Our Stones: South America

Our Stones: South America

We hope you enjoyed last month’s post about the history and cultural significance of Indian jewellery in our series about where we source our stones from! This month we promise will be equally as fascinating as we move over to South America, and look at its history and influence on modern day jewellery.


Just before 800 AD bronze-working was becoming highly developed and bronze was used to make almost everything from knives to ornamental jewellery as well as cultural pieces of jewellery and decor. Metalworking was developed around the same time and ear ornaments, chains and other fine pieces were crafted. The Inca actually designed and developed entire miniature gardens, and other finely mined decorative pieces for the wealthy using mostly metals.

Gold was used for engraving and moulding, as well as to develop intricate designs, by the Chavin civilization as early as 1200 BCE. Gold was extremely popular because of it’s value and durability, and was fashioned into all distinct types of jewellery, worn by both men and women.

When you think of South American styles of jewellery you likely think of turquoise – these stones were originated from the Inca who were skilled in this area of sourcing and crushing the fine material. Turquoise was often used as a healing ingredient, and was believed to be a sacred, precious gem.


South America is strongly influenced and proud of the nature and beauty they live amongst, and that shines through in their jewellery creations. Water, flowers, leaves, and other natural elements are essential parts in jewellery creation.

Many South American women take immense pleasure with their elaborate body jewellery. Using gold, silver and beautiful stones to make elaborate adornments for their ears, noses, and as headdresses, these are worn for both everyday wear, and in cultural celebrations and events. Often these pieces are quite heavy, and can be uncomfortable to wear, which shows just how much South American women value their jewellery!

A Spanish aspect crept into jewellery making slowly as the Spanish conquistadores came to South America. Some people embraced the Spanish influence as a powerful part of the fine jewellery it created, while others felt the Spanish influence took away from the native Latin influence.

Many pieces you will see from South America be crafted into animals, or have animals on it. Animals hold significance with some rituals, and others are revered in certain areas.

As metalworking became even more popular, copper was often crafted into jewellery, or hammered into masks, which were used for personal and ceremonial ornamentation.


This almond like nut comes from trees found in South American rainforests. It’s believed to have medicinal benefits and is used in everything from jewellery to housing material.

Is the Latin word for thread and is made of fine copper, silver or gold wire used as ornamental toppings to jewellery pieces. Think the scrolls and other very fine-woven designs, often atop pendants and other pieces.

Yes, as mentioned above, turquoise is the colour that likely most identifies South American jewellery. Turquoise can actually appear lighter green, to darker blue, depending on where it comes from, and how it is sourced.


Tagua has been popular in South America forever, yet it has only in the last decade or so become popular in North America as a cruelty free alternative to ivory, and is even used as a plastic replacement in some cases.  Tagua is considered to be ‘eco-chic’ and can be marketed as organic.  Some modern jewellery designers are so impressed by tagua that they donate their proceeds from their works back to South American cultural events or tribes.

Of course, turquoise is seen season after season in everything from small stones in rings, to giant show-stopper necklaces.

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