Modern Western-style wedding jewelry is usually gold or silver with diamonds or Swarovski crystals, but traditional jewelry pieces worn by our ancestors varied greatly around the world. In some countries massive gold necklaces, pendants, bracelets, etc were used; other brides wore coral, amber, and pearls; still other countries were world-famous for their beadwork. It’s wonderful how lovely vintage bridal jewelry looks, especially handmade adornments manufactured by the local jewelers. Here are a few authentic sets of Ukrainian wedding jewelry from the late 19th – early 20th century. They’re striking even for a modern eye.
These jewelry sets are museum exhibits. They’re pretty massive (for European jewelry tradition), eye-catching, and very detailed. Such adornments were used by brides in most regions of Ukraine in the 18th-20th centuries. After the wedding, a woman could wear such a set or part of it on special occasions to show off her wealth because, surely, these adornments were extremely expensive and highly valued.
There is information that some women wore one costly necklace (coral or Venetian glass) at all times, even when she went to work in the field. The explanation is surprising – if her house burned down while the family was in the field, the woman could sell her necklace and build a new house! The cost of one necklace equaled the cost of a house.
Usually, a girl gathered her bridal jewelry for years during her youth. Her parents, groom-to-be, future in-laws, and other relatives gifted her with jewels, and on her wedding day, she wore as many jewels as she could get, no matter if they matched each other. Sometimes, her whole chest down to her belly was covered with rows and rows of beads. The pieces we offer you here are simpler, but they still look marvelous.
The traditional shape of a necklace was that of a horseshoe. At the back of a neck, it was tied by a ribbon. And the rows of beads formed a U-shape. There is a reason for it – not because it’s more convenient to wear and not because they wanted to cut costs. This shape of an upturned horseshoe is a good-luck symbol, a symbol of wealth (a cornucopia of a kind), and a symbol of protection from evil.
And now, let’s look at each set and discuss them.
This wedding jewelry set consists of a large coral necklace and an elaborate silver pendant called “dukach”. There are 15 rows of coral beads. Note that two beads are adorned with silver decoration. A dukach is a pendant made from a coin and an intricate setting. It could be gold or silver, according to the wealth of a family. This particular pendant is silver and the setting is so elaborate! It is embellished with colorful (red, green, and blue) glass crystals – Ukrainian traditional jewelry practically never had precious stones, like rubies or emeralds or sapphires in them, only glass beads (or, rarely, semi-precious stones), simply because such jewelry item would be too expensive and no one would afford them. Another interesting thing in such folk jewels is that the setting varied from region to region and you could tell where a woman was from by taking a glance at her dukach pendant.
As we’ve said earlier, Ukrainian women got married in such jewelry and used it afterward on special days. But usually, they wore it only for a couple of years. And then, they gave the pieces to their daughters as heirloom jewels, so such necklaces and pendants were in the family for generations. An average woman gave birth to her children at the age of about 17-35, so when her oldest daughter became a bride herself and needed hew own wedding jewelry, the mother was somewhere around 35-40, and that was considered too old to wear such bright and dramatic jewels, so she just passed her bridal adornments to the next generation.
This wedding jewelry set looks less eye-catching, but it was rather costly as well. There are two coral necklaces – one made from smaller beads with one of them embellished with silver decoration and the second necklace made from bigger coral beads and adorned with ornate gold beads. A large silver cross sits on top of the necklaces and hangs from a ribbon around the neck. By the way, a lot of crosses and pendants were traditionally attached to a ribbon (often, a velvet ribbon) instead of a chain – it was typical.
This bridal jewelry set is extremely good-looking and expensive-looking. The coral necklace consists of large coral beads of irregular shape, which only adds more charm to it. Several large beads are embellished with silver decoration – you can see how elaborate it is. And the dukach pendant is charismatic and beautiful. The coin and its setting are silver, and it is adorned with gorgeous semi-precious stones (instead of usual glass crystals), so such a pendant would be more expensive than a lot of more common ones.
This wedding jewelry set is made from a combination of coral and silver. There are 15 rows of coral beads of different sizes. One bead has silver decoration. The lowest row of beads also sports silver coins of various sizes (coins of different denominations). And a cute silver cross on a ribbon hangs on top.