Posted on: February 13, 2020

The Triumph of Love

Christina Trevanion takes a look at jewellery as the oldest expression of love in human history.

In today’s liberal age we are free to choose and marry who we wish, lovers can communicate freely with one another with little, if any repercussions.  It is however, important to remember that it wasn’t always that easy. Up until the early twentieth century a girls reputation had to be protected at all costs, men and women were not free to marry simply whoever they wished to.  Marriage was seen as a contract between families to improve their social standing or increase wealth.  But love conquers all and when two hearts collide, there is always a way of communicating with one another, here I discuss how lovers have relayed their feelings for each other using jewellery throughout the ages.

Of all the man made objects, jewellery must surely represent the most tangible and enduring method of relaying long term commitment and undying affection between friends and lovers.  As Valentine’s Day looms upon us in February, where eager faces can be seen pressed up against jewellery shop windows, I thought I would look at this tradition in more detail. Throughout the centuries, a young courting couple, a monarch celebrating his or her dynastic marriage, a wedded couple wishing to affirm their abiding love, a token of remembrance for a lost love and people both famous and unknown have chosen jewels of all sorts, both simple and elaborate to mark the sentiment and occasion, and this tradition continues today.

In its simplest form the tradition of the giving and receiving of a ring as a solemn pledge symbolising an agreement between families can be traced back to the Romans.  This concept of giving a ring in betrothal ultimately led to the concept of the engagement ring that we know today.  The fashion for wearing rings on the fourth finger of the left hand also had its origins in the Roman times since it was believed that a nerve or vein led directly from there to the heart itself. 

From the Roman period to the middle ages and well into the 18th century, rings were made bearing a sentimental inscription or affectionate message to the interior.  To the viewer, these secret messages are hidden from view and only known to the wearer. These inscriptions, often overlooked unless examined carefully with a lens were usually in English or French and examples that I have seen include the heart wrenching inscriptions; ‘In Thee A Flame – In Me The Same’, ‘Amor Vincit Omnia’ (Love conquers all) ‘No heart so true as mine to you’, amongst many others.

As the eighteenth century evolved, so did the secret language of love.  Lovers began to given tokens of their affection in the form of a lock of hair, either on its own or intrinsically woven with your hearts desire and set into a piece of jewellery, either as a ring or slender braid suitable for a gentleman’s watch chain or lady’s bracelet.  A miniature portrait worn on a bracelet or within a locket (if it was a clandestine relationship) was a popular love jewel.  Upon his death in 1830 King George IV was found to be wearing a miniature of Mrs Fitzherbert (his secret wife and long term companion) around his neck and underneath his shirt.

A more enigmatic variant was the eye miniature, fashionable from the 1780’s, which showed only the beloved’s eye, giving little clue as to his or her identity, preserving anonymity and decorum and yet clearly highly treasured by the wearer.  Unquestionably, the most potent symbol of love used in all aspects of jewellery from brooches to lockets and bracelets to cufflinks was the heart, and this was used prolifically within the jewellery world. 

Love jewels were used to convey intimacy and this formed an important feature of early Victorian romantic jewellery.  Tokens of affection were often given in the form of a padlock with an attached key, expressing ‘You have the key to my heart’, other common symbols used include; a serpent biting its own tail, symbolising eternity in an everlasting circle (much like todays wedding ring), as well as cupids, bows, arrows (emblematic of courage), anchors (symbolising hope or anticipation ‘The anchor of your soul’).  All were used as secret messages exchanged between sweethearts who may have been separated by circumstances with only a small, treasured token left behind as a remembrance of each other.

The early nineteenth century taste for multi-coloured jewellery was further encouraged by ‘The language of stones’ whereby sentiments and personal messages were spelled out in gemstones by taking the initial letter of each stone used. In the saleroom we often see ‘REGARD’ rings, using Ruby, Emerald, Garnet, Amethyst, Ruby and Diamond stones along with ‘DEAREST’ rings (similarly using Diamond, Emerald, Amethyst, Ruby, Emerald, Sapphire and Topaz stones) often set in a row across the front of a ring or within a border of a brooch or locket. 

The inclusion of flowers and foliage within jewellery was also an important message in conveying ones innermost feelings; roses for happiness and love, ivy for friendship, broom for humility, turquoise for remembrance and pansies for ‘dwelling in my thoughts’.

The ardent sentiments between loved ones are forever captured in the jewellery that it produced.  These treasured keepsakes which symbolise the enduring love between generations of owners and their loved ones, jewelled time capsules espousing endless love stories since the beginning of time. Sentimental jewels from throughout history embody the same romantic notions celebrated every Valentine’s Day, and I can’t think of a more perfect or special gift than a sentimental jewel to give or receive on February 14th.

We are currently looking for entries of jewellery for our 14th March auction. Deadline for entry into this sale is February 26th. Valuation days are held every Monday & Friday between 0.900 – 17.00, no appointment necessary. To book a private weekday appointment, or a home visit call 01948 800202 or email helena@trevanionanddean.co.uk