Romantic Words in Antique Jewelry
Where the 18th century is known as the age of sentiment and sensibility, the Victorian era is seen as the peak of this - the pinnacle of sentimentality. This 'culture of feeling' through the Georgian and Victorian eras is reflected strongly in the jewelry of the time. In terms of jewelry that expressed love and devotion to the living, since courting rituals were so strict and prohibitive in those times, intimacy and feeling couldn't be expressed verbally so was often instead encoded into things like flowers and jewelry. Today's blog looks at the use of romantic words in sentimental pieces, whether worn openly or hidden away.
Gold brooch set with pearls, hair, and with an ivory plaque painted in watercolor representing doves on a basin of applied gold foil, under the inscription L'Amour (Love). Often mass-produced, sentimental jewelry often bore generalized messages like this one, c.1775-1800 ©Victoria & Albert Museum, London
L'Amitie, L'Amour, À vous dedié
The French language was used almost universally across Europe in sentimental jewelry, as it was considered to be the 'language of love'. For this reason a lot of antique jewelry exists bearing the message 'L'Amitie' (friendship) or 'L'Amour' (love).
Although 'L'Amitie' jewelry was often exchanged by friends as tokens of friendship, many of these pieces were also gifted as love tokens. Male suitors would present them to women they admired and were interested in, as it would have been considered indecent to send a token of 'love' at such an early stage of courtship. Mind you, even at the time of his marriage Earl Spencer gave his fiancee a ring of two turtle doves inscribed 'imitons les en amitie' (let us be friends like them). Friendship was a highly valued form of love and was often sought after as a foundation or fundamental part of any romantic relationship.
An 18-carat gold octagonal ring with guilloche behind blue enamel and transparent glass with an enameled cartouche decorated with gold ribbons with the text ‘Amitié’ (friendship), 18th century, France
Cut Paper Pendant from Schmuck by Brigitte Marquardt - page 178 - 'AMITIE'
The paper cuts were made by folding several layers of paper
Sentimental antique French 'A L’amitie' ring en grisaille in a slim lozenge shape bordered with pearls
Georgian era French 'A L’ Amitie' ring
Georgian 'Gage D'amitie' (token of friendship) ring
Georgian ring, c.1780. The symbolism suggests that this could be a betrothal ring: at the top, a bow, symbolic of a union in love/marriage, is made of hair and gold thread. 'Sacré à l’Amitié' (sacred to (our) friendship) is bordered by the same thread and a halo of pearls, which symbolize innocence and loyalty. The entwined initials at the bottom, MJ, likely belong to the two people in the union
Georgian 'Gage D'amitie' (token/pledge of friendship) ring
Via Jewelry Nerd
Antique 'Gage D'amitie' (token/pledge of friendship) beaded bracelet
Antique Animal Jewlery
More common as a gift in the later stages of courtship such as after engagement or marriage are pieces of sentimental jewelry featuring the word 'L'Amour' (love) or phrases like 'À vous dedié' (dedicated to you). Jewelry bearing these kinds of generalized messages became very commonly produced by jewelers.
This secret compartment ring featuring a white rose against a dark blue enamel background is designed in the shape of an envelope, opening like a love letter to reveal the hidden word 'Amour', France, c.1840. Secret compartment rings shaped like this were popular in the 1830s and 40s in both rings and pendants
Alice and Louis Koch Collection, featured in The Power of Love by Beatriz Chadour-Sampson
Georgian pendant with a heart-shaped glazed compartment within a ribbon bow border, highlighted with white enamel and circular-cut rubies, the enamel inscribed 'L'amour est doux' (Love is sweet)
Pendant with a gold frame, enclosing a composition in mother of pearl and seed pearls on blue enamel of an altar inscribed 'A Vous Dedié' (dedicated to you) with flaming hearts above and a basket of flowers, under glass, c.1775-1800 - ©Victoria & Albert Museum, London
An antique ring with an elongated hexagonal bezel, 'Dedié À Vous' (dedicated to you)
Antique Animal Jewelry
Mizpah rings became particularly popular in the mid-to-late 1800s as a token of friendship or love. 'Mizpah' is a Hebrew word from the biblical story of Jacob and Laban in Genesis, literally translating as 'watchtower'. In the biblical story, it marks the agreement between Jacob and Laban that God will watch over each of them when they are parted, to ensure that they both stay true to the promise they have made.
In sentimental jewelry, Mizpah rings were therefore often exchanged between sweethearts before a period of separation, as a promise of continued loyalty, love, and devotion while away from each other and the sentiment, 'may God watch over you'. People really did believe that the biblical power of the word Mizpah would provide loved ones with safety on their travels and ensure their eventual reunion. Some of the pieces are also engraved with the biblical phrase, 'The Lord watch between me and thee, when we are absent one from another'.
