A Crux of Culture: How Jewelry Enhances A Culture’s History

A Crux of Culture: How Jewelry Enhances A Culture’s History

Ever looked at your own jewelry collection and wondered what each one represents to you? Some jewelry enthusiasts may realize that their jewelry collections are more than just precious stones and metals. Indeed jewelry and culture are very intertwined.

People wear jewelry for a number of reasons. It may be a personal choice, or something that has been part of a generation or a culture that you are in. Whatever the case may be for this practice, it would be interesting to contextualize it and see which reason may resonate with you.

How Jewelry Enhances A Culture’s History

Because jewelry and culture have existed as far back as anyone can remember, you may be participating in a practice that has held more meaning than you know. Check out how different cultures hold jewelry making and wearing, and how it may also apply to you.

Significance of Jewelry in Different Cultures

Today, many people wear jewelry for a number of reasons. Preference seems to be a big motivator when it comes to choosing a jewelry piece to wear. Others would wear these ornaments to make their fashion statement.

Even with the passage of time, many of these motivations for wearing jewelry continue. In fact, the relationship between jewelry and culture showcases the former’s significance even farther back in history.

Social status

Considering the use of precious stones and metals for a lot of jewelry pieces, it’s no wonder that they become a statement of one’s status. The higher one’s social status in the ladder, the more precious or sparkling the jewelry pieces become.

Apart from one’s wealth, engagement rings and wedding rings also tend to symbolize one’s social status. They signify one’s current relationships, and they can also come to embody the important aspects that a person has in his or her life.

Beauty standards

In recent times, women have been known to wear jewelry because they can enhance their overall look. They accentuate one’s personal fashion statement. Brooches fall under this category; they may not necessarily serve a functional purpose. However, they can become a big statement, be it a significant belief marker of one’s affiliations or a way to complete an entire outfit.

Rite of passage gifts

Some ceremonies in certain cultures depict one’s transition from one life stage to the next. Oftentimes, ceremonies use jewelry pieces as symbols to mark special occasions.

Simple but elegant jewelry marks some coming-of-age celebrations like one’s sweet 16. Mothers may give heirloom pieces to their daughters, like mother-daughter jewelry gifts that symbolize maternal bond and affection.

Cross pendant
As a major part of Christianity, cross-shaped jewelry come in various designs and sizes.

Ceremonial cornerstones

In earlier days, ceremonies often found important figureheads wearing jewelry pieces. These ornate pieces typically carry or add to the meaning of the rites that they participate in.

Even the act of passing down a jewelry piece from one generation to the next within families can be considered as ceremonies. These personal rites are seen as cornerstones of family traditions. A lot of heirlooms carry this meaning, which makes a lot of them priceless beyond just their antique value.

Entire cultures even have ceremonial rites that may be found solely in their culture. Indians tend to pass on jewelry onto their surviving families following their death. Other times, there may be some religious affiliations found in these connections. In Christianity, the cross symbolizes the turning point of the resurrection. Many believers wear a cross for ornamental purposes, but many more put a value on the jewelry piece as a symbol of their belief.


Regardless of culture, superstitions abound and they may be deeply-rooted in a culture. Hence, you may wonder “What is cultural jewelry?” and what types of jewelry fall under this category. Different cultures may have specific jewelry pieces that act as protective symbols.

Some individuals hang them on necklaces, whereas others keep these pieces almost as talismans on them. Some known jewelry symbols include the Tau cross, animal-shaped amulets, and gemstones like the hematite. Many people believe that these pieces could protect them from different sources of harm. At the same time, some pieces may also serve to bring good fortune to their wearers.

Practical uses

While most jewelry pieces can be seen to have more ornamental rather than practical uses, some were made for this latter function. During the times of the Romans, they used gemstones and fashioned brooches, which they used to secure their clothing.

During those days when barter was the primary means to exchange and acquire goods, some people traded in jewelry for specific goods. Beads can easily be traded for other wares of similar value.

Expression of affection

People say that diamonds are women’s best friends. This precious stone carries not only a high value, but also its notoriety for being a hard and durable gemstone. Its durability makes it the perfect gift that lasts for a long time. Jewelry may sometimes be used to show one’s relationship with another, or a way to give more sentimental gifts that can last for longer.

Some may see it sentimentally, such as the mark of one’s shared bond. Others may hold its practical value, such as being an investment that they want to pass onto their loved ones. In whatever way you may choose to highlight this value, what matters is that the recipient understands the meaning that lies within.

Important Stones And Materials Across The World

In discussing jewelry and culture, it’s notable that different cultures place importance on different symbols, especially in jewelry making. From religious artifacts to talismans and powerful amulets, know the symbols and what cultures believe each embodiment protects you from.


Jewelry from the Native American tribes tend to have either a touch or a theme of turquoise. The Navajo culture places a lot of significance on this gemstone due to its embodiment of health and happiness. Check out this RJH review if you want to see such a piece.

