Hands up who hasn’t got a penchant for secret messages? A love note under your pillow, a squeeze of the hand, a Chinese fortune cookie… Secrets are deliciously private, tantalisingly elusive.
These days, we’re big on free and public declaration. Back in the day however, secrecy was an essential part of life. Even if your love affair was not breaking any of the myriad of social rules, PDAs were not the done thing. Love was a private matter. Secrecy was woven into the tapestry of romance.
The result of this is a fascinating legacy of jewellery that hides secret messages. Here are a few of our favourite styles:
The Language of Gemstones
Acrostic jewellery – sometimes known as the “language of gemstones” – spells a word using the first letter of every gemstone used. A piece of jewellery embedded with a Ruby, Emerald, Garnet, Amethyst, Ruby and Diamond would spell ‘REGARD‘ – an important term of endearment in the late Georgian and Victorian eras.
‘DEAREST‘ and ‘LOVE‘ are also often seen in acrostic jewellery from this time. These items of jewellery were popular gestures of love for spouses, family members and lovers.
Marie Antoinette’s own jewellery designer, Jean-Baptiste Mellerio, is said to have invented acrostic jewellery. Napoleon Bonaparte was reportedly enchanted by the style and he commissioned several pieces for family members.
‘Opening rings’ were also popular during the Georgian and Victorian eras and beyond. As the name suggests, they open to reveal words, symbols and sentiments or ‘souvenirs’, such as a lock of hair. Perhaps because they are more fragile and prone to breakage, these days, fine examples of antique and vintage opening rings are very rare and valuable objects of beauty.
Popular in various forms throughout history, lockets are a very popular style, made for secret messages and sentimental keepsakes. They come in a huge range of styles – embedded with gemstones to spell acrostic messages, stuffed with a lock of hair, a lover’s portrait, a folded note… The possibilities are endless. With antique and vintage lockets, you can enjoy discovering the different ways our ancestors communicated sentiment through lockets.
Best of all, there is plenty of scope for hiding your own secret message with a locket, old or otherwise. (Read more about creative ideas for personalising lockets here).
We’ve been communicating through images since the days of cave-dwelling. Ancient written language, including Egyptian hieroglyphs and Chinese characters (which are still used today) are based partly on pictograms and ideograms, i.e. visual representatives of the object or notion being depicted.
Symbolic images still have very strong associations in the modern world, despite the sophistication of written language. Consider how powerful the image of a skull and crossbones is, or a white dove.
Antique and vintage jewellery is full of romantic and sentimental symbolism – hands of friendship, horseshoes for luck, dogs for loyalty, snakes for eternal love… The symbols evolved over the years and vary from culture to culture, person to person, but their irresistible charm remains as attractive as ever.