Feb
17
2009

What is meant by ‘authentic’ Celtic jewellery?

Torcs like these necklaces were worn 2000 years ago in Celtic cultures - photo by Helen Etheridge - CC-BY

Torcs like these necklaces were worn 2000 years ago in Celtic cultures. Photo by Helen Etheridge - CC-BY

Dictionaries say authentic means genuine, but how much does that help when browsing Celtic jewellery stores? A strict interpretation of the word would leave us nothing but ancient gold, silver, and bronze belonging to museums.

Many people choosing this kind of jewellery simply want pieces influenced by Celtic traditions in tune with their beliefs and tastes. Maybe something to celebrate Irish, or Scottish, or Breton heritage – or touching memories of a place they once knew.

For some, Celtic arts and crafts are full of mythological or mystical meaning. Perhaps they are interested in Irish legends, early Christianity in Ireland or western Britain, or older pagan religions. Other people enjoy Celtic music, languages or cultural history, and appreciate related decorative arts.

To help you decide which jewellery passes your personal authenticity test, here are few things to consider.

Designs

Do you want a design copied from an ancient archaeological site – like the Newgrange triple spiral used on pendants? Or a design taken from medieval artwork? The Book of Kells has provided images for everything from bird ear-rings to knotwork wedding bands.

Distinctively Celtic designs like knot motifs or borders can be fitted to any shape of ring, brooch etc. These interlaced knot patterns with no beginning and no end have come to symbolise eternity for many people, though we cannot be sure that ancient Celtic peoples believed this.

Three-pointed knotwork and the triskele three-legged design have various interpretations, some mystical, echoing Christian (the Trinity) or pagan beliefs. Some of these designs are close copies of a historic original, while others are contemporary interpretations. It is unclear when the traditions about their symbolism began.

If you like legends, you could choose Celtic swan designs – recalling the Children of Lir story – or the Celtic cross design for the myth about Irish patron saint St. Patrick inventing it.

Some jewellery is described as a “replica” of ancient originals. Various versions of the Tara brooch are available, or you can buy silver miniatures of the large carved stone crosses found across Ireland.

A few people want a historically accurate style.  They should take a look at torcs (see photo) and large brooches like this.

Other considerations

Is it more “authentic” to avoid pieces mass-produced far away from anyone with any Celtic ancestry?

Some jewellery is actually linked with a specific place – for example, silver pieces set with marble from Iona or Connemara.

Do you want something made in Ireland, or Scotland, or by someone with Celtic roots?

Do you want it hand-made by an individual silversmith?

Claddagh rings cannot really be called Celtic, except in the very broadest sense of being strongly associated with Ireland.

If you still feel unsure what a jeweller means by “authentic” just ask!

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  Need research? Quezi's researchers can answer your questions at uclue.com

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