Turquoise jewelry
The Navajo uses a lot of turquoise in their jewelry as it is one of the valuable gemstones in their culture.

More than being a big part of their jewelry, turquoise can be seen in a lot of other functional Navajo pieces. Some place them in baskets or in strategic spots outside of their homes in an attempt to ward off evil. Because of its affinity with good luck, turquoise may also be found in their warrior’s possession to grant them strength and keep them safe in times of battle.


If you have always wanted to know “What cultures wear a lot of jewelry?” then it might interest you to find that Asian cultures may belong in this category. Many of Asian cultures’ facets tend to include jewelry, including self-expression, status symbol, show of wealth and power, and religious beliefs, among others.

Indeed, these cultures subscribe not only to the symbols and patterns of jewelry but also to the materials used to create them. No other culture has incorporated so much jade into their jewelry as Asian cultures.

This gemstone manifests luck, aptly naming it “The Stone of Heaven.” Chinese culture values gold, but jade appears to be priceless. It’s even a manifestation of prosperity.

The Asian philosopher Confucius even showed a fascination with the gem. It has starred in many jewelry pieces, and has been attributed with so many values. In some cultures, it has even become a symbol of hope.

Bead jewelry
Beads have been around for a greater part of history. Until now, it signifies creative expression and creative use of materials.


Almost every culture incorporates some form of beadwork into their jewelry. Yet for African cultures, they can symbolize the status of its wearer or act as currency. What’s interesting about this culture is how this jewelry symbolism gets used.

Beads may come from natural materials, and African cultures appear to be very knowledgeable about this fact. They made beads out of stone, ivory, and shells. Some African tribes also wove them into hairstyles, so they can represent their marital status in the tribe.


If you have ever wondered, “Is jewelry a cultural artifact?” then the quick answer is yes. Christians and non-Christians alike can recognize the religious symbolism that a cross carries. Christians tend to imbibe any cross-like image with the belief of protection for its bearer.

This may be the reason why many of them wear cross-shaped pieces, like pendants on a necklace like the one in this RJH review. Its closeness to the heart may be related to its protective powers, to keep one’s heart safe from temptation and to ward off evil spirits.

Tree of life

Be it for religion or life beliefs, the tree of life has come to hold a lot of meanings. Some value it for its symbol as a necessity and life; as seen in the Celtic culture. It represents balance, where different forces come together and become rooted in harmony.

In jewelry, some designers may incorporate other elements, including birds, other creatures, leaves, and even flowers. Some may make use of gemstones to add color and enhance the jewelry’s meaning to its wearer.

Dream catcher

Native Americans use dream catchers to trap nightmares for clearer nights and good dreams. They would weave these dream catchers and hang them on bedroom walls.

More cultures appreciated this element and made jewelry out of it. Its intricate design and meaningful symbolism embody a positive note and a carefree attitude for its owner.

Animal-shaped pendants and amulets

Nature and man have always coexisted in more ways than one. This coexistence can also be translated into the appreciation of jewelry, particularly in some cultures that have close interactions and an intertwined existence with certain animals in their element.

Thus, it’s not hard to find animal shapes linked to jewelry and culture. In fact, these shapes have served as elements to symbolize a variety of virtues. Some cultures may even provide an answer to the question “What does jewellery symbolize?”

Some cultures feature a range of symbolisms, from feathers to the actual representation of a specific animal. Others may go so far as to make use of certain natural elements, such as teeth or a carved rock, which they then transform into animal shapes that bear the meaning they want to manifest.

Infinity symbol

Originally a Tibetan concept, the infinity symbol looks like the Alphanumeric number eight on its side. Some tend to see it as a never ending loop, going around with no end. Because of this, some couples may use the infinity shape as a design for some jewelry pieces used to symbolize their love.

In other cultures, it carries the symbol of balance, due to its symmetry. Other cultures relate it to the concept of reincarnation due to the loop going between life and death.

Infinity symbol jewelry
The infinity symbol in jewelry makes for dainty designs with the right choice of precious metals.

Four-leaf clover

Of the more delicate and playful designs of jewelry from different cultures, one of the most distinctive may be the four-leaf clover. Originating from the Druids of Ireland, the clover supposedly helps anyone to see evil spirits as long as they had one on their person. It’s easy to find three-leaf clovers. However, one can only find a four-leaf clover for every 5,000 of the three variant.

Considering this lore, the four-leaf clover has become a symbol of luck and happiness. The Celtic charm often represents health, wealth, and fame.

Jewelry and Culture: Timeless and Boundless

Truly, jewelry and culture have been bound to each other since man learned to design trinkets. Jewelry pieces have come to symbolize different things in different cultures. Today, this tradition lives on and would probably go on as long as people appreciate the beauty and symbolism of these accessories.

Want to know more about jewelry and how it made a mark in history? Read “15 Carats of Fame: Famous Engagement Rings in History” to learn about the most popular symbols of love throughout time.