Jewelry In Focus

All for Love: Victorian Sentimental Jewelry


Every year just before Valentine’s Day, love fills the air as people search on land and online for the perfect gift that best expresses heartfelt feelings to significant others.  If ever there was a time in human history that best embraced a loving sentiment in daily life, the Victorian period was it.

Le Moniteur de la Mode, February 1847.

Le Moniteur de la Mode, February 1847.

As Queen Victoria assumed the throne in 1837, the dawn of the Victorian era coincided with the full flowering of Romanticism (1837-1860), a period that recalled the Middle Ages and the Renaissance in literature, visual and decorative arts, music, fashion and jeweled adornment. The early years of Victoria’s reign reflected the marital bliss, loving family life and youthful spirit of the young queen and her husband Albert. Together, both periods embraced sentiment and symbolism in jewelry alongside natural motifs.


“Family of Queen Victory” by Franz Xaver Winterhalter (1805-1873), oil on canvas, 1846
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

The language of flowers transmitted a secret code by way of romantic jewels featuring flowers that conveyed sentiments of love, friendship and affection, such as ivy leaves, forget-me-nots, pansies and roses.

Gold and Enamel Bracelet circa 1840

Gold and Enamel Bracelet Circa 1840
The hinged bracelet decorated in multi-colored enamel with a pattern of flowers and scrolls, the center accented with a spray of roses, pansies and forget-me-nots on a white enamel ground, the hinged central compartment made to accommodate an 18 karat gold pocket watch (not pictured), the case enameled in a matching floral design, the dial engraved with flowers and scrolls, featuring a black Roman numeral chapter ring and moon-style hands, key wind movement, dust cover and case numbered 18997, the bracelet engraved “Wednesday, Feb. 11, 1846”. Together with a watch key.
Photo courtesy of Sotheby’s

Floral motifs were most commonly used in brooches, which were extremely popular during this time since the high necklines and bonnets of the early 19th century rendered necklaces and pendant earrings nearly impractical. Large brooches and corsage ornaments superbly suited the fashion of the early to mid-19th century, which called for narrow waists, ample skirts, tight bodices and generous decolletages in evening dresses.

Victorian Rose Brooch

Victorian Diamond Rose Brooch
Diamond brooch in the form of a rose, set in gold and silver.
English, circa 1860
Available at A La Vieille Russie

Other popular forms of sentimental jewels during the Romantic Period include acrostic brooches and pendants, through which sentimental messages were spelled out by the initial letters of precious or semi-precious stones set in gold.  The most common sentiments written in stones included:  ’Regard’ represented by ruby, emerald, garnet, amethyst, ruby and diamond; ‘Love’ by lapis-lazuli, opal, vermeil (an old name for hessonite garnet) and emerald; and ‘Dearest’ used diamond, emerald, amethyst, ruby, emerald, sapphire and topaz.

Seed Pearl and Gem Set 'Regard' Brooch, Early 19th Century

Seed Pearl and Gem Set ‘Regard’ Brooch, Early 19th Century
Designed as a padlock, set with circular-cut rubies, emerald, garnet, amethyst and diamond, spelling out the word ‘regard’, highlighted with split seed pearls and suspending key and locket shaped jewels, glazed locket compartment to reverse, pendant bail.
Photo courtesy of Sotheby’s

Pendants and lockets of sentimental inspiration were also popular during the Romantic Period, often taking the shape of enamelled and gem-set hearts.  Decorated with symbolic motifs such as forget-me-nots and fitted with hair compartments at the back, memorial pendants in the shape of round lockets of gold, enamel and gemstone were widely worn in England.

Heart Pendant with Hair

Gold, Enamel and Diamond Jewel, Mid 19th Century
Centring on a pear-shaped diamond within a chased cartouche applied with royal blue enamel, suspending a heart-shaped pendant similarly decorated, centring on a star motif set with circular- and rose-cut diamonds, the reverse with a glazed compartment containing woven hair, fitted case Harvey & Company, Goldsmiths and Watch Makers, 126 & 128, Regent Street.
Photo courtesy of Sotheby’s

Bracelets of sentimental inspiration, popular during the period, consisted of a row of portrait miniatures, many with locks of hair in glazed compartments on the reverse side.  In the 1850s, popular rings of romantic inspiration were carved in coral in the shape of hands or flowers, while mourning rings were made of gold bands encircled by a plait of hair or decorated with black enamel.

