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Exploring the Idea of Tartan and Heritage in Modern Highland Clan Jewelry

By Jermaine Brewer Subscribe to RSS | May 30th 2012 | Views:

So what exactly is clan jewelry? Well, it’s basically Scottish jewellery with a clan Tartan added to it. Celtic inspired silver, clasps like the old dirk and shield used by the clan warriors – that kind of thing.

So what does it mean to call something “clan”? Anything bearing a genuine clan Tartan is known as clan, though it doesn’t necessarily have a direct historical link either to the activities of thecalm as was, or the surname of the clan as is.

Tartan itself, the key ingredient in clan jewelry, has a chequered history – no pun intended. Originally Tartan was a denominator of the geographic location from whence a person hailed. It didn’t signify the institution or the surname as it does today.

It has been thought that some of the colours in a clan Tartan have special significance. Red Tartan, for example, was vaunted as “battle Tartan”, with the predominance of red there so the enemy couldn’t tell if he’d sounded you or not.

Romantic as that sounds, it’s basically a myth. The colours in the original can Tartans are there because those were the most freely available dyes in the area from whence that Tartan hails.

So the ribbons on clan jewelry have, at their heart, the history of the movement of people over their land.

The membership of clans now is tied to a surname – the clan MacDonald, or the clan Royal Stewart, and so on. The roots of surnames being linked with the Tartan reflect the normal process by which groups of people fall under some kind of leadership.

In a given geographic area, there’s a dominant tribe and a dominant tribal leader. So in the Highlands you have the warrior tribes, whose leaders gave their surname to the group as a whole. Once the area becomes known as the “MacDonald land”, or the “Stewart land”, then the Tartan associated with that area is given the same surname.

So the Tartan holding the pendant on your clan jewelry also has, in its brightly coloured veins, the blood of ancient noble families. Some may even be the clans who banded together to try and stop the march of the English, in the time of Robert the Bruce.

Active clans still welcome membership from people bearing the clan surname. Some even have websites allowing you to locate your clan members, trace your history, and find fellow clannish wherever you may be going in the world. Each calls it a duty to extend lodging and help to any other clan member that may request it.

So the ribbon on your clan jewelry is also about family, and help without question. It’s the symbol of an ancient order of people to which, if you share the right surname, you may belong yourself.

So next time you put on your jewellery, stop to think about the traditions and the landscape it represents. Because at heart the point of the clan is simply to remember where you originally came from, and what values were held there.

Jermaine Brewer - About Author:
Jane Glen is a jeweller and blogger. She writes frequently about < a href="">Clan jewelry and Scottish tradition.

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