Have you ever worn a piece of jewelry that you purchased solely for aesthetics, and found people staring at you everywhere you go? We’re not talking the kind of, “wow, what a gorgeous necklace,” type of a stare, it’s the judgmental, “WHY are you wearing that necklace?” kind.
Well, it turns out that the reason has less to do with your taste in accessories and more with appropriate representation. Many of the jewelry shapes we encounter day-to-day actually have a deeper religious, cultural, or historical context that is no longer common knowledge. Ignoring the symbolic meaning of your jewelry puts you in the same basket as people who wear t-shirts with captions in foreign languages that they don’t understand.
In this article, we will give you the 4-1-1 on the five most popular jewelry shapes and symbols so you can add a little more context to your accessorizing game.
1. The Palm - Hamsa
Commonly known as the hand of Fatima, or the hand of Mary, the design of the Hamsa depicts an image of an open palm with an eye at the center. It is believed that the Hamsa helps contain the evil eye, the gaze of a person who is jealous or envious of you and may intend to cause you harm. This is why the Hamsa is often paired with the talisman bead Nazar boncugu. It serves for protection against ill-intended bypassers.
2. The Tree (Of Life)
The first symbol of the Tree of Life dates back to 7000 BC. The Tree of Life carries a multitude of different meanings, most of which have a religious association. In Christianity and Islam, the Tree of Life is associated with the Garden of Eden and eternal life. In Buddhism, it’s thought that the Tree of Life is the very tree Buddha sat under when he first achieved enlightenment. In Judaism, it’s the tree that nourishes life; while Celtic beliefs have it that the Tree of Life is a connection to all parallel worlds - with roots in the underworld, the trunk in the mortal world, and branches in the heavens. The Tree of Life appears as a staple jewelry symbol of alternative fashion trends, not necessarily adjacent to the transcendental religious belief.
3. The Peace Sign
Designed in the 1950s, and still a staple in many wardrobes today, the peace sign’s first appearance was as part of a campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, with the initials of the phrase embedded as the inner lines of the circle form a mirroring “N”, while the outer circle formed a mirroring “D”. The simplicity of the design, which is also reminiscent of a human stick figure on a globe, became the central symbol of the hippie movement and synonymous with the term as we know it today - “peace”.
4. The Heart
Unlike the previous examples, the symbolism of the heart shape isn’t embedded in religion or cultural movements, instead it’s simply the human representation of anatomy based on limited knowledge. Doesn’t sound so romantic now, does it?
One theory suggests that the heart symbol has the peculiar shape of two bumps with a pointed bottom because that’s an approximation of what reptilian hearts look like. Mind you, dissection of humans for educational purposes was a cultural and religious taboo, so assumptions on human anatomy were heavily based on animal dissection. Later on, as the heart started being romanticized as the epicenter of love in the human body, the symbol persisted.
Today, we can see the anatomically-incorrect heart shape on anything symbolizing love: Valentine’s day cards, stickers, and even jewelry pendants. You have to admit, it’s way cuter without all the muscles and veins!
5. The Feather
In ancient Egypt, the feather was ascribed to the purity of the soul - if one’s heart after death weighed more than a feather, they were deemed too sinful to go to paradise. In Native American culture, contrary to popular belief, the feather was not simply an adornment. The feathers of eagles were awarded to those who displayed an act of bravery, strength, or acquired great wisdom - making feathers representations of achievement. In today’s jewelry, we commonly see feathers in both their natural form or as metal replicas. They are mostly associated with the notion of the freedom of birds.
What kind of jewelry shapes do you like to wear? Have you ever investigated the meaning behind the symbols of your own jewelry? Sound off in the comments!