Gold and Enamel Miniature Bracelet, Francois Meuret, 19th century

Gold and Enamel Miniature Bracelet, Francois Meuret (1800-1887), 19th century
Designed as a series of woven ribbon motifs decorated with blue guilloché enamel, set with five oval glazed compartments with four miniatures on ivory depicting members of the House of Orléans, Prince Louis Charles Philippe Raphäel of Orléans, Duke of Nemours (1814 -1896), Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (1822 -1857), Prince Henri Eugène Philippe of Orléans, Duke of Aumale (1822 -1897) and Princess Maria Carolina of Bourbon-Two Sicilies (1822 -1869), inner circumference approximately 165mm, all signed ‘M’ (two on the left and two on the right), miniature length approximately 22mm each, tooled fitted case, embossed with the initials A.G.
Photo courtesy of Sotheby’s

Continuing in popularity from the Georgian period, eye miniatures remained in vogue through the early 19th century.  Also known as the Lovers’ eyes, this form of sentimental jewelry originated when the Prince of Wales (later George IV) sought a discreet way to send the widow Maria Fitzherbert, his rumored lover, a token of his love. Knowing that his court would disapprove of the romance, the two exchanged brooches with portraits of only each others’ eyes to preserve anonymity and decorum.


Lover’s Eye brooch, England, 1800-20, gold, pearls, diamonds and painted miniature. Museum no. P.56-1977, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

One of the earliest forms of sentiment in jewelry history, hair jewelry reached its height in popularity during the Victorian era.  Wearing hair as a keepsake for a loved one dates to ancient times, but over the 18th and 19th centuries, this practice evolved on a large scale with the help of Queen Victoria. Hair jewelry was de rigueur during the Romantic Period, given as sentimental keepsakes.

Victorian hair Jewelry

15 carat yellow gold hair bracelet with tiny seed pearls and curl over plaited gray-blonde hair, blue enamel, engraved on the back “John Burdon, b. Octr 14th 1811, d. Novr 12th 1893″, 6-1/3″ around the inside with the front navette shape 1-7/8″ by 1”. Rev. John Burdon was a son of Rowland Burdon and lived at Castle Eden Dene in northern England. The navette shape and style of this bracelet is very typically Georgian (See Dawes & Collings “Georgian Jewellery, 1714-1830” pages 145 & 160 for examples) but the later date engraved is Victorian.
Photo courtesy of Morning Glory Jewelry

Sentiment and mourning overlapped, however, as seen with jewels decorated with locks of hair. These jewels were worn either in memory of a deceased loved one or as a sentimental reminder of a lover.  The hair would be concealed in small compartments at the back of jewels or displayed prominently on a brooch or pendant behind a rock crystal case.

Victorian mourning brooch with hair in the Prince of Wales feather motif

Victorian mourning brooch with hair in form of the Prince of Wales feather motif

The finest hair brooches ever produced were made in the 1840s and 1850s in England.  Basket weave patterns, Prince of Wales feathers and landscapes with mourning ladies, weeping willows, and departing ships were among the favorite subjects for these hair brooches.  The number of soldiers’ deaths from the Crimean war and the Indian Mutiny, turning happy wives into heartbroken widows, was a major reason for wearing such jewels of remembrance.

Queen Victoria in mourning in 1862

Queen Victoria and Princess Louise, Windsor Castle, 1862

Jewelry took a sudden and somber turn after the death of Queen Victoria’s mother, The Duchess of Kent, followed by her husband Albert in the year 1861, marking beginning of the Grand Period (1860-1885) in jewelry design.  Known for her sentimental nature and clinging to keepsakes after Albert’s death, Queen Victoria established the rituals of mourning that were an important part of social and family life during the second half of the 19th century.  

