Mongolian Jewelry

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Today almost half of the Mongolian population is farmers or herders.  Herders raise cattle in the traditional nomadic lifestyle, living in circular homes, called gers, with folding wooden walls that can be disassembled and moved when needed.

Gers in Mongolia


For nomadic people of Mongolia, jewelry takes on much greater meaning than aesthetic and taste alone. Certain jewels and amulets are worn for spiritual protection.  These powers were so important that no nomad from Mongolia would begin a journey without at least a bead (Napoli 22). Certain stones were believed to have the power to cure physical illness. Coral, for example, is believed to have magical powers and was used in certain shamanistic rituals.


Jewelry is indicator of social rank, marital status, and personal wealth. The visual signs, the symbols, shapes, and materials of Mongolian jewelry reveal the identity of the wearer. Jewelry becomes a complex language, speaking in different ways in different contexts. Jewels are also a symbol of the cultural identity of each ethnic group. The magnificent headdresses of the married Khalkha women represent status, but also embody Mongolian religion and origin stories.


Because the Mongolian dress does not have pockets, these accessories were worn on the nomad’s belt rather than packed away. According to Cristina Del Mare, “Snuff bottles, steels, knives, chopsticks, tweezers, nail clips, and needle boxes are indications of social status and wealth” (32 Napoli). Therefore they are as ornate and beautiful as the earrings and amulets.



Belt with Pouch and Cutlery Set


The role that jewelry plays in the ritual of marriage is one clear example of the symbolic communication.  At around age seven, a young boy brings his intended a pair of silver earrings.  A Mongolian girl has already had her ears pierced at a very young age so that she can wear the earrings immediately.  If she accepts the gift, she is giving a symbolic promise to a later official betrothal.  Married women wear much heavier, more elaborate ear-ornaments.  The size and weight of these earrings has increased beyond what a pierced ear lobe can hold.  Suike style earrings attach with rings that go over the ear or attach to the hair and headdress.  



Suike Earrings


Please enjoy this youtube video showing many styles of Mongolian traditional clothing.   At 1:22-1:34, please note the elaborate Khalkha headdress. Theories about the origin of this form range from a visual connection with sheep horns to the wings of the bird king Garuda.    





JUST FOR FUN... Here's a nice video showing how the Mongolians make the felt that they use to insulate their homes.