Antique Jewellery is saturated with secret messages, symbolism and sentiment. The Victorians perfected the art form of Symbolism with flowers, gems, and jewellery being commandeered as a means of discrete communication with elaborate messages.
Symbolism– “An artistic and poetic movement or style using symbolic images and indirect suggestion to express mystical ideas, emotions, and states of mind.”
The heart has long been recognized across cultures as being a symbol of love, charity, joy and compassion. The combination of ‘two hearts entwined’ means forever in my heart. A crown on the top of a heart symbolises ruler of my heart.
Snakes symbolize eternal love and wisdom. The cult of snake jewellery began in 1840 when Queen Victoria received a snake Emerald ring from Prince Albert for their engagement. Snake jewellery went on to be very popular throughout the 19th century, symbolising eternity and everlasting love.
Crescent moons celebrate the feminine moon goddess and therefore is associated with female empowerment. It also symbolizes change (as it turns into a full moon and back) and spirituality.
Often paired with crescent moon jewellery, stars represented direction, and guidance for the spirit.
Symbolic bird jewellery usually features Swallows or Doves. Swallow Birds were a very romantic symbol in antique jewellery, representing faithfulness and wanting your loved one to return home safely.
Doves are often shown with the word pax, (the Latin word for peace) holding an olive branch in their beak. These doves symbolize peace, friendship and the bringing of hope. The French “Saint Esprit” or Holy Spirit dove is depicted to be descending from heaven to earth with wings spread. This is a symbol of faith and was meant to bring luck to the wearer.
Insect jewellery was very popular during the Victorian period, particularly butterflies, caterpillars and dragonflies, which all reflected change and transformations in life – specifically embracing change rather than fearing it.
The horseshoe is symbol of good luck and protection from evil, which became popular around 1880, when there was an increase in superstition. It was also thought that the horseshoe should always be facing upwards, to avoid the good luck from pouring out.
“For each petal on the shamrock. This brings a wish your way. Good health, good luck, and happiness, for today and every day.” -Irish Blessing
Clovers were thought to bring on good fortune, success, prosperity, karma and well wishes to its possessor.
From ancient Roman times through the sentimental Georgian and Victorian eras, hands have held many messages: loyalty, strength, romance and fidelity. Hands are often seen in jewellery holding a flower or clasped together, these signify friendship and were given as a token of affection. These can be seen in Fede rings, Figa Hands and often on Antique Clasps.
From around 1830 it became popular to “say it with flowers” as a way to express love and friendship. Popular motifs included Pansies, forget me not, and roses on brooches, earrings, lockets and rings. Each flower held a different meaning and message-
Forget me not- Remember me and true Love
Chrysanthemum – love
Ivy- Everlasting love and marriage
Pansies – Thinking of you.
Fern – Sincere
Rose – love. Hope. Joy
One of the more heart breaking and sentimental jewellery fashion statements in the Victorian age was mourning Jewellery. Often pieces included human hair, worn in remembrance to eternalize their soul.
Black enamelling was often used and white enamelling if it was the loss of a child. Pearls were also used to symbolise the tears of those grieving.
Here I have only touched on a few of the common symbolisms used in Antique Jewellery. There are many more such as Buckles for Protection, Anchors for Hope, Arrows for Mortality and Eagles for Strength and Power. But hopefully this blog post has helped you find out more about the meaning behind pieces in your collection, or inspired you to make a new meaningful purchase.