Queen Victoria Mourning Dress

This dress was once worn by Queen Victoria (1819-1901) of the United Kingdom, as documented in an 1894 photograph of the Queen holding her great-grandson, Edward VIII (1894-1972). Purchased from an annual sale of the Queen’s garments, it shows the traditional touches of mourning attire, which she wore from the death of her husband, Prince Albert (1819-1861), until her own death. The simple white trim and minimal use of crinkled crepe on the dress indicate a state of half mourning, although it is 33 years after her husband’s death. The bodice is of a lighter material to allow for comfort during summer months and the entire garment is finely detailed inside and out.
Black mourning dress reached its peak during Queen Victoria’s reign. She set the standard by wearing mourning for half of her life. With these standards in place, it was considered a social requisite to don black from anywhere between three months to two and a half years while grieving for a loved one or monarch. The stringent social custom existed for all classes and was available at all price points. Those who could not afford the change of dress often altered and dyed their regular garments black. The amount of black to be worn was dictated by several different phases of mourning; full mourning ensembles were solid black while half mourning allowed the wearer to add a small amount of white or purple.
Photo courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Her mourning jewels consisted of brooches, bracelets and other forms of jewelry that contained locks of Albert’s hair, sparking a steep rise in demand for hair jewelry.  While in full mourning, all jewelry and clothing must be black; in half-mourning, melancholy colors such as gray, mauve or purple were allowed to be worn.  To meet this strict protocol, jet, onyx, gutta-percha, vulcanite and bog oak were popular materials used for mourning jewelry.  For sentimental jewelry, the Grand Period set the solemn tone in jewelry design for 27 years.

Whitby Jet Mourning Parure

Whitby Jet Mourning Parure from the British Museum

The dark veil was eventually lifted with the onset of the Aesthetic Period (1885-1901) at the end of the 19th century, during which jewelry took on a sense of whimsy and lightheartedness. Surprisingly, jewelry seemed all but abandoned in England, as women wearied of Victorian excess in decoration.  The new preference for small, delicate and unostentatious jewelry worn in moderation became the accepted norm of the day.

A Late Victorian Gold, Diamond, Enamel Locket Mourning Brooch for Ian Douglas Montagu, Lord Inverurie

A Late Victorian Gold, Diamond, Enamel Locket Mourning Brooch for Ian Douglas Montagu, Lord Inverurie
Designed as a central black enamel heart locket with half-pearl wings and coronet surmount set with four seed pearls, the front with applied letters for IAN in rose-cut diamonds, opening to reveal two photographs, in fitted case
Ian Douglas Montagu, Lord Inverurie (1877-1897), was the eldest son of Algernon Hawkins Thomand, 9th Earl of Kintore (1852-1930). He served as a lieutenant in the 3rd Battalion, Gordon Highlanders.
Photo courtesy of Christie’s

As for sentimental ornamentation, good luck charms and dates and names spelt in diamonds became a popular way to commemorate a special occasion.  A popular motif for brooches and rings consisted of hearts, and pairs of hearts, surmounted by a coronet or a ribbon bow, entirely set with diamonds or with colored stones surrounded by diamonds.  

Late Victorian Double Heart Brooch

Late Victorian gold and red guilloche enamel double heart brooch, with two red guilloche enamel hearts each set with an old cut diamond, surrounded by a border of seed pearls with a seed pearl ribbon bow surmount
Photo courtesy of Reeman Dansie

The 1880s witnessed the most severe memorial jewelry, characterized by large surfaces of black enamel simply decorated with a cross or symbolic forget-me-not in half-pearls or diamonds.  As the century drew to a close, mourning jewelry grew less and less severe as women preferred to wear very few jewels or none at all during mourning periods, a trend that would end an era typified by mourning rituals.

Victorian Heart Brooch ALVR

Victorian Jeweled Heart-Shaped Brooch/Pendant
Tourmaline, diamond and sapphire heart-shaped brooch, mounted in gold and platinum. This heart can also be worn as a pendant.
English, circa 1890
Available at A La Vieille Russie

From the romantic and youthful early years of the Victorian era, reflecting the youth, courtship and marriage of the young Queen, to the nearly three decades of intense mourning and its requisite rituals, the ardent sentiments between loved ones are forever captured in the jewelry produced during the 19th century.  These treasured keepsakes symbolize the enduring love between generations of owners and their loved ones, jeweled capsules espousing endless love stories since the beginning of the Victorian era. The sentimental jewels from this period in 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.

