The cross is an enduring symbol meaning many things, used by multiple cultures around the world for centuries. The cross necklace is nearly as old; archaeologists have discovered personal cross ornaments from as early as the 8th century BC. However, it was after the birth of Christianity that the cross really came into its own, as a symbol, and as personal jewelry.
Christian Cross Necklaces
The Christian cross necklace is a popular choice for many, be they adherents of the religion or not. It comes in many varieties, the most common being a gold cross pendant or white gold cross necklace. Others may find this ostentatious, and decide on a sterling silver cross necklace, steel cross necklace, wood, and so on. The interesting part is the sheer variety of styles of cross necklaces available, some of them obviously evolved from different cultures, and some from the dictates of fashion.
The two main distinctions are whether the Corpus (body of
Christ) is present on the cross necklace. When the Corpus is present, the pendant is usually referred to as a Crucifix pendant; if not present the necklace is usually called simply a cross pendant.
Wearers of Crucifix necklaces are often Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Lutheran practitioners, whose religious tenets place greater importance on the presence of Christ than the symbol of the cross itself. However, this is not a hard and fast rule.
Another popular variation is a cross pendant made from multiple colors of gold. Yellow gold, 14k white gold, and 14k red gold (aka rose
gold) are combined to form a two-tone cross pendant or a multi-color cross necklace. The minority color (often red or white in a yellow gold
setting) is usually reserved for the Corpus, or parts of it (e.g.
the shroud, the crown of thorns). However there are several variations for the off-colored parts, including a knot center, a Claddagh, a dove/Holy Spirit, or even something as whimsical as hearts (usually reserved for youth pendants and baby cross necklaces). Some of these combinations are very eye-catching, and the metal-smithing involved draws upon recent innovations in metallurgy, jewelry construction, and gold-filling/plating.
A recent trend is the Nail Cross Necklace or Nail Crucifix Pendant.
The cross is formed from two (or more) nails arranged perpendicular to each other, usually with a wire or crown of thorns centerpiece. There are many styles, but in general the crudeness of the nail is meant to emphasize the brutality of Christ's experience on the cross. People who wear Nail Crucifix necklaces are generally younger, and some view the Nail Cross as being in bad taste.
An older example is the Anchored Cross aka the Mariner's Cross necklace, which evolved from a combination of ancient heraldry and the customs of sailors. The Corpus may be present, but in certain non-denominational configurations it usually is not. While they are found in gold, most contemporary Mariner's Cross necklace wearers prefer harder, more workmanlike materials, and instead prefer sterling silver, stainless steel, and (rarely) platinum pendant settings.
Celtic and Gaelic Crosses
The Celtic Cross is a popular pendant to hang on a necklace, but for a variety of reasons. Christians often use the long Celtic Cross necklace to demonstrate their beliefs, but the cross's intricate knotwork also appeals to the fashionable. There are also many Celtic Crosses that are Greek cross styled (all arms are the same length) which generally do not have any Christian religious significance, but are occasionally used by the neo-pagan movement. The most popular metal for Celtic cross pendants is a mix between a yellow gold Celtic cross necklaces and the sturdier sterling silver Celtic cross pendants. The meaning behind Celtic cross jewelry isn't necessarily clearly interpreted; it might mean you are staunchly Catholic, it might mean you just like the design, or it might mean you or your family are from Ireland.
Related to the Celtic cross (in that they both originate from
Ireland) is the Claddagh pendant. Normally used in rings, the Claddagh is depicted as two hands surrounding a heart, which in turn is wearing a crown. Claddagh rings are given to loved ones or even good friends to indicate the strength of a relationship, and Claddagh necklaces are usually the same. Gold Claddagh pendants are common, though some prefer a simpler and less ostentationous silver Claddagh necklace.
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