From the Heart: Georgian and Victorian Heart Jewelry
The 14th of February is fast approaching, meaning that Valentine's Day is almost upon us. Yes, that's right, the day of sentiment, of loving exchanges of gifts given from the heart, is nearly here. The heart shape, whether doodled on a piece of paper or carved from precious gems, has become the definitive symbol of love. So, what better way to celebrate Valentine's Day than with a blog on antique heart jewelry, its myriad meanings, and how the heart shape has evolved over time?
Brooch in the form of a heart in gold with opal, green or demantoid garnets and diamonds, c.1875-1900
The History of The Heart
The heart wasn't always seen as a symbol of love. In fact, it wasn't until the 15th century that it really started to gain popularity as a symbol of love. Before this, the 'heart' shape was used most often to represent the heart-shaped fruit of the Silphium plant or specific flowers and wasn't associated with love at all. On the other hand, depictions of the human heart from before the 15th century were based on medieval anatomical descriptions, taking a pinecone-like or pear-like shape with the point facing upward. It was only in the 15th century that the heart came to be depicted as a scalloped shape with a dent in the base and the point facing downwards, being shown this way on playing cards and in other artwork.
Part of an uncut sheet of playing cards, c.1490-1500 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
The earliest known examples of heart-shaped jewels appeared around this time in the form of rings and brooches, often inscribed with short love poems. This first rise of the heart shape as a symbol of love in the 15th century is often attributed to the importance of courtly romance in late-medieval life. At a time where chivalrous knights and damsels in distress made for romantic tales, tokens of love were deeply significant and very popular.
It should come as no surprise then that heart jewelry and the heart shape as a symbol of love saw another huge rise in popularity during the Georgian and Victorian eras - the dawn of the 'Age of Sentiment'. From the 19th century onwards, hearts were common on Valentine's Day cards, which were being produced and sent en masse. Lines were taken from books of 'suggested sentimental verses for the young lover unable to compose his own' and heart shapes and other love symbols were used on cards, with factories becoming involved in the manufacture, leading Charles Dickens to label them 'Cupid's Manufactories'.
Hearts in jewelry were especially popular during the Victorian era, with Queen Victoria herself showing a particular fondness for the symbol and owning many of her own heart-shaped jewels. Being an era imbued with sentimentality, hearts were one of the favorite motifs of the time.
Queen Victoria's gold chain bracelet with nine enameled heart lockets for each of her children. It was given to her by Prince Albert three days after the birth of their first child, Princess Victoria, and a locket was added for every child that followed, each containing a lock of hair and inscribed with a name and date of birth. Pink for Princess Victoria, turquoise for Albert, red for Alice, dark blue for Alfred, translucent white for Helena, dark green for Louise, mid-blue for Arthur, opaque white for Leopold, and light green for Beatrice. © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021
Queen Victoria's gold charm bracelet with sixteen various oval and heart-shaped lockets featuring various symbols of religion and sovereignty, enameled in black on gold. Some are set with jewels, others engraved, several with inscriptions. This bracelet was worn constantly by Queen Victoria.
Victorian era heart pendant, opal set in gold, surrounded by diamonds, c. 1890s
Victorian brooch with a paste border around a heart carved from Saphiret, a mysterious gemstone created from sapphire-colored glass and gold, displaying a blue iridescence when it catches the light, c.1900.
In the 17th century, particularly in Scotland, the heart symbol took a brief twist in meaning when it was depicted with the point at the bottom twisted to one side. This special heart shape was known as a 'Witches Heart', or ‘Luckenbooth’ in Scotland, and was worn in brooch form as an amulet or talisman protecting against evil spirits, such as witches who would steal milk or harm newborn babies. By the 18th century, however, the Witches Heart came to be a more romantic symbol, meaning ‘bewitched by love’, or 'you bewitch me', often set with garnets. Pieces showing a double Witches Heart would have signified that the wearer was in a committed relationship.
Scottish Witches Heart brooch set with garnets and rock crystal, c.1700-1800
Georgian crowned Witches Heart and arrow brooch, set with pastes and garnets, c.1760-1770. Via Ruby Lane
Twin witches heart brooch set with pink and green tourmaline and diamonds with a ribbon bow surmount, c.1890. Via Bentley & Skinner
Crowned double Witches Heart brooch-pendant, c.1860-80s. Set with mine-cut diamonds and emeralds - The diamonds are set in silver and the emeralds in gold-topped silver. The conjoined hearts represent two lovers united in affection, while the crown symbolizes loyalty. The Scottish Luckenbooth, which took form as crowned single or double hearts, were traditionally given for betrothals or weddings.
