Story byLehia Apana
For the past three decades, Sissy Lake-Farm has faithfully donned a single gold bracelet inscribed with her Hawaiian name: Kahakuhaupiokamakani. The bangle has become an appendage that encircles her wrist, no matter the occasion.
Known as Hawaiian heirloom jewelry, this type of bracelet is an anomaly of sorts: it is almost always made of gold — which, like other metals, didn’t exist in pre-Contact Hawai‘i — and, along with botanic motifs, is engraved in black enameled letters written in an Old English font. Nevertheless, for Sissy’s and many other local families, this is the gift that marks special occasions like a graduation, wedding, or childbirth.
Sissy’s connection with her Hawaiian bracelet began when she was twelve years old, when her mother promised it to her upon her high school graduation, with some stipulations.
“She told me I couldn’t get pregnant, and that I had to graduate high school with the intention of going to college,” says Sissy. “Certain kuleana [responsibilities] come with this makana [gift], and when I received my Hawaiian bracelet, it was like a right of passage.”
Sissy’s mother paid for the bracelet on installment, visiting the jeweler every few weeks. Once purchased, the piece was secured in a bank safe-deposit box, to be released on just two occasions before graduation: Sissy’s junior and senior proms.
Sissy’s mother and aunt had received their Hawaiian bracelets from her grandparents in similar fashion, and it’s a custom she will continue with her own daughter.
“My mother always told me that she doesn’t intend to go to the grave with her bracelet. It will become mine, then it will become my daughter’s,” she says. “I feel when I wear it, I am holding a place for my kūpuna [ancestors] on my person.”
There’s an expectation that Hawaiian jewelry is an heirloom to be passed down, says Paul Sato, vice president of sales at Na Hoku — the oldest and largest fine-jewelry manufacturer in Hawai‘i. Even if you purchase a bracelet for yourself, he notes, “you are the custodian or steward of the jewelry for the time that you own it. Eventually it will go to other members of the ‘ohana [family].
“Because of the symbolic nature of this jewelry, it’s not uncommon to see women with multiple Hawaiian heirloom bracelets,” Paul adds. “Go to any local grocery store and just count how many heirloom bracelets are on the arms of the women at the checkout counter.”
Maui MagazineSours: https://www.mauimagazine.net/gold-hawaiian-bracelets/
Hawaiian Heirloom Jewelry
Hawaiian Heirloom Jewelry is exclusively Hawaiian in design, yet its origins began in England over a century ago.
In 1887, in celebration of her Golden Jubilee commemorating her fifty-year reign, Queen Victoria presented Hawaii’s Princess Lili’uokalani with a solid gold bracelet. According to English fashion, her name was engraved in old English lettering and enameled in black. The bracelet became one of Lili’uokalani’s most treasured pieces.
The enameled gold jewelry created a stir among Hawaii’s Ali’i (Royalty). The beautiful English carvings were reproduced incorporating various Island designs. Over time, Plumeria, Maile leaves, and other significant designs of Hawaiian origin have found their way into Hawaiian Heirloom Jewelry.
Today, Na Hoku Hawaiian Heirloom Jewelry is prized for its beautiful and enduring designs and commitment to quality and tradition.
Na Hoku continues to create all of our Hawaiian and Island Lifestyle jewelry in our manufacturing facility in Honolulu, Hawaii.
At Na Hoku, our craftsmen create traditional Hawaiian Heirloom jewelry by hand-engraving our designs. This is our commitment to the tradition and authenticity of this treasured art form that is meant to be worn with pride and handed down from generation to generation.
Na Hoku Hawaiian Heirloom Jewelry can be ordered with a personalized name in English or Hawaiian or engraved with “Kuuipo”, Hawaiian for “Sweetheart”.
Na Hoku Engraving Patterns
Please note that Ring scrolls do not include a flower, unless a flower is specifically requested.
Millimeter Width and ShapeBracelets are available in millimeter widths of 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, and 18. With the exception of the 18mm bracelet, all of our bracelets rings and pendants are made of 14K gold “barrel” wire. If you look at a cross section of a bracelet you will see that it has a domed shape. This gives our Hawaiian Heirloom bracelets and rings depth, strength, and beauty.
Rings are available in 4, 6, 8, and 10 millimeters while pendants are available in 6, 8, and 10-millimeter widths.
For widths, an approximate millimeter conversion to inches would be:
- 4mm = 1/8”
- 6mm = 1/4”
- 8mm = 5/16"
- 10mm = 3/8”
- 12mm = 1/2”
- 15mm = 9/16”
- 18mm = 3/4"
Most styles of bracelets, rings, and pendants are available in:
- Standard Barrel Our most affordable weight, while still maintaining integrity and strength.
- Medium Barrel The most often selected weight due to the combination of durability, quality, and price.
- Heavy Barrel Heirloom jewelry made with this weight will be handed down from generation to generation. Thicker and heavier, this jewelry will have additional durability and longevity.
Bracelets are always shaped oval, unless otherwise requested. The oval shape accommodates easier slip-on and removal of the bracelet.
Measurement for a correct fit for a traditional Hawaiian Heirloom bracelet can be most accurately made using a bracelet sizer and sliding it over the widest part of the hand. To ensure a proper fit, the bracelet sizer should go over the hand as snugly as possible. For further information, please visit the Na Hoku store nearest you or contact Na Hoku Customer Service.
Determining the proper ring size for rings measuring 8 millimeters and wider will need to be made using a “wide band” ring sizer, as the width of the ring will make a difference. For further information, please visit the Na Hoku store nearest you or contact Na Hoku Customer Service.
Free Inside Engraving
Inside Engraving for traditional Hawaiian Heirloom bracelets, rings, and pendants will be done free of charge when placed at the time of order. Inscription may be limited to space available on the bracelet, ring, or pendant.
Any bracelet, ring, or pendant that is available for personalization may be ordered with the wearer’s name in English, Hawaiian, or another language of choice. Many items are worn with the traditional “Kuuipo”, the Hawaiian word for sweetheart.
Lettering is engraved in Old English style as was traditional in the days of Queen Victoria. Lettering in traditional black enamel is very popular and is most often selected for personalized Hawaiian Heirloom Jewelry.
The pleasing contrast of the black enamel letters on gold also accentuates the lettering of the wearer’s name.
Raised lettering is available on most styles of bracelets, rings, and pendants. The engraving is an appealing letter and background style that maximizes the reflective surface of each letter.
Raised enamel lettering is an appealing combination of raised lettering with traditional black enamel.
Letter Background and “Edging” Options
Different styles of letter and background may be selected
Black enamel lettering is available with your choice of styles of letter background:
- Black enamel lettering with chip-chop background (EC). Chip-chop is a pattern of engraving similar to diamond cuts, producing a reflective background. This background is only used with black enameled letters and is the most popular combination.
- Black enamel lettering with laser background (EL). Less reflective than the chip chop background, this pattern absorbs light allowing better visibility of the letters.
- Raised enamel lettering available with laser background only (RE).
- Black enamel with "Spaghetti" background. This background is a thinner version of chip chop, and used on specific styles. (ES).
- Raised Lettering: The raised surface of the letter is high polished gold on a textured (laser) background (RL). Please note: Raised Lettering cannot be ordered with the chip-chop background as the combined reflective surface area would make the lettering difficult to read.
- SCH Scalloped Edge: a diamond cut effect that enhances the light’s reflection.
- HPH High Polished Edge: a clean reflective edge.
- CEH Coin Edge: adds texture and dimension.
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.Related Articles
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.
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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