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  • Writer's pictureValerieBound

A history of dragons in jewelry

I bet you didn’t know that today is Appreciate a Dragon Day! Yes, indeed, every January 16th has been decreed (by who, I wonder?) to “encourage you to explore the cultural significance of the dragon in your society and history!” And so I will. But with a focus on jewelry, of course.

What is a dragon anyway?

Since dragons aren’t real, it seems a little silly to talk about what they are. But the creature who breathes fire and has wings and can fly is a really a more recent dragon. This one came about in the Middle Ages (approximately 1100s tp 1400’s). Think Game of Thrones, Middle Earth, etc. Or Puff the Magic Dragon. They like caves. And treasure. Sometimes they guard treasure.

<img class=" wp-image-5707 lazyload" src="" alt="Daenerys with her dragons (image courtesy of HBO)" width="505" height="284" srcset=" 1600w, 300w, 768w, 1024w, 610w, 1080w" sizes="(max-width: 505px) 100vw, 505px" /> Daenerys from Game of Thrones with her dragon (image courtesy of HBO)

But before the Middle Ages, dragons were essentially a big snake. Usually, sea snakes. Or sea monsters. Or sea serpents. Something scary.

<img class=" wp-image-5709 lazyload" src="" alt="Smaug from The Hobbit" width="503" height="335" srcset=" 1200w, 300w, 768w, 1024w, 610w, 1080w" sizes="(max-width: 503px) 100vw, 503px" /> Smaug from The Hobbit

Dragons from the East

I don’t know about you, but when it comes to dragons in jewelry, I tend to associate them with China. Like a lot of the images you see when they talk about the Year of the Dragon.

<img class=" wp-image-5706 lazyload" src="" alt="A dragon on parade" width="500" height="408" srcset=" 1588w, 300w, 768w, 1024w, 610w, 1080w" sizes="(max-width: 500px) 100vw, 500px" /> A dragon on parade

It turns out that Chinese dragons are pretty different from the typical Western fire-breathing meanie. First of all, they don’t have wings. Instead, they float or undulate through the air. And they’re nice. Playful. And typically red, which shows their energy and vitality. In Chinese culture, they’re linked to rain and water, and are a symbol of life, strength, and prosperity. Sometimes dragons are shown with a pearl in their claws or mouths. This symbolizes wealth, power, and opportunity.

Pretty cool, huh?

Ancient dragons in jewelry

This is one of the oldest pieces of dragon jewelry I found. It’s from three thousand years before Jesus. The pendant is Chinese jade. You can see it’s essentially a snake.

<img class=" wp-image-5684 lazyload" src="" alt="This pendant takes the shape of a dragon with a sinuous body grooved to resemble twisted rope. It illustrates the extraordinary talent and skill of early Chinese jade carvers, in whose hands intractable jade seems a supple and malleable material." width="428" height="501" srcset=" 922w, 256w, 768w, 874w, 610w, 1080w" sizes="(max-width: 428px) 100vw, 428px" /> This knotted dragon pendant shows the extraordinary talent and skill of early Chinese jade carvers. (image courtesy of the Met Museum)

I also came across this dragon brooch from the eighth century. This was the era of the Vikings, and they loved dragons too. They were carved into the bows of their ships, so I suppose it’s only natural they made their way into jewelry.

<img class=" wp-image-5719 lazyload" src="" alt="A mold and brooch of a dragon from the old Viking city of Birka" width="504" height="325" srcset=" 970w, 300w, 768w, 610w" sizes="(max-width: 504px) 100vw, 504px" /> A mold and brooch of a dragon from the old Viking city of Birka

I’m not sure why dragons, or the idea of them, go so far back in human history. Perhaps it’s because humans seem to have an innate fear of snakes. (Did you think it was just you? Nope.) Even in places where no snakes are around, people are afraid of them. That would explain why snakes and dragons are found in almost every single culture, all over the world.

Art Nouveau

The Art Nouveau period, from the late 1800’s to the early 1900’s, seems perfect for dragons. Art Nouveau was all about nature, and flowing lines. But it had plenty of fantastical elements, like dragons, women who had wings, and creatures who were half human and half animal. Not surprisingly, I found plenty of dragon pins in this era.

<img class=" wp-image-5722 lazyload" src="" alt="Some examples of dragon brooches in the Art Nouveau period" width="501" height="501" srcset=" 800w, 150w, 300w, 768w, 610w" sizes="(max-width: 501px) 100vw, 501px" /> Some examples of dragon brooches in the Art Nouveau period

The dragons from this period could seem friendly or menacing, but the overwhelming feature was how curvy they were. Again, Art Nouveau is all about using flowing lines to create something unique.

<img class=" wp-image-5726 lazyload" src="" alt="More dragons from the Art Nouveau period" width="336" height="504" srcset=" 720w, 200w, 768w, 683w, 610w" sizes="(max-width: 336px) 100vw, 336px" /> More dragons from the Art Nouveau period

Art Deco

Dragons also show up in the Art Deco time period. This was when the USA and Europe were absolutely fascinated with anything from China and Japan. We went crazy for cherry blossoms, dragons, lacquer, and other design elements. Art Deco is all about being sleek and white. Diamonds are prominent, as is platinum.

These bracelets are good examples of what I’m talking about.

<img class=" wp-image-5732 lazyload" src="" alt="An Art Deco dragon bracelet" width="330" height="502" srcset=" 564w, 197w" sizes="(max-width: 330px) 100vw, 330px" /> An Art Deco dragon bracelet

<img class=" wp-image-5734 lazyload" src="" alt="Note how sleek this bracelet is, typical of Art Deco designs." width="500" height="389" srcset=" 564w, 300w" sizes="(max-width: 500px) 100vw, 500px" /> Note how sleek this bracelet is, typical of Art Deco designs.

Modern Dragons

Today, you can have a medieval looking dragon, a cute cuddly dragon, or a bearded dragon. You can have one that’s scary or not. There are bracelets, necklaces, earrings, and everything in between. Want to emulate Khalessi from Game of Thrones? They even have dragon jewelry inspired by the show! Major jewelry houses have done dragon jewelry, like Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels. And so have major jewelry designers like Lalique and Fouquet. You can buy a dragon bracelet at Nordstrom’s.

<img class=" wp-image-5724 lazyload" src="" alt="Dragon clip, 1969, Van Cleef &amp; Arpels" width="501" height="282" srcset=" 790w, 300w, 768w, 610w" sizes="(max-width: 501px) 100vw, 501px" /> Dragon clip, 1969, Van Cleef & Arpels

Bracelets with dragon’s heads seem pretty popular.

Now I’m a fan

I have to admit, before I did this post, I wasn’t a huge fan of dragons. But now, I have a new appreciation for them. I guess it goes to show there may be something to these quirky holidays after all!

What about you? Do you have any dragon jewelry? Do you want some now? Check out my Pinterest board for even more pretty dragons!


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