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Celtic Jewelry: Symbolism and Styles

A simple and elegant beauty to the symbols used in this type of jewelry that never goes out of style. If you have ever seen a knotwork ring, then you are aware of this type of jewelry in the style that it represents.


Between 2000 BC and 550 AD, the Celts used silver and gold to craft their jewelry. Archaeological studies have shown that the desire for Celtic jewelry reached as far as the Mediterranean.

Beautiful jewelry such as lunulae, collars, fibulae, torques, bangles and brooches were designed for the rich and noble kings and leaders of ancient Ireland.

Celtic artwork contains spiral, knotworks, animal forms and interlacing patterns. Celtic jewelry can be exotic and fascinating, and at the same time can be simple.

In 450 BC the Celtic artwork was brilliantly developed with swirling spirals and hidden faces of animals and human. Then the knotworks were introduced in Celtic arts in early Christian era. In late Christian era the Celtic artwork was used in gold, silver etc to make the finest jewelry.

Hallstatt is the first style in Celtic art that includes geometric designs. La Téne style includes leaf work and spiral designs. These designs specialize in developing faces which may appear and disappear. This is the cleverest method used in Celtic arts.

So what kind of Celtic jewelry was made in ancient times? In fact, the Celtic jewelry surviving examples are rings, bracelets, pendants, hair pin decoration and brooches, which  were found right across the Mediterranean so we know that the business of trade was successful for the lucky tribes who had a blacksmith.

The ancient Celts saw fire, which was used to make Celtic Jewelry, as a means that had transformation properties which would be the highest form of spiritual communication. On Celtic statues and art forms all around, they incorporated the design of three flames or sunrays on the faces of their deities, and on pictures of their clansmen and women. Great for woad design! These flames were drawn as three lines going up and outwards, fanning out on the forehead with the base of the three lines meeting at the bridge of the nose. Modern Druids are using this sign and it is called Awen. This might be something you'd like for the Celtic jewelry for your modern day clan.

The ancient Celts also honored the earth as their mother Goddess. They believed that when a kinsman/woman passed on, they had to be buried in a womb like cave facing west so that they would be reborn in the Celtic otherworld or Underworld. Some British and Welsh tribes call it the Isle of Avalon. But all Celts believed the afterlife continued on an isle across the sea. If someone you know has gone through a tough time, an earth symbol on their Celtic jewelry would be a great symbol to be reborn into a new phase!

Celtic jewelry also had creatures or animals. Celtic Totem animals were the earliest form of Gods. Gods changed into land areas where these animals came from, like the Salmon became a river Goddess and later, when males became more dominate, river Gods. When they were Christianized from 400's to 1700's CE, in more remote areas, these Gods became mythical beings like wizards, sorceresses, fairies, leprechauns and heroes. The air Gods became Sylphs. These come in the form of butterflies

Jewelry Styles

Knotwork is the most famous style in Celtic art. Trinity knot has three knots weaving through itself or through number of strips. Spiral style may look like swirls double, triple or quadruple designs. They are mingled with one another like the English alphabet S or C.

Zoomorphic is that style in which animal shape like snake, bird, salmon and lion are used. The birds will normally be peacock or eagle. The early Celtic artwork did not use the shape of dragon. However modern Celtic art uses dragon in its design. The animals are normally designed as twisted with one another and therefore it resembles the knot workstyle to some extent.

Maze style is just like spiral designs and step style appears like tiles. People are also designed in Celtic artwork with different hair styles and dressings.

Generally, the Celtic art styles provide some symbolic representation. Knotwork depicts the inter connectivity of life and human in the universe. Similarly the spirals define the personal spirit and it also determines the importance of holy sprits. Maze and steps style refers to  journey of life. In Zoomorphic every animal depicts one quality. Lion stands for strength, Snakes for rebirth, Peacocks for purity and so on.

The Celts normally displayed their artwork in metal. Celtic jewelry had minute designs which were the finest artwork of Celts.

Irish Celtic artwork is more famous than other countries in Europe. Though Celts lived in England, Spain and France apart from Ireland, Irish Celtic art has great impact all over the world. The Irish art combines the knots, crosses etc.

Celtic Crosses were the powerful symbols and so they are used even now in various art works. The Irish Celtic artworks reached its apex in the period of Vikings.

One of the most big features of celtic jewelry nowadays is the Claddagh Ring, wich comes from a modern design.  Feel free to read more about the Claddagh ring on my previous posts:



Related Sources:
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