When you put Hawaiian and jewelry in the same sentence, the tendency is to think of floral leis or necklaces made of the tiny puka shells found on the island of Niihau. However, there's a lot more to Hawaiian jewelry than that. In the mid 19th century, gold bracelets given to members of Hawaii's royalty started the Hawaiian Heirloom Jewelry craze. Not as commonly found on the United States' mainland as in the islands, it's still possible to come across these gems in a pawn shop. Below you'll find a bit of history about these Hawaiian treasures, as well as general descriptions of the pieces along with their typical engraving patterns.
Queen Victoria of England Started It
It all began in 1861 with a grieving Queen Victoria of England, mourning the passing of her husband, Prince Albert. At the time, she and the other royals were required to wear black mourning attire. That mean ostentatious jewelry awash with diamonds, rubies, and other flashy stones were not appropriate. Most of the country was clad in black for the duration of the mourning period.
Jewelers came up with a sedated, yet fashionable alternative to all those sparkly jewels to keep the Queen and those of means still looking good. Simple one-piece, circular bangle-style bracelets were carved with English scrolling patterns, making them more suitable for the upper classes. Black enamel was used to highlight the whorls and swirls, perfectly accenting the yellow gold. Eventually, the bracelets were personalized with the wearer's name in black.
At the same time, England had quite an interest in Hawaii during a good part of the 1800s. In 1887, both Queen Kapiolani and Princess Liliuokalani were invited to England to attend the Golden Jubilee celebration for Queen Victoria, who gave each of them their own personalized bracelet. The pieces were a hit. When the two alii, or royals, returned to Hawaii, they commissioned bracelets for other members of the royal family.
General Jewelry Description
Today, Hawaiian Heirloom Jewelry is made of yellow and white gold, as well as silver. The original gold bangle bracelets are still popular, but the scroll work designs and black enameling are also used on rings, pendants and earrings. Pint-sized bracelets for keiki, or children, are also found. Most pieces have the customized lettering, but it's possible to find items with the scroll work only.
Types of Engraving Patterns
Four of the most common engraving patterns include:
This design is closest to that introduced to Hawaii via Queen Victoria. The carving is ornate, done in a neo-classic style and having an assortment of whirls and swirls. The bracelets sometime include a carving or two of plumeria flowers, but rings tend to have just the fancy scroll work.
The fragrant plumeria flower is the one of Hawaii's favorites for making leis. If you're given a traditional lei greeting, chances are these are the blooms gently draped around your neck. The plumeria scroll work design mimics the lei design, carving a row of stems and leaves accented by the precisely placed flowers.
Maile Leaves and Flowers
Maile leis are often found at weddings. The fragrant vines are a brilliant green, often woven into open ended leis, with or without the smallish white flowers. The maile leaf and flower bracelet is carved as a single vine with a row of leaves on either side, complemented by one or two small flowers. It is one of the least "busy" of the carving styles, embracing the simplicity of nature.
Satin Scroll Work
The satin scroll work pattern is more contemporary. Clean-lined like the maile leaf design, it is more of an abstract take on the liana vines that grow up and around the trees in a Hawaiian forest. The design is set against a background of brushed satin gold, creating almost a 3D effect.
You can buy Hawaiian jewelry and other valuable items at pawn brokers and other jewelry shops.
I have always been someone who loves to look great for work, but about six months ago I was surprised when a coworker pulled me aside. She talked with me about how loud my jewelry was looking, and she explained that more than a few clients had complained about it. I realized that she was right, so I started looking for classier pieces of jewelry that very day. It was incredible to see how big of a difference a few small shopping trips made. Check out this blog for great information about choosing beautiful, simple jewelry that you will love forever.