History of Hawaiian Jewelry by Philip Rickard
With its deep cut, hand engraved designs in gold or platinum, black enameled names, and its historic origins in England, Hawaiian Heirloom Jewelry has been a treasured element of Hawaiian culture for over one hundred and fifty years.
The “Hoomanao Mau” (A Lasting Remembrance) is the original Hawaiian bracelet made for the young Lydia Paki, later to be Queen Lili’uokalani, in 1862. The bracelet accompanied the future Queen her entire life, through her rise from High Chiefess, to becoming the last reigning monarch of Hawai’i.
Hoomanao Mau became a symbol of her royalty and responsibilities. Hand crafted by Honolulu based jeweler, Christian Eckart, the bracelet emulated fashionable English Victorian designs and was adorned with meaningful symbols that translate into a compassionate prayer:
The First Bracelet
“Always remember, that guidance from above, protects me, and those I protect, by my good judgement, and love of perfection, light, and life, for I am Royalty”.
For the next 30 years, the gold and enameled jewelry steadily grew in popularity among the Royalty and well to do individuals of the small Island Kingdom.
1862 – 1893
The Transition to Hawaiian Heirloom Jewelry
The most dramatic change in the design and popularity of Hawaiian jewelry came when Queen Lili’uokalani gave a gold bracelet with the enameled words “Aloha Oe” to Zoe Atkinson, an English school teacher who had assisted the Queen with palace balls. In true Aloha Spirit, the bracelet was inscribed “Lili’uokalani, Jan. 5, 93“. The enameled name on the bracelet “Aloha Oe” (Farewell to Thee), was also a title of a song the Queen had written. These words proved to be prophetical. Just twelve days later, the Queen was forced to abdicate her throne, putting an abrupt end to the Hawaiian Monarchy.
Given the dramatic turn of the events and Zoe’s social status, many became quickly aware of the beautiful bracelet given by the now-overthrown Lili’uokalani. Empathizing with their beloved Queen and expressing their solidarity and love for Hawaii, many pupils from Atkinson’s school asked to have similar bracelets made. And it was during this surge in popularity, when another change occurred in the jewelry. Hawaiian mottoes were dropped in favor of proper names and phrases meaningful to wearers’ own lives. It was at that moment that the "Heirloom”, in “Hawaiian Heirloom Jewelry" was born. For these precious bracelets would become a treasured remembrance, passed down from generation to generation.
The evolving Hawaiian Designs
With ever growing popularity, the hand engraved cottage jewelry industry thrived in Hawaii. The local exotic flowers and leaves blended well with the traditional Old English scrolling and Hawaiian Jewelry was yet again reinvented to include these local elements.
Each local jeweler would try to outdo his competition and varied scrolling patterns emerged. While there are many designs, and a lot of custom motifs, the most popular engraved patterns were, and continue to be, the Old English Scroll, the Maile leaf pattern, the Hibiscus and Plumeria
flowers designs. These are typically featured individually or in beautiful combinations.
Uniformity in the enameled letters
Up until this point, most of the letters were cut by hand, before they were filled with enamel. The finished letters were often quite different, varying from job to job or engraver to engraver. With new motorized cutting machines, the engravers designed their own distinctive lettering sets, and then had them cut into brass plates that they could use repeatedly in the cutting process. This brought a new uniformity to the industry, and at the same time allowed for the development of very beautiful lettering sets.
In the early 1980’s letters, “carved” out of the gold bracelets and rings, with the help of motorized cutting machines, began to appear. A whole new look for the traditional Old English letters was born. The cutting machines were able to precisely cut around the letters, and remove the background to leave “raised letters” on the jewelry.
The effect was dramatic, and instantly popular. While the traditional Heirloom bracelets continued on, a whole new market sought the distinctive golden cut out letters. Soon “raised designs” created by each jeweler were paired with the “raised letters”.
Scalloped edges were introduced to the scrolling
patterns adding a new depth to the designs. The advantage here was that the designs could be expanded to the edge of the jewelry piece, and scalloped around, leaving the design much larger, as the borders disappeared.
