Guide to Hawaiian Jewelry & Its Natural Materials

Plumeria jewelry from Hawaii

Hawaiian jewelry isn't just for surfers and vacationers. The style of this jewelry can appeal to anyone with a love for nature, especially the tropics.

Traditional Hawaiian Jewelry

Sunshine, balmy breezes, the sound of the ocean, and the smell of exotic flowers all evoke images of the tropics. Life in Hawaii operates at a more leisurely pace than you'll find on the mainland, and Hawaiians seem to have a special connection to the nature that surrounds them. Hawaiian jewelry is a reflection of that connection.

Hawaii is a treasure trove of inspiration, which has long led islanders to use nature's leftovers in creating handmade pieces of jewelry that are incredibly unique and immediately recognizable throughout the world.

Purchasing Tropical Jewelry

If you are lucky enough to be in Hawaii, your options for purchasing jewelry are endless. Many local retailers and souvenir shops will carry authentic Hawaiian jewelry that fits any budget.

For jewelry seekers who don't have access to the islands, the Internet has myriad resources to help you find the piece you've been looking for.

  • Na Hoku has been creating and selling Hawaiian jewelry since 1924. Na Hoku's fine jewelry collection is inspired by island life and can be purchased through their website or one of their retail stores on the Hawaiian islands or in Philadelphia, San Diego, and Washington, D.C.
  • Honolulu Jewelry Company offers custom-designed heirloom pieces, floral and sea-life inspired bracelets and charms, and pearl jewelry. Orders over $200 are shipped free via FedEx.
  • Aloha Gifts is the place to shop for less expensive souvenir-type jewelry like mother of pearl shell necklaces, puka shell bracelets, and shark's teeth pendants.
  • Major online retailers like eBay and Amazon carry large lines of Hawaiian jewelry, but check with the manufacturer or retailer to find out whether the jewelry is actually from Hawaii or merely Hawaiian-inspired.

Natural Materials

The signature of any piece of Hawaiian jewelry is the use of natural materials easily found around the islands.

  • Puka shells actually start out as Conus shells that wash ashore where they are ground down and polished against the rocks. Eventually, only the tops of the shells remain, which are strung together into necklaces,
  • Opihi shells are highly polished and make fascinating pendants.
  • Cowrie shells actually come from snails and are prized for their glossy exteriors and colors. The Golden Cowrie was once reserved for only Hawaiian royalty to wear.
  • Hawaiians have been making beads from the shells of coconuts for centuries. The colors vary in shade from light to dark, so the beads can be mixed to create patterns in necklaces, bracelets and anklets.
  • Bamboo is another natural resource used to create Hawaiian jewelry. Thin reeds can be bent into bracelets and anklets, while thicker sections can be cut and used as beads. Bamboo is usually given a coat of lacquer to increase its shine and durability.
  • A shark's tooth not only looks fascinating, but tradition says that wearing one will give you the power of the shark. Many necklaces use a single shark tooth as a pendant, and necklaces using multiple teeth are believed to be very powerful amulets.
  • Fish bone is a great material for carving and can be shaped into nature designs found on the islands. Once a piece is shaped, it is given a high polish and strung, sometimes combined with puka shells or coconut beads.
  • Mother of pearl is the luminous lining found in clam shells. The material is carefully removed from the shell and can be carved and inlaid on rings and pendants.
  • Plumeria, perhaps better known as the Hawaiian lei flower, is widely used to create beautiful, fragrant necklaces that are often given as a welcoming gift to newcomers.

Fashionable and Versatile

Hawaiian jewelry may have first come to prominence in the days of Queen Victoria, but it still enjoys widespread popularity today. Whether you prefer less expensive pieces handmade in the traditional island ways or fine quality jewelry created with precious gemstones, there is a wonderful selection of island-inspired jewelry to choose from.

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Guide to Hawaiian Jewelry & Its Natural Materials