Celtic Jewellery | Celtic Jewelry History
Ancient Celtic JewelryBetween 2000BC and around 500AD, the Celts devised a distinctive and easily identifiable style of celtic jewellery making that is still popular today. Using mainly silver and gold, the pieces would inevitably incorporate Celtic symbols, which were closely linked to Nature. However, it is the intricate patterns that give ancient Celtic jewelry its universal and enduring appeal.
The earliest examples of Celtic jewellery were neck torcs, a large ring that was worn as a necklace, and ornamental brooches. These classic pieces have been adapted over the centuries to suit prevailing trends, yet they still remain faithful to the original creations. Celtic warriors wore torcs in battle, and the twisted design was something of a good luck charm, as it was believed it would bring the wearer safely back from the battle. The torcs certainly offered no kind of physical protection, but as Celtic warriors wore no armour, perhaps the torc served its purpose as a good luck charm. The original design is still used today for neck torcs, but it is more often replicated in bangles, which are more practical in modern times.
Trinity Knot (Triqueta)
One common pattern used on torcs and vintage engagement rings was the Trinity Knot, or Triquetra, which is common on Celtic jewellery discovered all across the continent of Europe. This pre-Christian symbol was thought to have been a symbol of the Norse god Odin, before becoming associated with the Celtic Goddess, and it was later assimilated into Christianity. The tripartite symbol was a common element of Celtic mythology, and it also came to be associated with the Holy Trinity.
The Celtic Cross
This symbol is synonymous with Celtic culture and antique jewelry, and it originated in the British Isles, predominantly in Ireland. The Celtic cross represents the ascent, or the bridge of passage, between Heaven and Earth. It’s possible that the four arms of the cross represent the elements fire, water, earth and air, although this is not known for certain.
Celtic Knots and Spirals
Spiral motifs, step patterns and also key patterns pre-date the influence of Christianity on Celtic jewellery, art and culture. Prior to 450AD, when the Christian influence first emerged, these patterns were very common, and they even found their way into early Christian manuscripts, along with representations of animals, plants and humans. The Celtic Knot is also commonly referred to as the mystic knot, or even the endless knot. In artistic depictions of these knots, neither the beginning nor the end is visible, and so the comparison is made between the circle of life and the continuation of the birth, death and rebirth process, both in the physical and the mystical sense. A common design on mens rings. Most Celtic Knot designs are comprised of circles and symbols that mirror the mystery associated with the beginning and end of life, the endless knots hint at the continuation of existence that is common to all ages and is therefore timeless. Historians also believe that the knots and spirals used in Celtic jewellery represent the uninterrupted cycle of life, and the transition of the soul from one body to another until it attains Nirvana and becomes as one with the universe.
A History of Celtic rings - 1300 BC - 100 AD
As well as silver jewelry and gold, copper and bronze alloys were used to fashion Celtic jewellery, particularly for rings. The copper was a rich, deep plum colour. The ornamental knots and interlacing patterns that were used on the jewellery were also used to decorate manuscripts and monuments such as the famous Celtic crosses, as well as the stone slabs on which these crosses were mounted. Celtic artists would never fashion a knot with a visible ending, as they believed a pure knot should be never ending. This intricate handiwork is particularly prominent in Celtic jewelry. It should be remembered that the Celts were not one nation, but a number of tribes closely linked together by culture and language. The Iceni, Gauls, Galaecians and Celtiberians were just some of the many tribes who were widely respected for their artistry and their skills when working with metal. They were also hardworking and resourceful, the Celts in Central Europe suffered greatly under Roman rule, although the tribes in Wales, Ireland, Scotland and parts of France were largely unaffected.
Some Celtic chieftains would present rings to their best warriors. The ring thus became a symbol of the Chiefs trust, and a badge of office granting the warrior the privilege of speaking for the tribe on important practical and diplomatic matters. Patterns on the rings varied. One pattern was a distinctive geometric design, based on the Greek key design, which looked rather like a swastika with 6 arms. Other ring designs were variations on the sun disk, or solar wheel, and were a tribute to the Celtic Sun God Bel, sometimes called Belus. These designs were particularly relevant to the ancient Celts, and as a result, they featured prominently in celtic jewellery.