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Jewellery may be made from a wide range of materials. Gemstones and similar materials such as amber and coralprecious metalsbeads,and enamel has often been important. In most cultures jewellery can be understood as a status symbol, for its material properties, its patterns, or for meaningful symbols. Jewellery has been made to adorn nearly every body part, from hairpins to toe rings, and even genital jewellery. The patterns of wearing jewellery between the sexes, and by children and older people can vary greatly between cultures, but adult women have been the most consistent wearers of jewellery; in modern European culture the amount worn by adult males is relatively low compared with other cultures and other periods in European culture.

Some gemstones (like pearls, coral, and amber) are classified as organic, meaning that they are produced by living organisms. Others are inorganic, meaning that they are generally composed of and arise from minerals.

Some gems, for example, amethyst, have become less valued as methods of extracting and importing them have progressed. Some man-made gems can serve in place of natural gems, such as cubic zirconia, which can be used in place of diamond.