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Coming of Age with Jewelry: Gifts for Rite-of-Passage Celebrations

Attending a special celebration? Consider giving the lasting gift of jewelry.

Marking the passage from childhood to adulthood is a timeless tradition. Various religious and cultural rituals celebrate coming of age for both girls and boys, though in some cultures young women make a bigger splash into society with parties and ceremonies. With these traditions, of course, comes gift giving.

When attending one of these celebrations you may feel inclined to buy something trendy (like clothing or music). Or you might consider presenting the celebrant with something practical like a gift certificate or money. However, chances are slim any of those gifts will make it through the next year, let alone the next decade, of their lives. 

Instead, consider jewelry. Not only is jewelry always a good bet for gift-giving, it’s also a timeless and lasting marker for this special occasion. Regardless of the specific ritual, many of the same general guidelines hold true when giving a gift for a coming-of-age celebration:

  • Consider the recipient’s age.
  • Think about cultural, religious or other significance.
  • Make it lasting.

Jewelry is perfect for these occasions. It lasts forever, carries meaning and symbolism, and can be a relatively affordable way to present something precious. For some teens, it may be the first piece of fine jewelry they’ve ever owned, which is special in and of itself.

Keep in mind that each ritual has its own history, style and nuances. While this list of specific ceremonies and celebrations isn’t comprehensive, it covers many of the larger rituals celebrated in North America.

Sweet 16

The most common coming-of-age celebration for North American girls (or guys) is the “Sweet 16” party. The phrase itself epitomizes the tender turning point from childhood to adulthood and the joy that movement brings. While it doesn’t have the same ceremony or deep history as other religious and cultural rituals, sweet 16 invokes the idea of celebration and, of course, gifts.

Whether they’re celebrating with a big bash or a quiet dinner with friends, the new 16-year-old in your life will appreciate a gift to mark this momentous occasion. Jewelry is the perfect way to acknowledge their special day. Consider one of these timeless gifts.

Age 16 and proud of it:

  • “Sweet 16” or “16” pendant on a chain
  • “16” pendant charm for a charm bracelet
  • “Sweet 16” keychain for the young motorist

Sweet and simple:

  • Gold or silver heart necklace, bracelet or earrings
  • Elegant or sporty watches
  • Simple ring in the shape of a princess crown
  • Affirmation necklace, with a saying such as “believe,” “dream” or “love”
  • Personalized name necklace
  • Matching cuff links and tie bar


Quinceañera (often shortened to “Quince”) literally means “one who is 15.” It refers to the traditional 15th birthday celebration for girls in much of Latin America and in Latin American communities around the world.

A quinceañera is a big event, with as much planning, pomp and price that it’s sometimes likened to a wedding. Indeed, it includes both a religious element, called a Mass of Thanksgiving (Misa de Acción de Gracias) and a reception complete with plenty of food, music and a first dance (traditionally a waltz) for the birthday girl and her father.

A traditional quinceañera has a ceremonial presentation of symbolic gifts by those closest to the celebrant. These are typically presented during the mass and include:

  • A gold or silver ring or bracelet, symbolizing the circle of life.
  • Earrings, sometimes said to remind her to listen to God.
  • A rosary and gold or silver cross or medal.
  • A tiara and scepter, representing responsibility.

As with any birthday celebration, guests at a quinceañera typically bring gifts. Gold, silver or pearl stud earrings (either simple balls or fun or meaningful shapes) or a simple charm, pendant or ring — possibly with the number “15”— are appropriate for a 15-year-old, yet also mark the symbolic depth of the occasion. A ring in the shape of a princess crown is reminiscent of the tiara of responsibility, and would also be a significant and memorable gift.

Bat bitzvah and bar mitzvah

A bat mitzvah (literally translates to “daughter of the commandment”) is the Jewish coming-of-age ritual for girls at age 12. Boys have an equivalent ritual, the bar mitzvah, at age 13.

The history and significance of the ceremonies is deep. At the respective ages, a girl or boy becomes a full member of the Jewish community and takes moral responsibility for her or his own actions. The ceremony itself is a serious event. The girl or boy must do a fair amount of preparation — including going through intense Hebrew study and attending a certain number of Shabbat services — before the ritual occurs.

The bat and bar mitzvah also have a lighter side: huge parties that typically follow the ceremony. Like the quinceañara, these are often lavish affairs with hundreds of guests and can be likened to a wedding reception.

Guests bring gifts to the party, not the synagogue. Many give money in multiples of 18, signifying life and good luck. While money is practical, a small jewelry gift will be cherished much longer and will provide a lasting memory for the celebrant.

For a bat mitzvah or bar mitzvah gift that’s appropriate for a young teen, yet lasting and steeped in symbolism, consider:

  • A Star of David necklace, bracelet or pair of earrings for the girls
  • A Hebrew name necklace
  • A watch, with engraving of initials, date and message on the watchcase


In the Catholic Church, confirmation is both an initiation ceremony and a rite of passage. It’s the final act — after baptism and the first communion — in becoming a full member of the church, and is performed in early adolescence, when a child reaches what’s seen as the age of reason. Many but not all Protestant churches also practice confirmation and see it as a coming-of-age ceremony with a mature statement of faith.

Confirmations aren’t typically followed by the same lavish receptions as a bat mitzvah or quinceañera, but they are often celebrated with some sort of party or reception, and gift giving is certainly appropriate.

When choosing a confirmation gift, keep in mind the religious significance and deep meaning of the event. Jewelry is a perfect choice. The celebrant will cherish any of these gifts for years to come:

  • Gold or silver cross on a simple chain
  • Pendant engraved with name and confirmation date
  • Gold or silver bracelet, with or without a cross or other charm
  • Birthstone necklace, with or without a cross
  • Small gold or silver cross in an engraved keepsake box
  • Sterling silver watches, personalized for a special touch

Debutante ball and Philippine debut

Debutante balls — sometimes called cotillions — are a grand social tradition with origins in Victorian England. The historical purpose was to present newly marriageable women to eligible (and class-appropriate) bachelors. They still occur in every major city in the U.S., but are more common in the South. Today their focus isn’t so much on matchmaking, but rather on upholding an elegant tradition, promoting civic mindedness, raising money for charity, and of course, marking the rite of passage into womanhood.

Because the original purpose was to introduce young women of marriageable age to society, debutantes are typically 17 or 18 years old rather than early adolescents. Unless you’re immediate family, it’s not common to give a gift at a traditional American debutante ball. Instead, you typically donate money to the charity being funded by the ball.

If you do choose to give a gift, engraved jewelry is common. Consider an engraved pendant or charm bracelet. A simple ring, earrings or an engraved picture frame are also lasting gifts to match the elegance of the occasion.

The Philippine Debut has many similarities to the American debutante ball, and is celebrated on a girl’s 18th birthday. Gifts are more common at this event, and are similar to what you’d give at a Sweet 16 or quinceañera — though keep in mind the celebrant’s age will be a few years older.

Regardless of how the young teen you know chooses to mark their passages into  adulthood, they’ll appreciate the lasting gift of jewelry for years to come.

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