If you love to see the world, chances are you've picked up a piece of jewelry or two on your travels. Jewelry is used universally to embellish outfits and express personal style no matter where you are from.
Many cultures have a unique history around jewelry that's helped shape what is worn today. Historically, people have worn jewelry to represent their social status, family ties, and religious beliefs. Jewelry has even been used as a form of currency and a tool for protection. Whether it's a sentimental locket that's been passed down for generations or a practical watch to tell the time—every piece of jewelry has a story.
Let's explore a few countries to see what role jewelry has played in their past and present, and the best areas to pick up a special piece to remember your visit.
Cultural jewelry of Ireland
Ireland has a unique and rich history with jewelry, especially precious metal. Dating back from between 2,000 BC to around 550 AD, the Celts—who were gifted metalsmiths—created beautiful jewelry out of gold and silver. Historical records show that Celts would go into battle wearing nothing but jewelry to show off their athletic ability and status.
Traditional Irish jewelry is abundant with symbolism. One of the symbols most often seen in jewelry from Ireland is the Celtic knot. With three interlocking circles, the Celtic knot represents unity and eternal spiritual life. Today, you can find the symbol on many rings, necklaces and stud earrings.
Another piece of traditional Celtic jewelry that is still very popular today is the Claddagh ring. The design includes two hands wrapped around a heart. On top of the heart is a crown. The ring represents friendship, love and loyalty. There is evidence of the Claddagh ring dating back to the 1700s, with strong ties to the fishing village of Claddagh. In Irish tradition, the Claddagh ring is usually given as a gift and is often used as an engagement ring or wedding band.
Tips for buying jewelry in Ireland
Today, Celtic jewelry can be found all over Ireland from upscale department stores to souvenir shops. Our tip is to head down The Wild Atlantic Way, a 2,500km route through Ireland's spectacular coastline. There you find quaint coastal towns with small boutiques and markets featuring celtic jewelry from local artisans.
Cultural jewelry of India
India's history with jewelry dates back over 5,000 years. In the Hindu religion, gold is believed to purify anything it touches, so in India you will find many ornate pieces using colorful gemstones and lots of gold! Indian yellow gold is known for its high quality and carat weight.
In Indian culture, jewelry is used as a source of financial security and denotes social status. Indian jewelry primarily falls under three categories, including bridal, spiritual and temple jewelry.
Every piece of jewelry worn by an Indian bride on her wedding day has meaning. Adorned from head to toe, wedding jewelry includes everything from anklets to her maang tikka, which is worn on the forehead. Bangles play a significant role in bridal jewelry for an Indian couple. Both men and women wear gold bangles to signify love and prosperity in their relationship. Indian brides also don a diamond or gemstone engagement ring, with the color of the stone representing her caste in Indian culture.
Tips for buying jewelry in India
Full of colorful jewelry and bright textiles, shopping in India is a visual feast. Jaipur, "The Pink City" is best known for being a great place to buy precious gemstones. Be sure to check out the Gem Palace, where they have been making and selling jewelry for royalty and celebrities for 160-years.
Cultural jewelry from Kenya
Kenyan jewelry places a heavy importance on family and tradition, with each piece telling a story about the cultural values of the wearer. Beads are an integral element of many tribes across the continent of Africa, but are specifically associated with Kenya's Maasai, Samburu, Turkana and Rendille tribes.
The beads used by these tribes to produce their intricate creations are usually made of bone, glass, horn, seeds, shells or stones. The color, shape and size of the beads vary based on their meaning. For the Maasai tribe, red beads embody bravery, and symbolize unity and community. White beads represent the milk of the cow, which is a staple in the Maasai diet and symbolizes nourishment. Blue beads represent the sky, which help nourish the cow by providing rainfall. In Kenyan jewelry you will also see the use of green, black, orange and yellow beads. These have various meanings to different tribes, but all of the colors meshed together tell a story of love and appreciation for family.
Tips for buying jewelry in Kenya
The open air Massai market is a globally recognized collection of rich African arts and crafts, and a great place to pick up authentic beaded Massai jewelry. These markets can be found all over the country of Kenya, but typically move around the city of Nairobi on different days of the week.
Cultural jewelry from Morocco
Moroccan jewelry is known for being striking and unusual. After the Reconquista in 1492, many Jewish silversmiths came to Morocco and shared their expertise in enameling, engraving, and filigree with their Berber neighbors. At the time, Moroccan jewelry was purely made of silver and sometimes incorporated semi-precious stones including amber, coral, and turquoise. Most Moroccan jewelry was combined with an amulet or ornament, thought to give protection against evil, danger, or disease.
One of the most common amulets found on Moroccan jewelry is the Hamsa. Also known as The Hand of Fatima, the Hamsa is a Moroccan-Jewish symbol featuring a hand with an eye in the center. The Hamsa is primarily used to ward off The Evil Eye, and any potential negative forces. You can still find the Hamsa symbol on modern jewelry all over Morocco today.
One of Morocco's most iconic jewelry pieces is the Berber necklace. Berber necklaces are orante pieces featuring heavy stones, beads and metals. Many are still made out of traditional amber, first seen in the 1400s. The Berber necklace is a staple piece of jewelry for Moroccan women at special events like weddings, engagements and baby showers.
Tips for buying jewelry in Morocco
When visiting Morocco, the maze of souks that line the streets of Marrakech are a must-see. In these souks you can purchase the chunky, stylish silver jewelry that Morocco is known for. Much of the gold jewelry is sold in the Jewish Quarter, or Mellah. Mellah is a city of artisans where you can purchase your gems directly from the craftsmen.
Celebrate global culture with beautifully unique jewelry
Purchasing a piece of jewelry on your travels is a special way to remember the unique memories you have made. Taking the time to learn about the customs and history behind your jewelry is sure to add richness to your experience. The stunning pieces you find on your journey are bound to be great conversation starters. What could be better than reliving your adventures again and again?