Perfect symbols of eternal love
The act of giving jewellery to newlyweds is an age-old Chinese custom suffused with symbolism. Traditionally, parents of the couple give a pair of solid gold dragon and phoenix bangles which represent eternal love. The bangles feature detailed figures of the mythical creatures, sometimes with both animals on each bracelet, at other times a dragon on one and a phoenix on the other, forming a complementary pair.
The symbolism of jewellery, precious stones such as jade, and sought-after metals such as gold during betrothal is not only limited to Chinese culture. In Korea, custom holds that the groom's family sends a chest called a hahm filled with marriage gifts, including gold and jewellery, and a marriage letter for the bride. In Thailand, traditional dowries, or sinsot, include gold ornaments and money, while in India, gold jewellery is an important part of a bride's dowry and remains a major repository of wealth for the new couple.
Many traditions surrounding weddings have been adapted over the years, and so too with jewellery, with modern-day wedding gifts being chosen to suit the contemporary bride and groom. Dragon and phoenix rings have become popular in traditional marriages, with the bride wearing the phoenix and the groom the dragon, symbolising the wish to stay together forever. As the saying goes: 'fingers connected with your hearts, to keep you holding hands forever'.
King Fook has a range of gold items that blend tradition with contemporary needs, including solid gold dragon and phoenix earrings and necklaces, and a nine-dragon heavy gold bracelet. But there are also items that would suit the most modern bride, such as more simple pieces using pearls or diamonds.
Rowena Lui, of Tayma Fine Jewellery, says that wedding gifts of jewellery are more about what a bride and groom will be able to wear in their daily lives.
'Wedding jewellery used to be limited to mothers giving their daughters intricate gold bangles, but now different kinds of jewellery and designs are popular, such as necklace and ring sets that blend tradition with contemporary style. Parents and other relatives now often give gold pendants, for example, as these are more fashionable and easy to wear.'
While gold jewellery remains traditional for Chinese marriages, more customers are opting for diamond jewellery as the metal becomes increasingly expensive, according to King Fook. Most jewellers stock a range of elegant diamond pieces suitable for brides. Pearls are also becoming more popular, especially as they are often also seen to symbolise purity and femininity, which makes them ideal for brides. At Mikimoto, the classic Akoya pearl necklace is the most popular wedding gift.
'The younger generation might look for more kawaii [a Japanese concept of 'cuteness' or girlishness] or stylish jewellery that can be worn not just on their wedding day but for different occasions,' says a Mikimoto spokesman.
The Mikimoto Dancing Lines necklace and earrings set features a pearl choker with a clasp in the shape of a ribbon bow studded with a pink sapphire and diamonds. The clasp can be removed so that the choker is a classic string of pearls, and the clasp can be worn on a different chain as a pendant.
Jewellery which can be interchanged for different looks is a growing trend. Tayma Fine Jewellery has a range of changeable earrings: different rare stones, such as tourmaline or opal, that come in different colours can be suspended from a diamond hook to suit particular outfits.
Jade is another popular choice for weddings, although Lui says the younger generation is moving away from this classic stone.
'Jade is always welcome, and there is still a high demand for it, although the younger generation prefer semi-precious, gem-quality stones. Younger people tend to go for brighter colours, and styles that are more cheerful to suit their active, vibrant lives,' Lui says, adding that for wedding gifts, white gold is popular with those who can afford it, while silver is seen as not expensive enough.
Whether it's an ornate gold bangle or a pair of pretty dangling diamond earrings, today's bride and groom are in the lucky position of being able to benefit from the gifts of tradition or of contemporary aesthetics. For friends and family looking to spoil the happy couple, the best advice seems to be to choose something that, instead of being hidden in a jewellery box, can actually be worn and enjoyed in everyday life.