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The History of the Locket: Pendants, Rings and Brooches

A sentimental symbol to make joy or pain physical

Wednesday 3rd May 2017

For centuries, men and women in love, or in mourning, have used the locket as a sentimental symbol to make their joy or pain physical. European designs for lockets date to the beginning of the 16th century, when pendants were worn to conceal good luck charms, small fabric squares soaked in perfume to ward off the poor smells in public places, painted portraits, and even on occasion, poison. Furthermore, lockets were not only worn around the neck as a pendant, but also as finger rings and brooches.

During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603), lockets were used to hold cherished keepsakes. The Queen made them fashionable by giving them as gifts, each with a small, exquisite hand-painted portrait of her inside. Her own exquisite locket ring is made from a band of mother of pearl and gold and further studded with large diamonds and rubies. It was commissioned in 1575 and features a portrait of her mother Anne Boleyn within. Elizabeth I also gave lavish, gem-encrusted lockets to many of her favourite and loyal subjects, including three magnificent examples to the English sea captain, Sir Francis Drake.

By the mid 17th century, lockets had gained even more sentimental purpose and became an important way to commemorate the death of an individual. Mourning jewellery became hugely popular around the time of the execution of Charles I in 1649, and his loyal followers wore miniature portraits of the King set in concealed compartments within their lockets, brooches and locket rings. In the 17th century locks of hair were also enclosed in elaborate lockets but they were hidden from view. By the 18th century however, the lock of hair had become a central and visible part of the locket's aesthetic design. The hair was now intricately curled or plaited inside the locket pendant, ring or brooch, to be openly admired. Furthermore, many lockets of the 18th century were transparent in their composition, (as they were constructed out of panels of rock crystal), allowing the lock of hair inside to be clearly visible, even magnified, when being worn. 

Although by no means an innovation of the second half of the nineteenth century, locket pendants became particularly popular as daytime ornaments from 1840 to 1880. Queen Victoria significantly re-popularised the wearing of lockets and on her first birthday, she was given a gem set locket by her mother and over the course of her life, gave and received hundreds. Examples of the period are distinctly decorated with coloured enamels or in-set with diamonds and gem set flowers and insects. Lockets and finger lockets also took the form of more novelty items such as engraved envelopes, travelling cases, belt buckles and books.

When Prince Albert died in 1861, the Queen went into permanent mourning. She took to only wearing black and wore a lock of Albert's hair inside her locket at all times. Due to the commemorative nature of the locket, mourning jewellery and the locket in particular, became a popular and fashionable Victorian mourning accessory. Typical examples include decoration and script enamelled in black, examples carved entirely from dark onyx and jet, and the use of crosses as a recurring motif. 

Looking for the perfect heartfelt keepsake and touched by the sentiment, romance and magic of the locket? Explore our collection of exquisite antique locket pendants, rings and brooches and vintage chains by browsing on line or visiting us in store.

Antique pearl turquoise ring berganza hatton garden
Antique turquoise and pearl locket memorial ring, circa 1837.
Ref: 27533
Faceted gold wedding band, English, 1940.
Faceted gold wedding band, English, 1940.
Ref: 25385
Antique solitaire jade locket ring berganza hatton garden
Victorian Burmese jade locket ring, circa 1870.
Ref: 24583
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