“What is exciting about jewelry as tokens of romance is the extraordinary range of symbolism used throughout civilization to send messages to the adored one,” says Lynn Ramsey, president of the Jewelry Information Center in New York City. “This symbolism can be as obvious as the heart or as clandestine as the communication in acrostic jewelry, in which the first initials of the gems spell out a message [for example, ‘regard’ indicated by ruby, emerald, garnet, amethyst, ruby and diamond].” This style was a favorite from the late 18th century on. Here are some other symbols.
The heart is undaunted as love’s most popular icon. In 1843, on her third wedding anniversary, Queen Victoria wrote in her journal about a gold brooch, a crowned heart set with gemstones and freshwater pearls from Scotland: “My beloved Albert gave me a lovely brooch … which I am delighted with.”
Famous women throughout the past three centuries could say the same of jeweled hearts. Carl Fabergé set one in sapphires, overlapped by sprigs of diamond mistletoe. A heart-shaped pendant by Carlo and Arthur Giuliano says in gold letters “My heart opens at thy voice,” a quotation from the opera Sampson and Delilah.
Portions of the body, particularly the eye, are also well-known talismans of love. The eye as a symbol of love goes back to Egypt, where udjat, or eye jewelry, dates to the 14th Dynasty (1715-1650 B.C.) and symbolizes Horus, the all-seeing eye god. In England in the 1700s, miniature paintings of eyes appeared on pendants and carried secret messages from one’s lover. Salvadore Dali liked his eyes jeweled too. And when Madonna gave birth last year, the baby’s father, Carlos Leon, gave the rock icon a 22k gold link bracelet with blue “eyes” to help keep away evil spirits.
Cupids & quivers
Cupid’s quiver and twin hearts tied with lover’s knots are romantic motifs also. Cupid, the impish son of mythological Venus, was a favorite of Fabergé, who often depicted Cupid’s arrows in diamonds. In the Victorian era, even a target depicted the game of love.
When it comes to love, snakes are hardly the stuff of poison and doom. In fact, snakes are one of love’s most ardent symbols in fine jewelry because they represent endless, eternal love. In the late 1800s, Britian’s Edward VII gave his “friend,” Mrs. George Keppel, a brooch of deep red tourmaline circled by a diamond snake. As was the custom when depicting snakes as love objects, this snake is biting its tail. Another snake, in gold, did the same as the wedding ring of Queen Victoria.
Birds, bees and butterflies
A potent symbol, the butterfly represents mythological Psyche, who was turned into a butterfly by her lover Cupid. For Romans, the butterfly represented the soul, where passion starts. By the Art Nouveau period, the lady butterfly appeared in jewelry as a metaphor for love’s beauty. In Elizabethan and Victorian times, flies or moths symbolized the heart and soul hovering dangerously close to the flame of love.
A bee resting near a crescent moon meant only one thing to the Victorians: a honeymoon pin, often the first gift bestowed on the new bride. And an inscription in an ancient Greek betrothal ring simply spelled out “honey.” Doves, either kissing or cooing, are frequently found in pairs on diamond brooches, some dating to the 1700s.
Unsurprisingly, a jeweled flower is love in bloom. The rose reigns as queen of romantic jewels. Venus adored roses, with the thorns aptly suggesting the snares of passion. And on their wedding day in 1939, film director Alexander Korda gave actress Merle Oberon three Cartier diamond and gold roses.
A daisy means innocence; mistletoe, a kiss; and the pansy, taken from the French word penseé, signifies thoughts. Another flower used in romantic jewelry is the posy, says Ramsey. Posy (or poetry) rings inscribed with loving rhymes such as “In thee a flame, In me the same,” date to the Middle Ages. While the custom died out in the early 19th century, it’s being revived in the 1990s by young jewelry designers with more explicit messages such as “Truth/respect” and “Think of Me.”
Almost as prolific as the jeweled heart are two hands holding one another. Sometimes, they wrap a heart or love knots. A wedding ring shaped in a love knot dates to Greece in 1000 B.C. In Roman times, a betrothal ring depicted hands to show commitment and spiritual union. The Irish Claddagh ring of clasped hands surrounding a heart remains one of the most popular expressions of betrothal and love. And the Duke of Windsor gave his Duchess several pieces engraved with messages expressing their strong bond, including the phase “Hold tight.”
From Stags to Riches
Nothing, actually, has been omitted from the lexicon of romantic jewelry. A couple embracing in an elaborate sailboat of pearls and gems designed in the last century by Carlo Giuliano is probably based on the 17th century idea that “love is the star by which the voyage through life is navigated.” A jeweled dog, more simply, symbolized pure love and was a romantic gift received by actress Joan Crawford.
A spider in Victorian days warned of love’s risky entanglements, and a golden stag, humbled by Cupid’s arrows, was a poignant reminder of the power and painful nature of love.
Whatever the century, love itself is the muse behind such expansive and elegant expressions of the heart in jewelry. And whether the symbols be overt, whimsical, sentimental or hidden, the person giving and the person receiving are usually well aware of the message intended. The woman being adored through the gifts of precious stones feels quite precious indeed.
Mary Martin Niepold is a freelance journalist based in New York City. She specializes in the fashion scene. She contributes to the Associated Press and the Copley News Service and is fashion and beauty editor of Weight Watchers Magazine.
Love Is Where The Heart Is was excerpted from an advertorial supplement the Jewelry Information Center produced for regional consumer magazines. The supplement and photography are offered free to each magazine, exclusive to its region. Advertising directors of the magazines use the material as an advertising supplement. JIC provided photography, which does not compete with jewelers’ advertising, from several prestigious sources, including the British Museum, British crown jeweler Wartski and James Robinson in New York City.
“Fine jewelry has a rich history, and a story like this helps to remind the consumer what a beautiful, unique product we have,” says Lynn Ramsey, president/chief executive officer of JIC.
To date the story has appeared in Glance, an upscale lifestyle magazine in the Phoenix/Scottsdale area and in North Shore in the Chicago area. Other magazines that plan to run the supplement include D in Dallas, Tex.; Metro Monthly in Omaha, Neb.; Triad Style in Greensboro, N.C.; Peachtree in Atlanta, Ga.; Northside in Richmond, Va.; San Diego; Houston Life Style; and Minnesota Monthly. JIC also has interested several Sunday newspaper magazines in running the story.
Typically, regional magazines don’t run stories without a local interest, which is why JIC chose the advertorial route. “We can get our jewelry message out to an important upscale consumer, the magazine can ‘localize’ it with local retail advertising or even a photograph supplied by a local jeweler and it’s a win-win situation,” says Ramsey.
Retailers who would like to support JIC’s consumer publicity efforts in their regions should call Roberta S. Lee, JIC director of marketing and communications, at (800) 459-0130.