We can trace the roots of the designs in modern Celtic jewelry back to the earliest stone carvings in Ireland. Newgrange, Loughcrew and other Neolithic sites features our ancestors’ earliest artwork and continue to inspire designers and jewelers today. Their swirls and concentric circles evolved into Celtic knotwork, and their focus on nature continues with the tree of life and shamrock motifs.
Celtic jewelry first emerged in the early Bronze Age when people developed the tools and skills to mine and shape metal. Before people were able to make dainty chains, they wore different types of Celtic necklaces. The lunula was a flat crescent crafted from a sheet of metal and decorated with engraved patterns. Torcs were strips of bronze or gold twisted together into a thick semi-circle. Early metalsmiths created both necklaces and bracelets with this technique.
While the Celts loved personal adornments for their beauty and as status symbols, they also wore practical items. And these were beautiful too. Cloak pins and other types of clothing fasteners were an important part of their wardrobe. The Tara broach was a cloak fastener, many similar ones have been found in hoards around Ireland. The elaborate detail of these pragmatic items shows us that our Celtic ancestors were creative and didn’t miss a chance to add beauty to their everyday world.
Even these simple necessities made a statement.
The types of jewelry we wear today are different, but the love of elaborate detail and exquisite craftsmanship still set Celtic jewelry apart. Today’s pieces feature gorgeous, meaningful symbols from different eras of Celtic history. They make the same statements the jewelry our ancestors wore did about the interconnectedness of all life and the importance of love, faith and family.
Understanding Celtic Symbols
Since its earliest days, Celtic design has always focused on meaningful symbols. Even the most beautiful motifs have a meaning beyond simply looking good. From the detailed carvings found in Neolithic cairns to the intricate designs in the Book of Kells, Irish design traditionally makes a statement. Whether you are picking a signature piece for yourself or a gift for a loved one, understanding Celtic symbols helps you pick the most perfect piece of Celtic jewelry for the wearer.
Most important Celtic symbols used in modern Celtic jewelry
- Shamrock: The most well-known Irish symbol is this vibrant green plant. St. Patrick used its leaves to explain to the Irish how the Christian Trinity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit was both three and one at the same time. While it is everywhere on St. Patrick’s Day, Ireland’s national holiday, it is displayed with pride all year ‘round. You can see it on t-shirts, Irish jewelry and in the frothy head of a pint of stout or a cappuccino. The beauty of such a simple symbol is that it can be endlessly redesigned in different ways for different uses.
- Tree of Life: Dating back to ancient, pre-Christian Ireland, the Tree of Life is embodied with layers of meaning. The druids considered trees sacred. They met at oak trees, and they had an elaborate system of ranking for trees that was an important part of Brehon Law, their sophisticated legal system. The Tree of Life is a stylized image with the roots and branches stretching outward and curving to meet each other. This represents the circle of life, and the infinite renewal of itself through the seasons of the year. It symbolizes the stages of life – youth/ new leaves, adulthood/ branches and old age/ roots – as well as the connections between generations.
- Trinity Knot: Combining knotwork and the Celtic interest in the number three, this symbol can be seen as an evolution of the triple spirals of Newgrange. In a religious context, it can represent the Holy Trinity. But it has many meanings, including the infinite flow of time. The unbroken line’s three points can refer to the past, present and future. A defining feature of Celtic knots is that they have no beginning or end; this symbolizes eternity. This makes knotwork an excellent choice for Celtic engagement and wedding rings, where it represents a couple’s commitment to each other.
- Celtic Cross: Centuries old standing stone Celtic crosses have been preserved in places around Ireland including Clonmacnoise and Monasterboice. Their defining feature is the circle around the intersecting lines of the cross. Sometimes called a ‘solar wheel’, this circle has a few meanings. It can represent eternity, or it can refer to the sun. Pre-Christian Ireland tracked the sun’s movements carefully and celebrated them. Of course, the sun rises every morning so it could refer to the resurrection. Celtic crosses also feature detailed carvings, usually depicting Bible stories.
- Claddagh: Ireland’s most romantic symbol has a moving backstory. It’s named for the small fishing village in Galway that was home to its designer, Richard Joyce. He was captured at sea and put into servitude with a goldsmith in Algeria. While there, he designed a ring for the woman he loved back in Galway. The hands represent friendship, the heart love and the crown loyalty. When he gained his freedom, he returned to Galway and presented her with the first Claddagh ring. They wed, and her ring was so popular that Joyce went on to make many more.
Caring for Celtic jewelry is a way to connect to your roots and to the ideals represented by these symbols. Combining beauty and rich layers of meaning, it can be enjoyed every day and on special occasions. These symbols make a statement about who you are and what you value whether you wear them on a necklace or a pair of earrings.
When you are looking for the perfect gift for a woman you love, Celtic jewelry carries a message. It’s more than pretty. It can tell her how you feel about her or let her know that you see and support exactly who she is and where she comes from.