symbol does not really resemble the human heart has led some to propose that it represents Eros, the love bound with fertility. A less complex interpretation suggests it derives from the outline of a kissing couple.

Religious symbols have always been popular in jewelry. In the west, the cross has been cast and forged into innumerable variations. Other symbols such as the yin-and-yang of Zen Buddhism, representing the harmony of the male and female principles, are also common themes for rings, pendants, bracelets and earrings.

Finally, we see a number of designs based on nature. Flower rings, with the delicate petals of roses often reproduced in pink gold, are particularly attractive. Interwoven vines or wheat berry designs are the perfect ornamentation on running designs such as bands or bracelets.

The joy of symbol jewelry comes from the understanding that the giver intends the recipient to understand that his regard, devotion, friendship and/or love is as immutable as gold. Quite a message from such a small but pretty gift!
Posted by Tom B at 6:16 PM - Link to this entry  Share this entry
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