The written History of the Hawaiian Heirloom Jewelry
Philip Rickard concludes six years of research and documenting, in Hawaii and England, with the publication of his book, “Hawaiian Heirloom Jewelry, A Lasting Remembrance”. In his work, he reveals the true history of the jewelry in the islands, and the unknown history of Queen Liliu’okalani and her first bracelet that began the industry and traditions. Mr. Rickard was able to locate where the bracelet had gone by researching historical records, estate auctions and through those who came into possession of it over the years.
Currently the bracelet has found a home in the Iolani Palace collections in Honolulu.
The Ali’i Scrolling Pattern
The Ali’i Collection grew out of the need for a very high line expression of the Royal jewelry. The cobalt colored enamel and Old English engraved designs in yellow gold, were reminiscent of the royal European jewelry. This very rich and emotional combination has gathered a wide appreciation since it was introduced.
The emerging wedding jewelry collections.
Hawaii is one of the most idyllic places on earth. The wonderful climate and lush tropical settings provide a picturesque backdrop for the Hawaiian wedding.
Deep within the cultural heritage of the community, the Flora and Maile symbolize the essence of the wedding celebration. In times past, Maile lei and tropical flowers were exchanged at the heart of the ceremony to seal the couple’s commitment.
As Hawaii emerged into the world community and people of all ethnic origins shared in The Hawaiian Experience, the flowers and leaves evolved into world class visual symbol of the Hawaiian Wedding. Not only were flower leis and Maile leaves given as decoration, but also as designs with their engraved representations in the cherished Hawaiian Wedding Jewelry. Philip Rickard initiated designs and collections that mirrored this need, and in every wedding category either with a simple band or with diamond accented engagement sets, the Hawaiian designs added cherished emotion to the ceremony.
Philip Rickard designs the Millennium bracelet with its combination of Old English scrolling patterns, Maile leaf chevrons, Hibiscus and Plumeria flowers, and scalloped edges. This bracelet is the culmination of 150 years of Hawaiian jewelry designs. Its beauty and simplicity has made it one of the most desired of all of the Hawaiian Heirloom bracelets. Its deep
cut hand engraved designs flow across the gold bangle bringing out the most beautiful expressions of the engravers art.
The Millennium Design
Multi-colored gold, in pink, white, yellow, and green were incorporated into the Hawaiian Jewelry bringing new life to the traditional pieces.
The Popularity of Colored Gold
Philip Rickard introduces the ever popular rings, pendants, and bracelets with different colors on each piece. The effect was dramatic, and again the Hawaiian Heirloom Jewelry was lifted to a new wildly popular expression.
The latest in jewelry technology is used to add a modern touch to traditional Hawaiian pieces. These "Kalakoa" letters, introduced by Philip Rickard, are made in a different colored gold than the background. Technically and beautifully crafted in such detail that the letters actually lay in perfectly matched recesses in the parent piece of jewelry.
Today almost every historical application of Hawaiian Jewelry has its niche group of admirers. While some enjoy bracelets in Old English designs with enameled accents, others prefer the simplicity of the traditional flower and leaf patterns. All unmistakably linked to Hawaii with every customized piece serving as an enduring reminder of ‘Aloha Spirit’.
The Hawaiian jewelry is destined for a long love affair with its wearers, as many individuals and families can testify. Hawaiian Heirloom Jewelry continues to be about the relationship between Hawaii and people, their love for each other and the magical islands of Hawaii.
At Phillip Rickard Honolulu, we embody the sense of responsibility toward Hawaiian tradition that the manufacture of this jewelry entails. We are grateful and privileged to be part of the mystique and goodness of the Hawaiian Islands that this jewelry so beautifully reflects.
And for our Queen, affectionately known as,”Liliuonamoku” or "Liliu, of the Islands", it would certainly be a thrill to see how her first bracelet initiated this unique and beautiful tradition of A Lasting Remembrance.