Hawaiian culture is wonderful. It’s much deeper than you see from the first glance. And Hawaiian clothing and jewelry traditions can easily surprise you. For example, did you know that Hawaiian traditional metal bangles with engraved text and patterns originate from 19th-century England? Of course, before that, Hawaiian people used authentic jewels and adornments (made from natural materials, like wood, seashells, beads, etc), but these metal bangles became a large and significant part of the local culture and heritage. They’re not just baubles, but lovely jewelry pieces that tell a story.
The history of Hawaiian traditional metal jewelry is a bit unexpected. First of all, the concept originates from 19th-century England. In the late 1800s, the Hawaiian queen and princess went to England to celebrate the jubilee of queen Victoria. They received very special gifts from the English court – metal bangles with engravings on them. When the queen and princess returned to Hawaii with these jewels, the local women liked the bangles so much that everybody wanted to own similar pieces. So, the Hawaiian queen ordered to produce such bangles but with distinctive Hawaiian features and gave them as presents to her court.
Since then, the design, jewelry techniques, and appearance of Hawaiian jewels have changed somewhat, but the memory of English inspiration of them still lives. That’s why you usually see English or even old English letters in engraved phrases on Hawaiian folk jewelry. Today, traditional Hawaiian jewelry is often still handmade. These items are unique and they show off the typical Hawaiian features (patterns, engravings, symbols, etc). You can tell from the first glance that this is a Hawaiian jewelry piece.
What jewelry items are typical for Hawaii? What do they traditionally wear? These are bangles (they’re extremely popular among the locals), pendants, rings, necklaces, etc. Old heritage jewels are usually made from natural materials, but the pieces considered Hawaiian traditional jewelry today are, most often, metal. They’re practically always embellished with engravings, sometimes enamel is added to these engravings to make the text stand out even more.
Oftentimes, Hawaiian jewels are special because they tell a story of a family. For example, people order custom-made items with the patterns of flowers their grandmother used to love or with names of their ancestors, etc. These bracelets are not just pretty adornments, they preserve the family heritage, traits and facts about the closest relatives, and so on. Thanks to such engravings, people can remember their ancestors long after their passing away and transfer this knowledge to the next generations.
Modern Hawaiian jewelers are so special because they’re very flexible as to what pattern they can put on the item you order. They produce handmade jewelry, so you can widely choose the look of your bracelet or necklace or another piece. Unfortunately, these jewelers usually are older people because the young generation of jewelry makers use computer-designed machine-made jewels more and more often – it’s simply easier and faster than hand-engrave a piece, but at the same time, such items are not as unique as handcrafted jewels.
More than that, when you’re working with a Hawaiian jeweler to create the one of a kind piece of jewelry, you’re not just ordering or buying it, you participate in the creation of a pattern, you communicate with the blacksmith, and sometimes even do some of the engravings with your own hands. So, when the piece is ready, you feel the connection to it because you took direct participation in the process of its creation.