Oct. 21, 2021

Symbolism in Sentimental Jewelry

Works of jewelry art were keenly used to express emotions and feelings. Sentimental pieces of jewelry were most often presented on the occasion of an engagement or wedding, they could be a proof of friendship, loyalty, but also regret or dislike. They contained romantic messages and decorative motifs with intriguing, secret meanings. This type of products was especially popular in the Victorian era. At that time, symbolic motifs became popularized in jewelry, e.g. cupids, hearts, flowers, or inscriptions with messages. 

In addition to the obvious and often used heart motif, the ancient Roman symbol of clasped hands was common, a sign of love and friendship. On the same occasion, rings with a double ribbon ornament would be gifted, also called "the knot of love". Other popular motifs used in sentimental jewelry include a heart-shaped padlock with a small key, a cupid, or an anchor signifying hope.

Images of birds and animals were eagerly used in nineteenth-century sentimental jewelry as well. The parakeet motif, also symbolizing love, was popular in the early Victorian period. It was often depicted with a forget-me-not or a love letter in its spout. A snake, identified with wisdom, also had a figurative meaning. It was one of the most popular decorative motifs of that time. It was presented with the tail in his mouth, which signified eternal love. Other decorative motifs, fashionable in the nineteenth century, included a frog and a lizard, denoting marriage happiness, a butterfly, a symbol of the soul, an eagle, and a horse, synonymous with power and agility. 

In the early nineteenth century, sentimental jewelry began to use the 'language of stones'. Gemstones were arranged in such a way that the first letters of their names formed the desired words, such as names of brides and spouses.


Human hair was often woven into sentimental jewelry. It was already used in the oldest types of sentimental pieces from the turn of the 17th and 18th centuries. Braided hair with gold wire initials and small pearls were placed in buckles and clasps made of gold and crystal. They were usually worn with ribbons wrapped around the neck or wrist. From the first years of the nineteenth century, hair products became exceptionally popular in jewelry. Intricately arranged locks of hair would be woven into brooches and medallions. 

Miniature portraits were also eagerly used in sentimental jewelry. They were placed in medallions, brooches, and bracelets. The fashion for such products was supported by Queen Victoria, who had a weakness for sentimental pieces. In the Victorian period, funeral miniatures were commonly worn and were decorated with a lock of the deceased person's hair in addition to the portrait. 


Eye miniatures, placed in an oval frame and recognizable only to a loved one, also constituted an interesting theme originating from the end of the 18th century.

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