The romantic Victorian ring on top features Mizpah as a secret message, concealed by two hearts pierced by an arrow, the hearts set with a diamond and a ruby, Birmingham, 1893. The Victorian Mizpah ring below is fully hallmarked for Birmingham, 1874
Victorian 18ct gold and diamond ring which opens up to reveal the word Mizpah, the cover decorated with a heart and two ivy leaves on either side, set with old-cut diamonds, symbolizing everlasting love
Victorian black enamel Mizpah ring fully hallmarked for Birmingham, 1873
Two Victorian Mizpah gold rings
Victorian 18k yellow gold Mizpah ring with two hearts set with old mine-cut diamonds, c.1896
From The Three Graces
A collection of hallmarked 18k & 9k antique Mizpah rings
A collection of antique Mizpah rings
With the expansion of the British empire underway in the 1800s, long periods of separation between sweethearts were common. The desire to travel called many young men away, as did the Crimean War and the American Civil War. The popularity of Mizpah rings dropped off around the late 1880s but experienced a revival in the early 1900s when men were called upon to fight in the Great War (WWI).
The words 'souvenir' in French or 'remember' in English are most commonly found in mourning jewelry from the Georgian and Victorian eras. However, these words were also sometimes used in jewelry expressing love and devotion for the living - in particular, during a period of separation, to be held close as a keepsake of the other person.
Georgian 'souvenir' ring, a keepsake with flaming hearts symbolizing passionate love
A very rare Victorian transforming book bracelet in high carat gold, engraved with a spine set with turquoise. The pages open to reveal the word SOUVENIR (remember), c.1840.
A collection of antique 'souvenir' bracelets and a German 'erinnerung' (memory/remember) bracelet
A collection of antique 'souvenir' bracelets
Victorian 18kt Seed Pearl ‘Souvenir’ Bracelet
French Victorian 18k gold 'souvenir' brooch with diamond leaves, pearl, and enamel, in a scroll banner
Georgian Sailor’s ring, handwoven around cat gut and or fish bone/whale bone, to spell out ‘remember’ a sentimental gift to hold close across the oceans
19th-century Russian silver hinged cuff bracelet with black enamel lettering in Russian, which means ‘a memory’, possibly like the sentiment 'souvenir'
AEI & Ever Thine
AEI comes from the Greek word for 'Always', symbolizing everlasting love, and was a popular addition to both love and mourning jewelry in the mid-to-late 1800s. 'Everthine' or 'Ever Thine' was a similar sentiment of being forever dedicated to the other person.
Although this one is a mourning ring, AEI was used in both love and mourning jewelry. The poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning owned a ring with the same motto, which her husband Robert Browning wore on his watch-chain after her untimely death. Gold, black enamel, AEI inscribed in diamond sparks
Late Victorian AEI ring modeled in 18k gold, the lettering set with old-cut diamonds, c.1890
Blue and black Victorian AEI enamel bangles with the lettering picked out in pearls
Victorian AEI yellow gold oval enamel locket with hair
Solid gold sweetheart brooch with a secret sentiment, ‘Everthine’, concealed under a hinged door, decorated with three-colour gold ivy leaves (yellow, white, and rose gold) representing the lasting nature of true love, attached to a rounded heart, set with a tiny glistening rose-cut diamond, Chester, 1910
I Cling to Thee
'I Cling To Thee' was a popular phrase in the Victorian era. It might seem a little strong as a sentiment now, but the Victorians were a very sentimental bunch, and this phrase represented a lasting and passionate love, often used on wedding bands.
Victorian 'I Cling To Thee’ ring, 1869
Victorian fully hallmarked 15ct 'I cling to thee' ring, 1887
I'm Yours, Darling & Other Phrases
Phrases like 'I'm yours' in various languages, 'darling' and many more with general and personal meanings were also popular in the Georgian and Victorian eras.
Sentimental Victorian ring with a diamond-set star design concealing the word 'Darling' underneath the hunged panel, hallmarked for Birmingham, 18 carat gold, 1893
Late Victorian diamond and blue guilloche enamel banner which would likely have hung below Prince of Wales Feathers on a brooch, in jeweled letters is the message, 'ICH DIEN' (I'm yours/I serve)
Inscribed, 'I count the hours until we meet again' in German
'I count the hours until we meet again' German ring with seed pearls and a pearl border
Antique Animal Jewelry
From Schmuck 1780 - 1850, by Brigitte Marquardt - page 412
Decorated with gold wire rays again, and inscribed 'Ewig Dein' (Forever yours)
To wrap up, here are a few more pieces with sentimental inscriptions from AAJ: