The exact origin of the heart shape as a symbol of love has been lost over time. The earliest visual image of the heart as a metaphor was depicted in the 13th century manuscript ‘Roman de la Poire’ or ‘Romance of the Pear’ by Thibaut. With regards to jewellery, however, the earliest known examples of heart shaped jewels appear around the late medieval period in the form of rings and brooches, often inscribed with short love poems. This was the era of courtly romance and chivalry, centred on knights and damsels in distress, and jewellery given as a token of love played an important role.
The image of the heart once in use, rapidly gained favour and by the 16th century it was a familiar motif symbolising romance and affection.
The heart symbol took a slight twist in meaning during the 17th century, particularly in Scotland when ‘witches heart’ or ‘Luckenbooth’ twisted heart brooches were used as talismans against evil spirits.
By the 18th century however, the witches heart symbol evolved to mean ‘bewitched by love’, often set with garnets. At this point in time, a double heart would have signified that the wearer was in a committed relationship.
At no other time was the heart shape so popular as during the Victorian era. Queen Victoria was particularly fond of jewellery, and owned numerous heart shaped jewels, including a charm bracelet with a heart shaped charm representing each of her children. This Romantic Movement, with its focus on emotion and sentimentality was reflected in the jewellery of the time, hearts being one of the favourite motifs.
Today the heart is widely accepted as the definitive symbol of love. A heart shaped jewel is the ultimate way to express one’s feelings on the day of the celebration of love, Valentine’s Day.