Jewellery can be far more than just an adornment, it can be desirable for many reasons. It’s worth considering aspects of this desirability to add colour to the descriptions of your characters and to spice up your plot. And because this is fantasy, you can also sprinkle it with magic. Here’s a little inspiration to help you along.
- An enabler of power – Some stones such as agate were considered to give the wearer strength and courage. But power can be loftier than this, for example what would a king or queen be without their crown, orb and sceptre? But in your fantasy writing you can definitely get creative with jewels of any kind to give your characters power beyond the ordinary. A jewel may turn you into a God, or lift your status from pauper to prince, or unveil a hidden past.
- Possesses magical or mystical properties – This is where you can have poetic licence from a fantasy perspective, but in the real world magical adornment has been around since ancient times and is usually very closely tied with the belief system or religion of the people involved. Of course if you go down the path of mystics, crystal healers and astrology it does tend to be tied to superstition and the dreams of the gullible, but it’s still worth considering such beliefs to tie into a fictional novel. Identify what magic you want the jewellery to provide and then decide on how to invoke it, for example you could simply wear it, crush it into a paste and spread it over your skin, swallow it whole or use it with a spell. Think of “Lord of the Rings” anyone?
- Provides good luck/prosperity… or the opposite – Symbols of good luck are worn across the world, such as talisman, charms, certain types of stones such as jade, religious symbols, etc. But there are also quite a few stones and pieces of jewellery that are considered to be bad luck, including opals (though it is a mixed history of good and bad luck for the old opal) and jewellery that has gathered bad luck since it was first crafted. In your stories you could truly turn that bad luck into something much darker and make it real.
- To protect – Amulets are a common form of protection from evil spirits, the evil eye or to ward off the devil, and can take many different forms including pendants, coins, scripts, etc. If your fantasy story has a historical setting, it’s worth adding a few little forms of protective jewellery that your characters can wear. Having a character kiss, touch or hold onto such a piece on a regular basis can help you to indicate their fear or anxiety without having to actually state it.
- Identify marital status or gender – Nose rings, toe rings, earrings, finger rings… if you want to marry it you’d better put a ring on it somewhere or other. In many cultures there are types of jewellery that can only be worn by a married (or unmarried) person, or by a specific gender. It’s worth borrowing ideas about jewellery from other cultures, as it can be more interesting than the ordinary.
- To indicate a spiritual role – Similar to denoting status or power, jewellery may indicate someone who looks after spiritual health. From ancient times a spiritual leader would have worn bangles, headdresses and necklaces to indicate their importance. But this tradition has continued into modern times and can be seen in the hierarchy of many major religions where the jewellery that is worn has spiritual symbolism or significance.
- To benefit health or heal sickness – In some parts of India a nose ring is believed to rid exhaled breath of poison, and wearing rings on specific toes aids regular menstruation and therefore helps conception. In the western world some people believe that wearing copper helps ease arthritis. Then you have all that crystal health benefit nonsense, but again because you’re writing fantasy you could turn your precious stones into something that truly does possess the ability to heal. It can provide an effective “get out of jail” card for an ailing character and something for other characters to find to save their sick friend.
- As a fastening – The Tara brooch is a beautiful piece of old Irish jewellery that must have been owned by someone of high status, but it was essentially a cloak pin. Similarly, jewels are worn in the hair to keep a hat or headdress on, or even to keep other jewels from being lost.
- To denote status – You would normally assume that if you’re dripping with expensive jewels you’re likely to be wealthy. But even one tiny, specific piece of jewellery described in the right way can provide all the information you need about a person’s status. I remember reading The Far Pavilions years ago, and one character wore an unusually shaped black pearl which very neatly expressed his importance and wealth without needing any other adornment at all.
There are all sorts of types of jewellery and adornment around the world: crowns, bracelets, rings, brooches, tiaras, armbands, various piercings, walking sticks, wands, pendants, lockets, necklaces, cameos, etc. Describing these types of little things add all sorts of subtle hints about a character. Imagine a character with 15 iron eyebrow rings and compare that with a girl wearing a single strand of tiny white pearls. You will achieve a successful mental picture for your readers without having to really describe the character too much at all, and that can be a very powerful thing.
I’ve set up a Pinterest board on this topic where I’ve started adding links about jewellery’s significance, symbolism, believed properties and beauty.