Talismans have told stories about their wearers for centuries. Ancient Egyptians wore sacred scarab amulets to represent regeneration and resilience, embodying the scarab beetle’s ability to survive in less-than-ideal conditions. In more recent history, ‘70s-era color-changing mood rings allowed people to get in tune with their emotions, find their center and meditate. Talismans, good luck charms, totems, amulets — whatever you personally choose to call them — can project what someone is experiencing in the present and wants for the future.
With experience in metalsmithing and jewelry design and as a Fine Jewelry & Watch Valuations Manager here at The RealReal, I’ve inspected thousands of pieces and delved deep into the history behind timeless motifs and luxury materials. I’ve learned that if you understand the meaning behind different symbols, not only can you find a precious piece of jewelry to empower yourself, but you can also interpret the hopes, fears and desires of those around you.
What does your partner, parent or best friend strive for in their life? What milestone events could benefit from the perfect gift? The knowledge and extra thought behind a piece of jewelry doesn’t just create gifts — it creates heirlooms. Read on for a rundown on talismans and their multifaceted meanings.
1860 Twenty Dollar Coin Pendant Necklace; 14K Coin Ring
Coins in jewelry are not simply intended to bring money to the wearer; they are a symbol of abundance, security and luck. Queen Victoria was a major proponent of symbolism in self-adornment and during her reign from 1837 to 1901, she established the tradition of giving a coin to a bride to ensure luck in love and a happy marriage. Many of us have heard the old wedding adage — “something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue” — but often the final part of this saying is left out: “…and a sixpence in her shoe.”
Coin jewelry often replicates currency from ancient civilizations, modern day legal tender and fabricated currency to match a designer’s aesthetic. Whether you’re planning your wedding or hoping for that raise at work, coin jewelry can symbolize the metaphorical wealth and abundance of love that accompanies a marriage, or help you keep your eye on the prize whilst working hard.
The Evil Eye
Ileana Makri 18K Diamond & Tsavorite Evil Eye Ring
Years ago, when I first received an evil eye bracelet as a gift, I had no idea what the symbol staring back at me was, and why I would need it. Considered for centuries and across many cultures as a talisman, the evil eye is said to protect the wearer from the malevolent glare of enemies. Though frequently referred to as the evil eye itself, the protective, pupil-like motif seen far and wide is known as a nazar. The evil eye is taken extremely seriously in various cultures and is believed to be a curse that inflicts everything from a stubbed toe to a multitude of unfortunate events on a person. It has been a part of myriad cultures for thousands of years, and is prominent in major religions such as Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism.
Wearing a nazar or evil eye symbol is key for those looking to prevent negative energy from coming your way. Understanding the protective qualities of the symbol allows you to then decide which design (typically round or almond-shaped) appeals to you most, and will help you incorporate it into your daily jewelry rotation.
I. Reiss 14K Diamond Hamsa Pendant Necklace; 14K Diamond Hamsa Pendant Necklace
Often hand in hand (excuse the pun) with the evil eye motif, the hamsa also protects against evil glances or ill wishes cast upon the wearer. This symbol is present in Islam (Hand of Fatima), Christianity and Judaism (Hand of Miriam) and can be seen spelled hamesh, hamsa, chamsa, and khamsa.
The symbolism of an open hand can also welcome new experiences and abundance. A hamsa with fingers pointing down is sometimes even considered a talisman for fertility. Many hamsas can also be found with an evil eye in the palm of the hand for added protection, as seen here. If you’re seeking a symbol of safety, wish to welcome a child into your life or are looking to bring all-around good energy to yourself, you should take comfort in wearing a piece of hamsa jewelry. And a touch of diamonds can’t help but elevate the look, especially if you often wear jewelry in a desk-to-drinks capacity.
The Moon & The Stars
Pasquale Bruni 18K Diamond Cielo Necklace; Christian Dior Vintage Diamante Crescent Moon Brooch
Celestial motifs arguably have the broadest range of meaning for the adorned wearer. While we often think of how stars and the moon can give us direction, stars also draw on a long history of myth and story. The Ancient Greeks isolated constellations and paired them along with their mythological stories, like a giant book in the sky that they could refer to at any time. Belief in astrological Zodiac signs persists to this day, and many take comfort in the guidance and personal profiles they provide (I myself am a proud Aquarius — the superstitious hippies of the Zodiac, if you will!).
The moon and the stars are not only a guide, though, but are otherworldly and mysterious. They are often represented in white metals such as platinum, silver and white gold, frequently including diamonds. Crescent moons, specifically, can be a symbol of growth due to how the moon waxes and wanes during the month. Another Victorian-era marriage and engagement tradition was to give a crescent moon to newlyweds or a recently engaged couple, as the crescent moon symbolizes that their love will “wax” into something more. It can symbolize the growth of something great. Moon symbols are usually represented in the aptly named moonstone, diamonds, sapphire and varying colors of gold.
The Four-Leaf Clover
Tiffany & Co. 18K Diamond Clover Key Pendant Necklace; Van Cleef & Arpels Vintage Alhambra Ring
The most common of lucky charms, the four-leafed clover can generally be attributed to the celebration of St. Patrick and Irish culture, but its history doesn’t stop there. Clovers can also be traced back to the Victorian Period, worn to help ward off demons, hardships and misfortune. During this time, they also served as a reminder of spring, renewal and growth.
Four leaf clovers only occur 1 in 5,000, and are perfect for letting a loved one know that they they are cherished and unique. One of the most famous collections utilizing this symbol is the Alhambra Collection by Van Cleef & Arpels. Designed in 1968, it was simply created as a symbol of luck to anyone who would wear it. The glamorous and fabulous Grace Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor and other icons of the golden age of cinema were avid fans of the jewelry house and could be seen wearing the design on numerous occasions. Choosing a four-leaf clover to wear is a great way to prepare for new beginnings, to strengthen yourself in times of need and to remind yourself of the power of your individuality.
Jennifer Meyer Diamond Wishbone Pendant Necklace
My earliest memories during Thanksgiving involved what seemed like an unusual tradition: breaking the turkey’s wishbone. Little did I know this tradition has its roots in 15th century Etruscan culture, when Etruscans would break the wishbone after a large feast to ensure prosperity, luck and fertility for themselves and their farmland.
While it is generally said that the person who breaks off the larger piece will receive all the benefits, having the wishbone motif in its whole form can represent possibility and hopes for the future. Wishbones are actually the etymological reason for saying “get a lucky break” when someone strikes it rich, makes it big or has great successes. It’s the perfect accompaniment for anyone taking the plunge with a career change, moving to a new place or hoping to grow their family.
Go forth and find your own talisman with our editors’ jewelry picks.