Victorian Regard Charm Bracelet

Antique Victorian English Gold and Jeweled “REGARD” Locket Bracelet
An English Antique bracelet with diamond, rubies, emerald, garnet and amethyst. The 15 karat bracelet has 1 rose-cut diamond, 2 cabochon rubies, 1 cabochon emerald, 1 cabochon garnet and 1 cabochon amethyst in a heart shaped 18 karat gold locket spelling out REGARD in the jewels. With a reverse covered compartment. Original fitted box signed Harvey & Company, Regent Street, London. Circa 1850
Available at Macklowe Gallery via 1stdibs

A Victorian ruby and diamond double heart ring, set with a pear-shaped ruby weighing 0.6 carats and a pear-shaped diamond weighing 0.45 carats, both set to the centre of an old brilliant-cut diamond cluster with a diamond-set ribbon bow to the top, all in silver to a yellow gold mount with split shoulders, circa 1870 Gross weight 3.13 grams

A Victorian ruby and diamond double heart ring, set with a pear-shaped ruby weighing 0.6 carats and a pear-shaped diamond weighing 0.45 carats, both set to the centre of an old brilliant-cut diamond cluster with a diamond-set ribbon bow to the top, all in silver to a yellow gold mount with split shoulders, circa 1870 Gross weight 3.13 grams
Available at Bentley & Skinner

Victorian Faceted Garnet Locket Brooch

Victorian Faceted Garnet Locket Brooch, circa 1880
Victorian Faceted Garnet Extra Fine Handmade Locket Brooch. The 15 karat yellow gold is beautifully hand etched in an oval shape to surround the lovely deep red garnet. Dangling from the brooch/locket you will find a key, a heart and pearl all adding to the charm of this lovely keepsake piece.
Available at Fourtane via 1stdibs

An Antique English Victorian Eye Miniature Brooch

An Antique English Victorian Eye Miniature Brooch, circa 1840
15K yellow gold, formed as a wicker basket with two twisted rope handles, applied with a flower set with a cabochon turquoise, the leaves and petals set with rose-cut diamonds, the back mounted with a circular portrait eye miniature of a gentleman’s three quarter partial profile with a brown eye and curly brown hair under glass, pinstem with C catch.
The illustration shows both the front and the back of the piece.
Available at S.J. Shrubsole

Victorian Diamond Garnet Yellow Gold Hair-Locket Pendant

Victorian Diamond Garnet Yellow Gold Hair-Locket Pendant, circa 1880
A lovely antique diamond and garnet pendant set in a handmade 15k yellow gold setting. The center diamond weighs 1/4 carat and is a old-mine-cut, encircled by five rose-cut diamonds. These stones are set in yellow gold, which is set on top of the cabochon garnet backdrop. The pendant measures 1 1/4 inches from the top of the bail to the bottom of the drop. Finely made and gorgeous, this Victorian pendant is elegant and the perfect size for wearing everyday.
Available at Fourtane via 1stdibs

A Victorian enamel, pearl and diamond brooch, the central silver entwined double heart and ribbon bow motif encrusted with rose diamonds, applied to a cobalt blue guilloché enamel marquise shaped panel with white enamel and pearl border, to a closed yellow gold mount, measuring approximately 3cm, gross weight 5.9 grams, circa 1880.

A Victorian enamel, pearl and diamond brooch, the central silver entwined double heart and ribbon bow motif encrusted with rose diamonds, applied to a cobalt blue guilloché enamel marquise shaped panel with white enamel and pearl border, to a closed yellow gold mount, measuring approximately 3cm, gross weight 5.9 grams, circa 1880.
Available at Bentley & Skinner

Victorian Heart of Gold set with Natural Pearls

Victorian Heart of Gold set with Natural Pearls
England, circa 1900
Available at A La Vieille Russie via 1stdibs

Double Heart Brooch

A late Victorian tourmaline and diamond twin brooch, the brooch in the form of a twin heart, set with a pear-shaped cabochon-cut green and a pink tourmaline, estimated to weigh a total of 1.70 carats, both rubover-set to a yellow gold mount, to the centre a diamond cluster surround and ribbon bow surmount, the old brilliant-cut diamonds estimated to weigh a total of 1.50 carats, white claw set to a yellow gold mount, with pendant loop and detachable brooch fitting, gross weight 5.5 grams, circa 1890
Available at Bentley & Skinner




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