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="https://valthegemgal.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/gameofthronesdragon.jpg" alt="Daenerys with her dragons (image courtesy of HBO)" width="505" height="284" srcset="https://valthegemgal.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/gameofthronesdragon.jpg 1600w, https://valthegemgal.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/gameofthronesdragon-300x169.jpg 300w, https://valthegemgal.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/gameofthronesdragon-768x432.jpg 768w, https://valthegemgal.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/gameofthronesdragon-1024x576.jpg 1024w, https://valthegemgal.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/gameofthronesdragon-610x343.jpg 610w, https://valthegemgal.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/gameofthronesdragon-1080x608.jpg 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="https://valthegemgal.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/the_hobbit_the_desolation_of_smaug_1920x1080_by_sachso74-d7sr1wl.0.0.jpg" alt="Smaug from The Hobbit" width="503" height="335" srcset="https://valthegemgal.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/the_hobbit_the_desolation_of_smaug_1920x1080_by_sachso74-d7sr1wl.0.0.jpg 1200w, https://valthegemgal.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/the_hobbit_the_desolation_of_smaug_1920x1080_by_sachso74-d7sr1wl.0.0-300x200.jpg 300w, https://valthegemgal.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/the_hobbit_the_desolation_of_smaug_1920x1080_by_sachso74-d7sr1wl.0.0-768x512.jpg 768w, https://valthegemgal.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/the_hobbit_the_desolation_of_smaug_1920x1080_by_sachso74-d7sr1wl.0.0-1024x683.jpg 1024w, https://valthegemgal.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/the_hobbit_the_desolation_of_smaug_1920x1080_by_sachso74-d7sr1wl.0.0-610x407.jpg 610w, https://valthegemgal.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/the_hobbit_the_desolation_of_smaug_1920x1080_by_sachso74-d7sr1wl.0.0-1080x720.jpg 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="https://valthegemgal.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/cropDragon.png" alt="A dragon on parade" width="500" height="408" srcset="https://valthegemgal.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/cropDragon.png 1588w, https://valthegemgal.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/cropDragon-300x245.png 300w, https://valthegemgal.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/cropDragon-768x627.png 768w, https://valthegemgal.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/cropDragon-1024x836.png 1024w, https://valthegemgal.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/cropDragon-610x498.png 610w, https://valthegemgal.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/cropDragon-1080x881.png 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="https://valthegemgal.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/dragon.jpg" 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="https://valthegemgal.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/dragon.jpg 922w, https://valthegemgal.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/dragon-256x300.jpg 256w, https://valthegemgal.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/dragon-768x899.jpg 768w, https://valthegemgal.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/dragon-874x1024.jpg 874w, https://valthegemgal.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/dragon-610x714.jpg 610w, https://valthegemgal.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/dragon-1080x1265.jpg 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="https://valthegemgal.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Viking-brooch.jpg" alt="A mold and brooch of a dragon from the old Viking city of Birka" width="504" height="325" srcset="https://valthegemgal.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Viking-brooch.jpg 970w, https://valthegemgal.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Viking-brooch-300x193.jpg 300w, https://valthegemgal.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Viking-brooch-768x495.jpg 768w, https://valthegemgal.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Viking-brooch-610x393.jpg 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="https://valthegemgal.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/ArtNouveauDragons.jpg" alt="Some examples of dragon brooches in the Art Nouveau period" width="501" height="501" srcset="https://valthegemgal.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/ArtNouveauDragons.jpg 800w, https://valthegemgal.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/ArtNouveauDragons-150x150.jpg 150w, https://valthegemgal.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/ArtNouveauDragons-300x300.jpg 300w, https://valthegemgal.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/ArtNouveauDragons-768x768.jpg 768w, https://valthegemgal.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/ArtNouveauDragons-610x610.jpg 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="https://valthegemgal.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/NouveauDragons2.jpg" alt="More dragons from the Art Nouveau period" width="336" height="504" srcset="https://valthegemgal.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/NouveauDragons2.jpg 720w, https://valthegemgal.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/NouveauDragons2-200x300.jpg 200w, https://valthegemgal.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/NouveauDragons2-768x1152.jpg 768w, https://valthegemgal.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/NouveauDragons2-683x1024.jpg 683w, https://valthegemgal.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/NouveauDragons2-610x915.jpg 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="https://valthegemgal.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/sothebydragon.jpg" alt="An Art Deco dragon bracelet" width="330" height="502" srcset="https://valthegemgal.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/sothebydragon.jpg 564w, https://valthegemgal.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/sothebydragon-197x300.jpg 197w" sizes="(max-width: 330px) 100vw, 330px" /> An Art Deco dragon bracelet


<img class=" wp-image-5734 lazyload" src="https://valthegemgal.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/artDecodragons.jpg" alt="Note how sleek this bracelet is, typical of Art Deco designs." width="500" height="389" srcset="https://valthegemgal.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/artDecodragons.jpg 564w, https://valthegemgal.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/artDecodragons-300x234.jpg 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="https://valthegemgal.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Article_Historic-Pieces-Far-Eastern-inspired-jewelry_P-8.jpg" alt="Dragon clip, 1969, Van Cleef &amp; Arpels" width="501" height="282" srcset="https://valthegemgal.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Article_Historic-Pieces-Far-Eastern-inspired-jewelry_P-8.jpg 790w, https://valthegemgal.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Article_Historic-Pieces-Far-Eastern-inspired-jewelry_P-8-300x169.jpg 300w, https://valthegemgal.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Article_Historic-Pieces-Far-Eastern-inspired-jewelry_P-8-768x433.jpg 768w, https://valthegemgal.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Article_Historic-Pieces-Far-Eastern-inspired-jewelry_P-8-610x344.jpg 610w" sizes="(max-width: 501px) 100vw, 501px" /> Dragon clip, 1969, Van Cleef & Arpels


Bracelets with dragon’s heads seem pretty popular.


<img class=" wp-image-5681 lazyload" src="https://valthegemgal.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/dragonheart.jpg" alt="A beautiful dragon bangle with amethyst" width="500" height="500" srcset="https://valthegemgal.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/dragonheart.jpg 750w, https://valthegemgal.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/dragonheart-150x150.jpg 150w, https://valthegemgal.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/dragonheart-300x300.jpg 300w, https://valthegemgal.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/dragonheart-610x610.jpg 610w" sizes="(max-width: 500px) 100vw, 500px" /> A beautiful dragon rose gold bangle with amethyst (image courtesy of The Jewel Box)


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!

#china #dragons #motifs

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