Jewelries, also known as ornaments, accessories, or embellishments, are important material culture for many ethnolinguistic groups in the Philippines. They are markers of identity, culture and traditions of each group. They are used as personal adornment, embellishment for clothes, bags, baskets, and scabbards, and are sometimes as offering in rituals. Pieces of jewelry, often seen as adornments or for the purpose of aesthetics, are also symbolic to a particular belief and practice of certain groups. Among the Ilongot in Northern Luzon, a male adult can only wear a specific kind of earrings if he has been recognized as a headhunter. Among the Negrito communities, they wear charm bracelets or necklaces to deter bad spirits and also use them as medicine. Some of these items are also particular to sex and age, while some are being passed down as heirlooms by the parents to their children or passed on from grandmother, mother, and aunt to a grandaughter, daughter and niece such as the glass and stone beads of the Kalinga.
Some are made of readily available plant materials such as nito, rattan, bamboo, and seed beads. Others are made from raw or processed animal horn, beak, shell, and tusks. Some are prized items like gold and trade goods such as glass beads, mother-of-pearl, ivory, and brass. This proves the strong connection between local and foreign communities through trade. There are ornaments that are only worn during special occasions or by distinguished members of a particular community as a way of exuding their wealth and rank or status.
The jewelry pieces in the National Ethnographic Collection range from combs and headdress/ornaments, earrings and earplugs, necklaces and chokers, armbands, bracelets, girdles and belts, anklets, finger and toe rings, and finger ornaments.