Jewellery & Religion

How jewellery influenced religion
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History of jewellery is as old as religion itself. Since time immemorial both have symbolically complimented each other. From ancient Egyptians, Aztecs, Sumerians, Babylonians to Greeks and Romans,jewellery has been used in many ways in various religious practises and traditions. Used as a means to protect oneself from harm in form of Amulets to signify authority in form of Tiara or Papal ring or to remind people to remain immersed in the name of God via rosary beads, jewellery and religion have always walked hand in hand.

When Napoleon Bonaparte established the French Empire, jewellery became a diplomatic assertion of power. The papal tiara he commissioned in 1804 was partly a bribe for Pope Pius VII in exchange for attendance at his self-coronation. 

Tiara was adorned with precious stones, like Rubies, Diamonds and Emeralds. It had a 414-carat Emerald at the top.

Tiara commisioned by Napolean and designed by House of Chaumet in Paris.


Let us take a look at some of the ways in which jewellery is used in religion.

1. Prayer beads

Prayer beads, often known as a rosary, have been used since time immemorial in nearly all the religions. Muslim prayer beads known as misbaha or tasbih is composed of 99 beads corresponding to the 99 names of God in Islam. Whereas in Hindu and Sikh religious practises prayer bead known as mala is composed of 108 beads. Why they use 108 beads has different answers based on philosophical to mystical aspects. In Buddhism, the rosary has 108 beads along with a terminal bead called a sumeru, stupa, guru or Bindu which symbolizes the guru from whom the student received the rosary or mantra, paying homage to the student-guru relationship. It is never counted among the repetitions but used as a marker for as a start and end for a cycle. During the Middle Ages, rosaries were used by the priest in the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer. Known as paternoster beads, each strand consisted of 150 beads-every bead representing one Psalm.

The material used to make rosaries range from organic substances, such as bone, Amber to precious metals and gemstones.

image- google

2. Saint-Espirit

It is a pendant or brooch in the form of a dove with outspread wings. The bird has an olive branch or bunch of flowers in its beak and is often part of a large composition. Considered as a symbol of the holy spirit by Catholics it was popular in France during the 8th century. The pendant or brooch is still worn by many people across Europe or of the catholic faith and is made of silver, gold and gemstones studded in it.


3. Reliquary

It’s a box or a container that displays a relic—the material used to make the container reflects the importance of its contents. The substance housed may include sacred texts, remains of saints, such as bones, pieces of clothing, or some object associated with religious figures.

In Theravada Buddhism, relics are known as cetiya; one of the most significant is the relic of the tooth of the Buddha in Sri Lanka.

Relic containing tooth of Buddha in a temple in Sri Lanka


4. Sikh Kada

Its a bangle worn by all Sikhs symbolizing faith. Its more practical purpose was to guard the sword arm of the Khalsa warriors during battle when fighting with swords. Instituted in 1699 by the 10th master of Sikhs it is made of steel or cast iron. In modern time what started as a religious object has taken the form of jewellery where many taking to wear the Kada get it made in gold and diamonds.

Sikh kada (Bangle)

It was also historically used as a weapon in hand-to-hand combat.

5. Gaud

It’s a decorative pendant attached to the end of the rosary. They could be modelled as a crucifix or other small medallion with sacred images. An entire rosary could be composed of carved nuts of the religious subject.


In the above image, a smaller gaud at he end of rosary can be seen having a central, oval medallion of gilt silver with images of the seated Madonna and Child on both the front and the back.

6. Rings

Rings are also used as a symbol of affiliation to a group and act as a sentimental value making the wearer remember the virtues or importance of the institution he belongs to. 

In Christianity, rings have been worn by bishops & other clerics.

The ring of the pope is also known as the “Ring of the Fisherman”. The Pope’s ring has since become a symbol of papal authority. The origin of the ring design is inspired by Jesus telling St. Peter, who was by trade a fisherman, “I will make you a fisher of men.”

The Ring of the Fisherman is represented by a large gold ring with a round or an oval bezel.

Pope Wearing “The Ring of the Fisherman”

On the face of the ring appears the image of St. Peter in a fishing boat on the water; above him is the chosen name of the pope. Upon the death or resignation of a pope, the ring is broken.

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In Islam an aqiq/agate ring has religious significance as it is considered sunnah(tradition) to wear one. 

Silver ring made of Agate.Written in Arabic “Mohammad Rasool Allah” which means “Mohammad is the messenger of Allah”.

The prophet Muhammad wore a Carnelian ring set with Silver on his right hand. To this day many Muslims do the same, including both Shia and Sunni clergy.

A point must be noted here that jewellery made of gold is haram for men, in Islam.

7. Amulet

It’s an object believed to have some powers to protect the wearer from harm or danger. Amulets have symbols, texts,gemstones or some animal parts to enhance their magical/talismanic capabilities.

Berber Hamsa or Hand of Fatima. Image-









Followers of Buddha wore amulets strung on a cord worn diagonally across the torso. 

Whether religion legitimizes jewellery or jewellery legitimizes religion is  a conundrum but one thing is certain that both complement each other and both have been used to further each others authority and are inseperable part of human journey. It’s not uncommon to find pieces of jewellery on mummies that are excavated. In the world of living and dead ,jewellery as a means of protection was used by ancient civilizations thereby signifying the importance of jewellery in a man’s day to day life.


I'm a gemologist by profession...who loves everything about gems, jewels, and history....!!!!

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