Ever wonder about the meaning of jewellery symbols, motifs and signs? Humans have a long tradition of wearing jewellery to represent their faith or culture or as amulets for luck and protection. This article uncovers the most popular jewellery symbols we wear today, and their hidden meaning.
A birthstone is a precious gem that marks your month of birth. For example, below you can see a green peridot, which is the birthstone for July. Each birthstone has a unique meaning rooted in ancient beliefs. That’s why many people believe birthstones possess special powers, such as the ability to bring love or luck. Discover your birthstone here.
(See also star sign jewellery below)
Circle (See also ‘Ring’ below)
The circle is a universal sign that symbolises eternity, life, wholeness and perfection. It can also suggest the cycle of time or the orbit of the planets. Many people believe that giving someone a circle pendant symbolises eternal love. Of course, rings are the best-known jewellery circle symbols – read more about rings below.
The Claddagh ring is an Irish ring that features two hands that hold a heart which is crowned. The hands stand for friendship, the heart represents love and the crown means loyalty. The name originates from the village of Claddagh in Galway, Ireland, where the ring was created in the 17th century.
You may be surprised to see cocktail rings on this list, thinking they’re just fashion items. However, cocktail rings are a symbol of feminism, first worn by emancipated women during the American prohibition era. They feature large, showy designs and gemstones that make a big statement – for this reason they’re often referred to as stament rings. Read our full article on cocktail rings and their significance here.
The cross is a symbol best known for its association with Christianity. Therefore, many people wear cross necklacesas as a sign of their faith. However, some people also wear them as fashion accessories. There are several variations of the cross, and they represent different forms of Christianity:
- The Latin cross has a long vertical arm and a short horizontal arm
- The Greek cross has arms that are of equal length
- The Ethiopian cross has an elaborate design that represents everlasting life
- The budded cross has three rounded elements on each arm, representing Trinity
Apart from Christian symbolism, the cross can also represent the four directions; north, east, south and west; or the four elements of earth, fire, air and water.
Engagement rings symbolise love and commitment between two people, and their intention to marry soon. One partner usually gives it to the other during a proposal. Historians believe that engagement rings originate from a Roman custom: gemstone rings were a symbolic way in which prominent families sealed arranged marriages between young people who were to marry in the future. In 1477, the Archduke Maximillian of Austria was the first to give his bride-to-be, Mary of Burgundy, a diamond engagement ring. Read more about engagement rings here.
Evil Eye (See also Hamsa)
The Evil Eye is a protective amulet against evil forces. Typically, it is a single blue eye made from enamel or gemstones. It dates back more than 3,000 years, originating from ancient Greece and Rome. It is often seen in Hamsa jewellery – see more about Hamsas below.
The Fleur-de-lis is a motif of a lily with three petals. It is famous for appearing in the former French royal coat of arms – and its name comes from French, meaning ‘flower of the lily’. Similar to the Irish shamrock which also has three leaves, it symbolises purity, sainthood and the holy trinity. In jewellery, it is a beautiful symbol that looks especially attractive in necklaces.
A four-leaf clover symbolises luck. Just like the three-leaf clover, or shamrock (see below), the four-leaf clover also originates from Ireland. According to Celtic tradition, anyone who finds a four-leaf clover is destined for good fortune. The four leaves represent faith, hope, love and luck.
Hamsa (See also Evil Eye)
The Hamsa is a Middle Eastern symbol that represents the Hand of God. Many people believe it will protect them from ayin ha’ra, or the evil eye. Additionally, many believe it to bring luck, love and health. The Hamsa comes in different styles: a hand with two symmetrical thumbs, a normal hand with one thumb, or a hand with the evil eye on the palm. Hamsa jewellery is popular today both as an amulet and a fashion accessory.
The heart motif symbolises love. It can mean love both in the romantic sense, as well as affection between friends or family. The heart-shape goes as far back as the Middle Ages, but it gained significant popularity in Britain and Europe during Queen Victoria’s era when symbolic jewellery became fashionable. Today, it remains one of the most popular designs in jewellery gifts.
The infinity symbol is a mathematical symbol that looks like the number eight lying on its side. It has no beginning and no end. As its name suggests, it symbolizes eternity and things that never end. When you give it as a jewellery gift to someone you care about, it symbolises infinite love or friendship.
Initials are letters that stand for names. An initial necklace can represent your own initial, or you can wear it to symbolise your loved one’s names – such as your children, your sweetheart or a best friend.
