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The Hand (Khamsa), particularly the open right hand, is a sign of protection that also represents blessings, power and strength, and is seen as potent in deflecting the evil eye. One of the most common components of gold and silver jewelry in the region, historically and traditionally, it was most commonly carved in or formed from silver, a metal believed to represent purity and hold magical properties. It is also painted in red (sometimes using the blood of a sacrificed animal) on the walls of houses for protection, or painted or hung on the doorways of rooms, such as those of an expectant mother or new baby. The hand can be depicted with the fingers spread apart to ward off evil, or as closed together to bring good luck. Similarly, it can be portrayed with the fingers pointing up in warding, or down to bestow blessings. Highly stylized versions may be difficult to recognize as hands, and can consist of five circles representing the fingers, situated around a central circle representing the palm.
Used to protect against evil eye, a malicious stare believed to be able to cause illness, death or just general unluckiness, hamsas often contain an eye symbol. Depictions of the hand, the eye or the number five in Arabic tradition are related to warding off the evil eye, as exemplified in the saying khamsa fi ainek("five [fingers] in your eye"). Raising one's right hand with the palm showing and the fingers slightly apart is part of this curse meant "to blind the aggressor". Another formula uttered against the evil eye in Arabic, but without hand gestures, is khamsa wa-khamis ("five and Thursday"). As the fifth day of the week, Thursday is considered a good day for magic rites and pilgrimages to the tombs of revered saints to counteract the effects of the evil eye.
Due to its significance in both Arabic and Berber culture, the hamsa is one of the national symbols of Algeria and appears in its emblem. It is also the most popular among the different amulets (such as the Eye and the Hirz—a silver box containing verses of the Quran) for warding off the evil eye in Egypt Egyptian women who live in baladi ("traditional") urban quarters often make khamaysa, which are amulets made up of five (khamsa) objects to attach to their children's hair or black aprons. The five objects can be made of peppers, hands, circles or stars hanging from hooks.
Although significant in Arabic and Berber culture, the Jewish people have long interpreted and adopted the symbol of the hand with great importance since the Ten Commandments. A portion of these commandments state that "Lord took Israel out of Egypt with a strong hand and an outstretched arm". The "strong hand" is representative of the hamsa which rooted its relevance in the community then. The helping hand exemplified God's willingness to help his people and direct them out of struggle. Around the time of the Byzantine period, artists would depict God's hand reaching from up above. God's hand from heaven would lead the Jewish people out of struggle, and the Jews quickly made a connection with the hamsa and their culture. The hand was identified in Jewish text, and acquired as an influential icon throughout the community.
Amongst the Jewish people, the hamsa is a very respected, holy, and common symbol. It is used in the Ketubah, or marriage contracts, as well as items that dress the Torah such as pointers, and the Passover Haggadah The use of the hand as images both in and out of the synagogue suggests the importance and relevance that the Jewish people associated with the hamsa. The hand decorated some of the most religious and divine objects and has since emerged from its uncommon phase.
At the time of the establishment of the State of Israel, the hamsa became a symbol in everyday Israeli life, and to a degree, a symbol of Israel itself. It has come to be a symbol of secularity, and a trendy talisman; a "good luck" charm appearing on necklaces, keychains, postcards, telephone and lottery cards, and in advertisements. It is also incorporated into high-end jewellery, decorative tilework and wall decorations. Its use by Ashkenazi Jews outside of Israel both historically and contemporaneously is intermittent but not unknown.
Similar to the Western use of the phrase "knock on wood" or "touch wood", a common expression in Israel is "Hamsa, Hamsa, Hamsa, tfu, tfu, tfu", the sound for spitting, supposedly to spit out bad luck.
At the Mimouna, a North African Jewish celebration held after Passover, tables are laid with various symbols of luck and fertility, with an emphasis on the number "5", such as five pieces of gold jewelry or five beans arranged on a leaf of pastry. The repetition of the number five is associated with the hamsa amulet.
In Morocco, the Hamsa is called 'Khamsa' or 'Khmisa' and is widely used as a protection from bad luck and evil people. The Hamsa is incorporated in many home decor items, but still, the most common use is in jewelry. In fact, most Moroccan women have at least one jewelry piece with a Hamsa.
The Native American Southeastern memorial complex also contained images of a human hand with an eye in the palm. However, the meaning and purpose are unconfirmed.
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