In honor of St. Patrick’s day, let’s explore Celtic jewelry. What makes it special and why does it feature prominently in my body of work?
With family from County Roscommon in Ireland and near Edinburgh in Scotland, Celtic jewelry is representative of my heritage. The beauty of jewelry is that it is personal and allows us to express ourselves, both in the creating and wearing of jewelry. Although my family began exploring new homelands in the 1770s, the Celtic jewelry connects me to my past and provides an infinite link.
Celtic Jewelry Themes and Distinctiveness
Celtic jewelry is easy to recognize by the thematic elements of uninterrupted lines, primal animal motifs, and contrast between positive and negative space. The Celts were travelers, ranging throughout Europe, Scandinavia, and the British Isles, and incorporated the worlds they moved through into their designs. Frequent themes are trees, animals, and the heavens, and later, crosses and the saints.
Celtic Infinite Heart Cuff Cast from solid sterling silver and accented by hand engraving.
Interestingly, the Celts and the Vikings were not only opponents in battle, but also closely related clans and cultures. Many of the elements of Celtic design are also present in Swedish, Danish and Norwegian artwork- which stands to reason, as the Vikings also had permanent settlements in the British Isles, and integrated into the Saxon, Celtic, Scottish and Mercian populations already living there.
While the Celts built permanent villages and farmed, they also developed sophisticated seafaring skills and technologies that enabled them to migrate in response to their needs for resources and safety. They were blessed with abundant fish, game, and fruit, and learned to farm wheat, rice, oats and barley. Many Celtic pieces, such as those featuring fish, deer, trees and vines, reflect their daily efforts to survive.
Infinity was an ever-present Celtic concern, and the uninterrupted lines and flows of Celtic designs represent themes of divine love, constant change, the cyclic timing of the natural world, and the elegance of trees and vines. After the Christian influx of the early Middle Ages, the Celts incorporated crosses into their artwork, and embellished the Christian symbols with their own line and animal designs. The celts understood God through the context of nature, and the resurrection of Christ was easy for them to adopt as a belief system, because the concept of death and rebirth was already part of their worldview.
The Celtic world was gray, green and brown, primarily, with pops of red and purple. Stones, rivers, oceans, trees, and berries influenced their ideas of beauty, as well as wildflowers like thistles, and the rich textures of wool and bark. They were simple and portable, but with an elegant understanding of interconnection.
Celtic Knot Drop Earrings
Genuine Malachite Center
Functional and Sentimental
Jewelry was particularly functional and durable, with stones featured prominently in pendants and brooches, and rings used as symbols of devotion and clan. Celtic women wore hairpins and barrettes, and the men wore thick bracelets as a symbol of status. Even children and horses were bedecked in pieces made of bronze, silver, iron, copper and gold. Jewelry was not only functional and beautiful, but also a form of portable wealth- and the Celts traded with the Romans, the Greeks and the Vikings, as well as Africans. Race was irrelevant to them, and they viewed the cultures of the world as equal in standing, the same way that both deer and bears were equal in the forest. Thus, Celtic designs were adaptable- the lines and flows were constant, but incorporation of non-Celtic motifs was common, such as lions, Egyptian ankhs, and Viking shields. There was no concept of cultural appropriation- everyone on the earth was a connected family.
In honor of my own Celtic heritage, I frequently make pieces based on Celtic themes and designs, and they’re always popular. Easy to wear, easy to recognize, and invariably interesting, Celtic jewelry can be worn by anyone, and the timeless designs reflect the fluidity of the Celtic universe. Everything changes, and change is the only constant. I hope you enjoy my Celtic pieces, and that this information makes them more appealing to you. Slainte!
Kati Brantley (Jewelry Artist) and Sophie Heinsohn (Contributing Editor)