Acrostic Heart Jewelry
Acrostic jewelry was extremely popular in the late-Georgian and Victorian times as a way of sending coded messages, using the first letter of each gemstone to spell out something meaningful to the giver and receiver. They were given predominantly as love tokens and some of the most common words featured were 'Regard' and 'Dearest', or romantic French words like 'amour', but there were many, many others. You can see lots of examples and read more about acrostic jewelry here.
Yellow-gold acrostic bracelet with seven links containing double hearts framed by diamonds. Each double heart consists of a rose diamond to the left and a gemstone to the right, the first letters of which spell ‘DEAREST’: Diamond, Emerald, Amethyst, Ruby, Emerald, Sapphire, Tourmaline. English, c. 1880.
Heart locket; the first letter of each stone spells out 'REGARD'. The goldwork on the front has applied oak leaf details at the center, and intricate scrolls and granulation around the border. There is a heart-shaped glass locket compartment on the back, c.1815. Via Butter Lane Antiques
Large gold brooch of entwined snakes with diamond eyes from which four heart-shaped lockets are suspended, each set with a gemstone and containing the hair of one of Queen Victoria's daughters. The gemstones are Garnet (also known as Vermeil), Amethyst, Ruby, and Lapis Lazuli. Victoria's daughters were named Victoria, Alice, Helena (nicknamed Lenchen), Louise, and Beatrice - though it's not clear how Ruby and Beatrice relate. © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021
Heart-Lock and Key motifs
The heart-lock and key motif in jewelry displays the message, 'you have the key to my heart'. Occasionally where the key was on a separate chain and therefore removable, one half of the lock and key set might have been kept by each partner, so that they could continue to feel connected even when they were apart.
The shape of this piece suggests the sentiment, ‘you have the key to my heart’, which is further reinforced by the choice of colored stones, which have initial letters that spell ‘REGARD’: ruby, emerald, garnet, amethyst, ruby, and diamond. The pendant opens to reveal a panel of woven hair under glass, c.1840.
A heart-shaped gold locket, the front enameled in dark green, with lock; key attached by a short chain. Opening to reveal empty glass covered compartment, c.1799 - 1801
Ring set with a heart-shaped sapphire in a pinched collet concealing a locket compartment. On either side of the sapphire, connected by a chain, are a gold key and lock. 'Caroline Queen of England 1820' is engraved on the outside and 'Franchise et Discretion' is engraved on the hidden inside. Famous for her indiscretions, this ring is bound to have an interesting story behind it.
Via Bell & Bird
Two-color, gold flower padlock heart locket with ruby (passion) on one side and turquoise (true love / a pledge of love) on the reverse, c. 1835. From SJ Phillips via The Jewellery Editor
Victorian era ruby and rose diamond key brooch, c. 1840.
From SJ Phillips via The Jewellery Editor
Heart locket pendant with a heart-key and a hand holding a ring, all love symbols
Victorian 15 carat gold heart-lock locket clasp with garnet cab and tassels, c.1886
Heart, lock, and key - you have the key to my heart - pendant
Gold heart locket with a working key
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London
The crown was a popular motif to display above a heart in Georgian and Victorian jewelry. Where a single heart is crowned, it bears the message, 'ruler of my heart' - a popular design for engagement rings. Where a double heart is crowned, the crown symbolizes the sovereignty of love over the heart and the reigning of fidelity over a marriage - this was also a popular design in engagement and marriage rings.
The English poet, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, received this diamond crowned heart ring for her betrothal and marriage to fellow poet Robert Browning in 1846.
From the Barrett Browning Collection at Eton
Enamelled gold fede ring, set with rose-cut diamonds in silver collets, with a crowned heart held by two hands inscribed 'Dudley & Katherine united 26.Mar. 1706'
Antique crowned heart ring, 'ruler of my heart'
Gold ring, set with brilliant-cut diamonds in silver collets, the bezel a crowned heart, late 18th century
Crowned double heart brooch, c.1873
From Le Grand Frisson by Diana Scarisbrick, p.373
Crowned double heart ring, set with two pear-shaped rose-cut diamonds forming a heart, bordered with diamonds and beneath a crown of Old European Cut diamonds, c. 1900. This specific design of pear-cuts beneath a crown is based on a c.1730-60 rococo prototype from France (see cat. 188, “Rings: Jewelry of Power, Love, and Loyalty” by Diana Scarisbrick).
