Tribal Jewelry or Ethnic Jewelry?

There is something about Tribal Jewelry that speaks to just about all of us. Not many things are common to all cultures, but wearing jewelry seems to be one of them.  It does not matter if  you are talking  about prehistory or present times…people like to wear jewelry.

Just what is Tribal Jewelry?

Tribal Jewelry refers to handcrafted jewelry pieces that are made and worn by indigenous people, and not mass produced for sale to others.  Tribal Jewelry often holds special meaning and significance to the people making and wearing it – including unique symbolism, identification of social status, and not surprisingly as a source of wealth.

What does Tribal Jewelry look like?

There is no one-look for Tribal Jewelry, since the styles, materials, and construction vary from group to group.  Some pieces may be as simple as a garland of flowers and twigs placed on the head, while others are exquisitely detailed with extreme precision and elegant beauty.

PicMonkey Collage

Tribal Jewelry does have a few elements that distinguish it almost at once, however. The designs are frequently not symmetrical, which may be intentional or simply convenient.  Vintage and old pieces may have stones missing, broken sections, and even debris from being spread out on the ground when they were sold.

Most pieces have an age patina, which is a warm darkening of the surface that can only be achieved over time (many try to reproduce it with new jewelry, but it is not the same).  Having lived through many lives over many years, some Tribal Jewelry becomes individualized as each wearer adds their own flourish.

A delightful thing about Tribal Jewelry is that it was often worn in multiple ways.  A necklace might be worn as a headpiece or part of a belt, a large clasp becomes a pendant when placed on a ribbon, multiple rings can frame the face when threaded with locks of hair, and so forth.  Finally, Tribal Jewelry generally tends to be larger and more exuberant than contemporary jewelry, with some of the larger pieces weighing up to a pound (0.5 kg) or more.  See more on Tribal Jewelry…

Ethnic Jewelry vs. Tribal Jewelry

Ethnic Jewelry on the other hand is usually new jewelry that is made to look like Tribal Jewelry.  Its style is often streamlined by removing a little of the chunkiness and imperfections found in true Tribal Jewelry.

People who like their jewelry polished, yet still somewhat large and perhaps symbolic are particularly fond of Ethnic Jewelry. Because most ethnic jewelry is mass produced and not handmade, prices are generally lower and availability is higher.

??????????????Some Ethnic Jewelry is wonderful at capturing the tribal essence, others not so much.  Bollywood Jewelry with its lavish design is great at retaining the opulence of ancient Mogul tribal traditions.  Many jewelry artisans in Nepal are equally skilled at replicating old Tibetan and Himalayan tribal pieces for general consumption.

The quality of Ethnic Jewelry can differ significantly among manufacturers, even when using the samTurkish Jewelrye design.  For example, contemporary Ottoman Ethnic Jewelry from Turkey is far superior to copies of the same jewelry made elsewhere.  Still, Ethnic Jewelry is a great every-day alternative for Tribal Jewelry lovers.

What has been your experience with Tribal and Ethnic Jewelry? Which do you prefer? Let us know in the comments section, we’d love to hear.


So sorry, the  Coupon Code for March 2015 has expired – Please see more recent blog posts and your Tribal Muse subscriber emails for any active Coupons that are currently available. Many thanks, Andrea @ Tribal Muse.