Cultural Symbols Used in Jewelry and What They Mean

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Symbols and symbolism pervade virtually every area of our lives, in our choice of what we wear, and especially jewelry.  

Jewelry – with its shiny metal and jeweled components – is made to stand out.  

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The use of symbols in jewelry supports this aim by creating instance recognition or interest in the beholder’s mind. When deployed effectively, symbolic jewelry can be a focal point of admiration and discussion. It should always consolidate the overall ‘look’ you are trying to achieve.   

Let’s take a look at a list of popular symbols used in jewelry, what they mean, and why they’re so well-known.  

1. Infinity  

sterling silver infinity studs
Infinity studs with cubic zirconia. See it here. 

The infinity symbol, essentially a stretched and horizontal number 8, was first used mathematically in the 17th century, with origins stretching back further. It makes perfect sense as a jewelry item because its design is self-contained (you could literally trace your finger around its curves forever). This creates a strong association with love-themed ideals such as eternity and bonding. Being both unified in shape and without sharp edges, it is ideal for both men and women.  

2. Heart  

gold heart locket necklace
North start necklace. See it here. 

The most famous symbol of them all, the heart symbol – as used as an expression of love – can be traced back to the 15th century and has evolved to become the standard romantic icon (possibly in conjunction with enlightenment ideas of logic and emotions) in emojis, greetings cards, balloons and, of course, jewelry.  

While only a casual representation of a real heart, the symbol’s potency comes from its combination of soft, feminine curvature at the top, and pointed singularity at its base. This creates harmony when placed around the neck or on the finger. You can also shoot an arrow right through the middle. 

3. Birds 

sterling silver peace dove pendant
Dove pendant in sterling silver. See it here.  

The symbolism of our feathered friends is longstanding and varied, with different cultures and continents interpreting their own native birds in different ways. Birds signify flight and aspiration, whilst the dove especially represents spirituality and peace. 

In the West, the dove is a symbol of the holy spirit/life and of love and peace. The phoenix is a symbol of renewal carried over from Greek and Egyptian mythology, whilst swans, swallows, eagles, and robins also have their metaphorical place in our affections. Of course, flight and beauty typify most bird types, which makes them a popular option for jewelry.    

4. Hamsa Hand 

gold hamsa hand pendant
Hamsa hand pendant. See it here.

With origins dating back to both ancient Egypt and Biblical Judaism, the Hamsa ‘eye-within-an-open-palm’ has become ubiquitous throughout the world and in many major religions as a symbol for dispelling evil spirits and promoting health and well-being.  

As an article of jewelry, it works extremely well in necklace form or – featuring only the eye component – as a ring. The combination of hand and eye makes for a natural metal and embedded stone combination. 

5. Ankh 

ankh copper bangle
Copper ankh bangle. See it here. 

Originating in ancient Egypt, the cross-like symbol is distinct from the Christian crucifix both in origin (it predates the Christian version by 3,000 years) and design. The ankh has a looped element at its head that is, coincidentally, ideal for hanging on a chain or leather band. It is symbolic of life. 

6. Cross/Crucifix 

Sterling Silver Crucifix Cross Pendant
Cross pendant. See it here.  

Originally used as a means of execution, the cross has become synonymous with adherence to the Christian faith, as a symbol of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. A cross is synonymous with adherence to the Christian faith and is recognized amongst all denominations 

Abundant in Western culture and popular as an item of jewelry as an expression of belief across denominations, the cross is one of the most famous icons in the world. 

The crucifix is a cross with the image of Jesus on it – some believe it’s irreverent to wear the crucifix, while others find it an expression of their love for Jesus.  

7. Feather 

copper feather necklace
Copper feather earrings. See them here.

The symbolism of the humble feather is closely associated with the animal from which it comes. Freedom, escape, and spirituality are succinctly consolidated in the feather due to its pleasing shape and association with lightness, agility, and strength. It can also represent angels, whose themes of spiritual protection and eternity are represented in jewelry that signifies birth and death alike. 

8. Wings 

angels wings necklace
Wings necklace. See it here. 

Wings are more strongly associated with angels than a single feather, and with personal or projected ‘godliness’ and self-improvement, as well as being a way to remember a deceased loved one. They can also be a countercultural symbol (think Hell’s Angels) and are symbolic of aeronautical endeavors too. 

9. Star 

star dangle earrings
Star dangle earrings. See it here. 

Another extremely popular symbol in modern culture, owing in part to our love affair with movie and music ‘stars’. Originally an astrological symbol, a sign of divine provenance and protection, stars are central to both Hebrew and Islamic faiths, a fact you should consider before wearing one casually. 

10. Evil Eye 

evil eye necklace
Evil eye necklace. See it here. 

A simplified variation on the Hamsa hand (see above), the four concentric circles comprise the eye symbol, usually in blue, white, and black. It is used in jewelry to protect its wearer from (and to ward off) evil spirits.   

11. Lotus 

herrlich earrings
Lotus earrings with gemstones and gold. See it here. 

Rising from mud into an object of beauty and cleanliness makes the lotus a striking symbol of purity and growth. Because lotuses return to the murky water each evening and rise the next day, they are also emblematic of the cycle of life and of spiritual, as well as physical, rebirth, and resilience.  

12. Peace Sign 

turquoise peace sign earrings
Peace earrings with turquoise. See it here.

Originally a feature in the early campaign for nuclear disarmament, incorporating semaphore (flag) symbols for the letters N and D, the peace sign was quickly adopted by the counterculture movement in the ’60s (where it was generically associated with peace) and has since become firmly linked with a variety of sustainability and animal welfare movements.  

Its circular shape makes it a pleasingly holistic jewelry item, and the most politically potent item on this list. From a symbol of political activism to a general statement of peace, and back again, the peace sign has been a staple symbol of post-nuclear activism 

13. Yin Yang  

yin yang ring
Yin-yang ring. See it here. 

A Chinese philosophical symbol that counterbalances and interrelates opposing forces of good and evil, darkness and light. Owing to its circular shape and symmetrical imagery, the yin-yang makes a powerful and effective jewelry item, alluding to Eastern spirituality without being intrinsically attached to a formal religious view. 

Factors To Consider Before Buying Symbolic Jewelry 

Experimentation is at the heart of fashion, accessories, and jewelry, symbolic jewelry items are an opportunity for you to really consider (and celebrate) your beliefs and personality. 

While it’s unlikely that a discrete and attractive item that features one or two of the symbols above will cause offense, it may create confusion or uncertainty if you don’t understand some of the religious, philosophical, or political relevance of what you’re wearing.  

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So, know what your star, cross, or wings mean to you and to others, as this will add an extra dimension to the jewelry you choose to wear.  

Is It a Bad Idea to Mix Symbols? 

First and foremost, your jewelry should reflect your personality and – with symbols – your beliefs and ideals, so if mixing symbols is your thing, and if it won’t cause offense at formal or informal gatherings, then go ahead.  

That said, most jewelry is best when it’s on the subtle side, and while you might want to make a statement with the symbol you adopt, it’s better and more effective when done in an attractive way that compliments your whole wardrobe. 

Wrapping Up 

There is an endless array of symbols that can be turned into impactful and attractive jewelry items. The beauty of symbolic jewelry is that it can communicate powerful and personal meaning to others very quickly and can also act as a discussion point.  

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