by Mary Jo
I met jeweler and jewelry historian Renee Huff at last year's Romantic Times conference in New Orleans, where I fell in love with (and bought!) an unusual Victorian necklace from her. She's fascinating to talk to, so I prevailed on her to visit us last summer. (Renee's Etsy shop, Jeweled Legacy, can now ship internationally, if you'd like to browse the wide range of things she carries.)
Now with Valentine's Day almost here, she's visiting again to talk about historic love tokens. Renee, tells us about Snakes of Love!
Renee Huff: It's almost St Valentine's Day. What do you get your Georgian or Victorian era sweetie?
You might get them something with a serpent. The snake has gotten a bad reputation in more recent times, but in the old days serpents were the symbol of Eternal Love and Union, based largely on the ancient symbol of the Ouroboros. It was such a prevalent image that when Albert proposed to Victoria, the engagement ring was a gold serpent. If you were secret lovers, the snake would be less obvious- perhaps woven in the background or disguised as a design element like a bail or the bezel holding in a stone. (MJP: Find the snakes in these gorgeous earrings!)
Clasped hands in what was referred to as the Fede style- from the Italian Mani in Fede, or Hands in Faith were also popular. Eventually they would be modified into the Luckenbooth brooch- a romantic crowned heart with the initials of the two lovers entwined, and the Claddagh--the hands cradling a heart with a crown on top.
Flowers weren't just for nosegays and tussie-mussies. Blooms, whether reproduced in gold, silver or gems, retained their meaning in jewelry as well. Roses, daisies and orange blossoms spring immediately to mind as they have remained in use, but other blooms were also common. Pansies for think of me, Ivy for fidelity, Lily of the Valley for sweetness, acorns for a long life (together), Violets for modesty and of course Forget-Me-Nots for true love.
Forget-me-nots were frequently made with Persian Turquoise and eventually turquoise took the same meaning regardless of design. It was Prince Albert's favorite stone, and enjoyed great popularity during his lifetime.
Speaking of stone meanings, Garnet symbolized loyalty, fidelity and faithful love. The rich red of garnet was associated with the Goddess of Love and all matters of romance. Many engagement and wedding rings were made with garnets for faithful love and pearls for purity. Pearls were very valuable, a miracle of nature, and I will try not to sidetrack on the staggering expense of large, round matching pearls. Even small pearls were valuable, and parures of 'seed' pearls were considered appropriate gifts for young ladies.
Gemstones were also used to send acrostic messages. The first letter in the name of each gem spelled out things like 'Regard' or 'Dearest'. They looked a lot like our 'Mother's Rings'- a band of gemstones that didn't necessarily look harmonious together. Some of them are hard to distinguish-- love was most often simply Lapis, Opal, orange-red specimens of Vanadinite or Valentinite, and sometimes Emerald, but not always.
Or you could sideline the gems and give them an imperishable part of yourself- your hair. Rings and watch chains were braided, hidden compartments held coiled locks or woven designs, and hair work designs were set under crystal on every kind of jewelry imaginable. Dresser sets had a dish with an open top, called a hair receiver, to save those precious strands.
The one thing you won't see much of in courting jewelry during this time is diamonds. Diamonds symbolized wealth and maturity. It wouldn't be until the late 1890's that diamonds start to be associated with marriage, but that's a story for another day!
Mary Jo again. I knew that the Victorians were fond of using the hair of loved ones for memento jewelry, and I've seen some elaborate examples, but I never heard of the 'hair receiver' on a dressing table!
It's not jewelry, but I just got some advance reading copies of my September book, Not Always a Saint, so as a Valentine bonus, I'll give a copy to one person who comments between now and midnight Thursday.
Our historical romance heroines often have or receive jewelry with special meanings, particularly if it comes from the hero. Do you have any special love tokens that you cherish? I'd love to hear!
Mary Jo, sighing happily over the lovely pictures of bright shinies