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Jewellery as a symbol in the 19th Century

Since the dawn of time, jewellery has always had a symbolic value. Our ancestors first used it as a distinctive element of its bearer’s status, just as rings were and are used as a proof of love and friendship, but also because of the magical qualities attributed to certain materials which they were made of. From Christianity, these magical qualities were joined to the religious ones, giving rise to pieces such as rosaries, which combined pagan qualities when selecting materials —such as jet, considered a protector against evil eye— or orthodox Catholic shapes such as crucifixes. Many of them are auctioned at antique jewellery section.

The splendour of jewellery in the 19th Century and Romanticism

The splendour of symbolism in jewellery, however, was not really achieved until the 19th Century, and especially during the Romantic period. From that moment on, jewels contained its bearer’s own messages. Thus, for example, we can find pendant locket brooches made with the hair of the owner’s beloved. The art of hair braiding, which used to result in complex patterns or even pictorial representations such as flowers, landscapes or love messages, was typical during the Romantic period, and although it was an inheritance of a previous tradition, it reached then a great popularity.

Queen Victoria was a great admirer of those jewels, as well as of mourning jewellery, especially after the death of her husband Prince Albert. Every European Court tried to emulate the Queen by making mourning jewels in memory of a beloved person. Lockets were therefore common, but also enamels and picture frames.

Different symbols for jewellery

Among gems with more positive symbolism, we can find, for example, souvenir jewels —we will talk about them in other posts in our jewellery blog—, such those of “Grand Tour of Italy”, which became very popular among the great families in the 19th Century. That brooch depicts Saint Peter’s Square, the centre of Christianity, and it is made of micromosaic, a highly skilled technique with a strong classicist character. It is not just a beautiful souvenir, but also provides its wearer with a symbolic, religious, social and especially intellectual significance.

The key role of iconic jewellery

As in previous centuries, iconic jewellery also played an important role during this period. Interesting religious and military pieces were still produced. This badge of the Order of Calatrava symbolizes the membership of that Order, founded in Spain in the 12th Century. Initially, this order had a military and religious nature, but it became rather honorary over the centuries, and it used to reflect the social status of its owner.

The design of this insignia was adapted to the neo-Classical canons of the late 18th-early 19th Century, allegorically representing the figure of Hispania as if it were a Roman sculpture. It is made of gold and the enamel drawing is finely performed. This indicates that it is a jewel made in the Court, elegant and designed to be worn on special occasions.

Therefore, in jewellery, the 19th Century is a prosperous time not only in terms of quality of the pieces, but also in terms of their important symbolism; these qualities make jewellery from that period one of the most interesting and richest in history. That is why it is so common in online jewellery auctions.