Double Hearts & Entwined Hearts
Double hearts with designs like those seen in the pieces below emerged during the mid-18th century rococo period. Such double hearts were often featured with a top element of a bow or a crown; the bow stood for everlasting devotion (like the lovers' knot), and the crown stood for fidelity and marriage. During the late 19th century, the double heart saw renewed popularity in jewelry, due to Victorian interests in revivalism and sentimentalism. Two entwined hearts symbolize the coming together of two lovers - their two hearts as one.
Victorian silver-topped gold, double diamond mine-cut heart ring.
Queen Victoria's gold bracelet, formed of tapering links engraved with foliate scrolls. Set with amethyst carved as a double heart. Backed with an empty glass locket and engraved with 'V' and a date. Given by the Duchess of Kent to Queen Victoria on the day she announced her engagement to Prince Albert to the Privy Council. It was part of her personal collection and was placed in the 'Albert Room' after she died.
Victorian ring featuring two entwined lovers’ hearts at the front decorated with seed Pearls and two shimmering heart cut Moonstones, topped with a bow to represent a loving bond such as marriage, c.1900
A gold pin brooch with two pearls openly set within interlocked jeweled hearts below a stylized crown. Given to Queen Mary, consort of George V, by Princess Mary Adelaide, Duchess of Teck, c.1888
Victorian rose-cut diamond double heart bow-top ring.
Heart Lockets and Hair
Human hair was popular in sentimental Georgian and Victorian jewelry. Hair was used in jewelry for many reasons, whether it was a lock of hair from a recently departed loved one to keep in a memorial piece, or hair from treasured living friends and family, a child, a lover (secret or otherwise), a soldier gone to war, or a sailor gone to sea, hair was often kept enclosed in a locket or worked into the inlay of a piece. Where hair is combined with the image of a heart, the message of love is clear, whatever kind of love that may be - familial, friendly, or romantic.
Queen Victoria's heart-shaped gold locket; the front engraved with EV, containing the hair of her mother and father with an engraved inscription, which reads, 'Present from her Mother to her beloved Victoria on the First Anniversary of her Birthday 24 May 1820.'
Bracelet of sixteen very finely plaited brown hair strands knotted twice with an engraved gold box clasp with twelve small pearls as flowers in beaded settings. Three gold box chains are attached to the ends, one has an engraved gold heart-shaped drop with six pearls as a flower in beaded settings and a glass compartment with hair on the back. © The Trustees of the British Museum
Gold brooch pendant of nine roundels surrounding a central roundel with a small heart-shaped drop, all containing hair. The hair in the small roundels is arranged as curls tied with twisted gold wire; the central roundel contains two dark curls secured with gold wire and seed pearls, c.1852. Initials are on the back of each element marking who the hair belonged to, likely all members of the same family.
Victorian buckle ring and articulated heart drop with a turquoise (pledge of love) forget-me-not (remember me) motif, featuring chased detailing on every visible surface. Finely woven hair is set within the band. This is almost certainly a memorial ring, c.1840s
Gold heart-shaped locket, with engraved foliate decoration, the loop in the form of a snake, set with an oval cabochon garnet or carbuncle; compartment under glass on reverse containing a gold initial 'W' and white hair. Accompanied by a label written in ink in a nineteenth-century hand which reads: 'Hair of the great Duke of Wellington. Cut off by C. V. Shelly, c.1852
Heart-shaped pendant with a bow at the top set with nine pale garnets. White-enameled ribbon frame with another garnet at the base. The frame is inscribed 'UN SEUL ME SUFFIT', 'one love is enough for me'. An urn (suggesting its purpose as a memorial piece) is drawn in sepia on a ground of white hair beneath a faceted rock crystal. On the back is an empty glass locket compartment for hair, c.1750-1800
Victorian 9 carat gold padlock heart with chased floral design and hair locket back.
Georgian almandine garnet locket with bow detail and a hinged back. Pretty hairwork inside. Antique Animal Jewelry