Jewels containing concealed compartments have been popular for centuries, most commonly functioning as tokens of love. Prior to the nineteenth century various forms of jewellery hid locks of hair, portrait miniatures and other mementos. However, in the mid to late nineteenth century the pendant locket came into vogue.
Influenced by a number of factors, including the invention of photography, which made miniature images more accessible to the greater public, the Romantic movement, sentimental objects were promoted, and new technology allowed for the increased production of jewellery. It was in this context that lockets became popular. Queen Victoria—perhaps the greatest trend-setter of her day—often wore lockets. One of her most coveted jewels was a charm bracelet set with nine enamelled heart-shaped lockets, each one containing a lock of hair of the royal children, first given to her by Prince Albert in 1846, with the lockets added as the children were born (now in the Royal Collection). She also gave lockets as presents, and they soon became the gift of choice for sentimental occasions, such as from a bride to her bridesmaids, and to mark other occasions such as birthdays, in addition to being a present exchanged between lovers.
Due to their romantic associations, lockets were often decorated with symbols of love, such as flowers (each variety with its own romantic symbolism), birds, ribbons (symbolising the bonds of love), and serpents (eternal love), or were in a romantic shape, such as a heart, as seen in Victoria’s bracelet. Lockets were typically worn either on a chain or ribbon around the neck, or on a bracelet, as a charm, again as already exemplified. A testament to their sentimental allure, lockets have remained popular throughout the twentieth century up to the present day.
Charlotte Gere and Judy Rudoe, Jewellery in the Age of Queen Victoria: A Mirror to the World, London: The British Museum Press, 2010.