The World of Pendants

Pendants are a specialized form of necklace, consisting of an item hanging or depending (hence the name) from a chain or filament worn about the neck. It's an obvious idea, so obvious that it probably goes all the way back to the original invention of the necklace, more than 75,000 years ago. The first pendant was probably a shiny rock with a hole in it that was just big enough for a braided piece of grass to fit through, or a big, flashy pierced mollusk shell. Of course, since then we've elaborated the concept nearly into unrecognizability, as we humans tend to do. After all, we've had a long time to do it.

Pendants can be made of just about anything, including shiny rocks of precious value like diamonds, emeralds, and pearls, or semi-precious ones like agate, topaz, and calcite. Teeth, ivory, bone, wood, ceramics, plastic, glass, precious metals, stone, shells, nuts, seeds, and basically anything a person can get their hands on can also be used. Lockets are special kinds of pendants where you can display photographs or locks of your baby's hair, and there are even little pendant bottles with threaded lids where you can hide precious or necessary items. Tools carried about the neck on lanyards, such as compasses, whistles, and knives, can also be considered pendants, but in this article we'll stick to the jewelry sense.

A popular style

Cultures all over their world have elaborated extensively on the theme of the pendant. In India, there are several popular styles of pendants, including the mangalsutra, a colorful pendant that almost all married women wear. In fact, wearing a mangalsutra has become a point of contention among some feminists, who insist that it is a symbol thrust upon women by their patriarchal society. Another popular Indian style is the thewa pendant, which is often worn with earrings of the same type. The intricate thewa jewelry is made by carefully layering gold leaf onto colored glass.

Worldwide, pendants are often made of gemstones, either singly or in settings of several or more. Carved semi-precious stones, such as jade rings, are favored as pendants in some Oriental cultures, and of course diamonds are popular everywhere. Pendants can be as simple as pierced and threaded coins, or as complex as thewa, or intricately carved stone, wood, or ivory.


In truth, almost anything can be made into a pendant. You could, if you wished, pierce a shotgun shell and wear it around your neck on a string; but it's doubtful it would catch on as the new fashion trend. Shark teeth, on the other hand, make quite interesting pendants, and so do shiny chunks of gold and silver, worked fragments of rock and wood, and carved animal byproducts like horn and ivory. When it comes down to it, types and styles of pendants are limited only to the human imagination, and remember, we're the ones who came up with the idea of a mythical godlike being in red who uses flying animals to delivery rewards and punishments to millions of children on one night of the year during the winter solstice. If we can dream up Santa Claus, is it any stretch to imagine the experimentation that led to the bewildering variety of pendants the world over?

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