The key represents several different concepts. For graduates, it is a symbol of knowledge and success. A key can also open doors, so it can symbolise freedom and opportunity. Keys also symbolise love – as in ‘the key to someone’s heart’. Giving someone a gift of a key really makes a statement, and it’s a special keepsake for the person who wears it.
The peace sign was created in 1958 by a British artist called Gerald Holtom. It represents the Navy flag signalling letters, N and D, which stand for Nuclear Disarmament. It was first used in 1958 by the Direct Action Committee Against Nuclear War during their protest march from Trafalgar Square. In the 60s it was adopted by the peace movement in the USA. Today, peace signs in jewellery are still fashionable, often expressing the pacifist views of the wearer.
A promise ring is given as the first symbol of commitment between two people who are in a romantic relationship. However, a promise ring does not signify a marriage proposal. Read more about the meaning of promise rings here.
Ring (See also ‘Circle’ above)
Like the circle, rings symbolise eternity. Today, this idea still defines engagement, wedding and eternity rings. Read our full article on the meaning of eternity rings here
There are other ring variations too, like Claddagh, cocktail, engagement, promise, trilogy, wedding and wishbone rings – see more about those above and below.
Shamrock (or Three-Leaf Clover)
The shamrock is the national symbol of Ireland. It was used by St Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, as a representation of the Holy Trinity when teaching his flock. It’s originally based on an earlier Celtic pagan symbol, the trinity knot. Read our full article on the shamrock, trinity knots and Irish trilogy rings here.
The star is a symbol steeped in hope and wonder. When we want to be inspired or encouraged, we say we ‘reach for the stars’. At some point, you may have made a wish upon a shooting star, hoping that the wish will come true. Stars in jewellery gifts symbolise guidance, motivation, encouragement and good wishes – or can simply be used to tell someone ‘you are a star’.
A special type of star symbol is the Star of David – see more about this below.
Star of David
The Star of David is a symbol of the Jewish people. It is also called ‘Magen David’ which in Hebrew means ‘Shield of David’. Popular accounts associate it with God who rules and protects people from six directions: North, South, East, West, Up and Down. The Star of David is also featured on the flag of Israel. When worn as a necklace, it is a sign of the wearer’s faith. As such, it can make a meaningful, inspiring and personal jewellery gift for Bar Mitzvahs and other special occasions.
There are 12 astrological signs, also known as birth signs, or signs of the zodiac. In order, they are – Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius and Pisces. They represent the stars that you were born under – and astrologists believe that your star sign determines your personal characteristics and destiny. A star sign pendant has personal meaning and makes a great birthday gift.
Trilogy Ring (Three-stone Ring)
To uncover the meaning of trilogy rings, or three-stone rings, we must first understand their evolution through Irish history. Their origin is a Celtic rune symbol called the trinity knot, a three-pointed design formed from three triangles. Later, the trinity knot evolved into the three-leaf clover, known as the shamrock. Today, modern trilogy rings simply feature three precious stones. These can be diamonds or coloured gems or a combination of both. The three stones in a trilogy ring symbolise the past, the present and the future. Read our full article on trilogy rings here.
Wedding Ring (see also Ring and Circle)
Wedding rings symbolise the union between two people who love each other. They are usually presented from one partner to another during a wedding ceremony which results in a marriage. Their meaning comes from ancient Egypt where the circle represented eternal life. Additionally, Egyptians believed that a marriage could not be interrupted by death, and would continue in the afterlife. As these two concepts came together, the Egyptians were the first to invent the wedding ring. Read more about wedding rings here.
Wishbone rings symbolise luck. The concept goes all the way back to the Roman Empire where it was customary for two people to pull on a turkey wishbone and the person left with the ‘V’ could make a wish. Much later in the 19th Century, the motif became fashionable with the Victorians who loved symbolic jewellery. Still popular today, wishbones are often worn as wedding rings or given as anniversary gifts. Read our full article on the meaning of wishbone rings here.
The Meaning of Jewellery Symbols – Which Is Yours?
Symbolic jewellery can help us express our faith or beliefs, or give a sense of protection. When given as as a gift, a symbolic piece of jewellery conveys our feelings of love and affection; like engagement rings or heart necklaces. Meaningful jewellery gifts can spark wonderful memories years later – and will always remind the recipient how much you value them.
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