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Traditional Jewelry Around the World

For centuries, members of each culture around the world have worn special clothing and jewelry to communicate status, religious affiliation, wealth, and other social factors.

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We may not realize what our own jewelry signifies. For example, in western culture it is common to wear a ring on the fourth finger of the left hand to indicate that the wearer is married. This tradition goes back hundreds of years—it was believed that wearing a ring on this finger would alleviate ailments of the heart.

Individual cultures have their own traditional pieces of jewelry, each with a unique history and significance to the wearer. From east to west, let’s explore jewelry from six of the world’s cultures!



The Samoan ‘ulafala may remind you of the widely recognized flower lei, common to many Polynesian cultures. But the ‘ulafala has specific cultural significance. It is usually worn by tulāfale (orator chiefs) during traditional Samoan ceremonies such as the ‘ava ceremony. The ‘ulafala was important in helping people at ceremonies identify a special guest, or social status.

The ‘ulafala is made from carpels of the pandanus fruit that have been painted red and strung together to make a necklace. Red is associated with high social status and makes the ‘ulafala hard to miss at ceremonies. It is unclear when the tradition of wearing the ‘ulafala began, but it is an important adornment in the Samoan culture.


Jinbu (禁步)

The Chinese jinbu is a piece of jewelry worn by ancient Chinese women. It was worn at the hem of the skirt and held two purposes. The first purpose was to weigh down the skirt, preventing it from being blown up past the wearer’s ankles. The second purpose was a show of etiquette: the jinbu made a small tinkling sound when the wearer walked. When the wearer walked too fast, the jinbu was loud and indicated that the woman wearing it had bad etiquette. The slower the wearer walked, the nicer the sound.

The jinbu was typically worn by royal or rich women, but eventually it became a popular piece for all women. Jinbu have been found all across China, from the Tang Dynasty (618–906 CE) all the way until the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644). Today, jinbu are not often worn by modern Chinese women.


Maang Tikka

Maang tikka is worn by women as a part of their bridal clothes. It is worn on the forehead where their hair is parted, and a small piece hangs down on their forehead.

Maang means “middle parting,” and tikka means “ornament.” The maang tikka represents the ability to control emotions and allows the wearer to tap into their concentration power. This power is said to help the wearer embrace the wisdom and the will to face their life’s journey.



Jewelry in Eswatini, previously Swaziland, is mainly made using beadwork and includes bracelets, anklets, and necklaces. What makes Eswatini jewelry unique is that they incorporate messages in the patterns of their jewelry.

The traditional ligcebesha necklace is worn by both men and women during Umhlanga (the Reed Dance) and during Incwala ceremonies. Traditionally, the beads show the image of a shield or the flag of Eswatini.


Claddagh Ring

In Ireland, claddagh rings hold a lot of symbolism. The image of the hands, heart, and crown respectively represents friendship, love, and loyalty. The claddagh ring tradition reaches back to the 17th century, though the exact origins are uncertain.

Both men and women wear claddagh rings, and how it is worn represents your relationship status. Wearing the ring on your right hand with the heart facing out indicates to people that your heart is open. Wearing the ring on your left hand with the heart facing you means that your heart is taken.


Squash Blossom Necklace

The squash blossom necklace of the Navajo people signifies wealth and status. For the Navajo, wealth is worn on their person, not hidden or saved away. The bigger the squash blossom necklace, the greater the status and wealth. These pieces of jewelry are made from beads and turquoise and are worn with pride.

Squash blossom necklaces are now sold to tourists, but on a much smaller scale. The squash blossom necklaces for tourists are made of the same materials but are often much smaller because they don’t hold the same cultural significance as they do to the Navajo people.

What’s in Your Jewelry?

The Samoan ‘ulafala indicates status and respect, the Irish claddagh ring represents how open your heart is. Each piece of traditional jewelry, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, has deep ties to the culture in which it originates. So, the question is: what history does your jewelry hold?