The idea that jewellery is magical, is not just something that most eight-year-old girls dream up when rummaging through their mother’s jewellery drawers. In fact, jewellery has been enchanting more than just little girls for more than just a few generations. If the Trustees of the British Museum are to be believed (and I am inclined to believe them), it has been coveted by girls, boys, mothers, fathers, warriors, kings, queens and village folk alike for around seven thousand years. And it seems that almost no religion or culture is immune from its charms.
Almost all Egyptian jewellery had some magical significance beyond its ornamental purpose. Jewellery was considered so protective that Egyptians literally took it with them to their grave. For example, the scarab was a very potent amulet signifying regeneration and was believed to help the deceased pass peacefully into the other world.
Ancient cultures that followed animism were also reliant on amulets to help them cope with the inexplicable forces of nature. Believing that negative events were the result of evil spirits in nature, they wore natural motifs to neutralise the spirits. For example, a tiger claw provided strength in the face of attack or fish would give fertility to counteract high infant mortality. In this way, jewellery was a just a natural by-product of the human instinct for self-preservation.
The famous warrior tribe of Nagas took this a little further. Human hair from their victims was a prize component of their own hair ornaments - the spirit of the victim was thought to energize the wearer and give them added vigour. Similarly, during the pagan period, women adorned themselves with the teeth of various carnivores such as wolf, bear and boar to boost their vitality.
In modern day eastern cultures, jewellery is also widely believed to have protective and enhancing powers. Although the exact purpose and properties varies from country to country, in both Buddhism and Hinduism, jewellery can be used to protect against malignant spirits or to help with good fortune and fertility. For example, Indian bridal jewellery is an incredibly important part of the marriage ritual – not just for appearances but because of the auspicious role of each piece; a nose ring is directly connected with the reproductive organs and enhances a woman’s emotional and romantic strength, while necklaces worn near the heart help control emotions and strengthen feelings of love.
Even in Christianity, jewellery has been used as a form of protection, even if not overtly promoted. Historically jewellery with the name of Jesus inscribed on it provided protection from all manner of evils while the names of the Three Kings were thought to be helpful against epilepsy or fever. Slightly more recently my mother even gave me a necklace with a Saint Christopher charm before I went backpacking at the ripe old age of twenty-two. I literally wore it religiously and can safely say I had an adventurous but harm-free trip.
But whatever your beliefs, you should wear jewellery that makes you feel the way you want to feel – powerful or playful, strong or sensual, good or great.
IMAGE: Miao/Hmong Silver Women's headress. Shidong Village Taijian Country, Giuzhou, China, 1920 - 1950. Worn by Miao/Hmong women for festivals and ceremonies. The coins portend wealth and the bells keep evil spirits away. Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences/Powerhouse Museum, Sydney Australia.
When it comes to making a fashion statement, you should always dress in a way that makes you feel fantastic. It's also lovely to get compliments on how wonderful YOU look rather than on just the pieces you are wearing.
So how do you choose items that bring out your best features? When it comes to statement earrings, the best way to create an impact is to ensure that you choose earring styles that suit your face shape and features. Find out your face type and tips on earring styles to complement you.
Why choose precious metals? Many of us wear our favourite jewellery day in, day out. This means that it needs to be constructed of materials that will stand the test of time and will be comfortable to wear. Silver and gold are particularly prized for their durability as well as their hypoallergenic properties. While jewellery made from base metals such as brass may be cheaper, these metals are less durable and much more likely to create an allergy. That's why it's important to look out for hallmarks, or metal "fineness" or "quality" marks when buying jewellery.