Jewelry That Speaks of Love

In every artistic expression from paintings to poetry, from music to literature, from film to stage, love is the emotion that overrides all others. The same is true of jewelry.  Particularly in a time when personalization and symbolism continue to become more popular than ever, it’s no wonder that the jewelry with poignant meanings, secret messages and imagery steeped in significance is a favorite among collectors and jewelry enthusiasts.

These wearable expressions of affection take us a romantic journey throughout history. In A new book,  The Power of Love: Jewels, Romance and Eternity (Unicorn Publishing, Pub Date November 4, 2019) Dr. Beatriz Chadour-Sampson, an international jewelry author, historian, lecturer and curator of the Alice and Louis Koch Collection in Zurich Switzerland and the in-house Jewelry specialist for Les Enluminures explores the jewelry that expresses the universal sentiment of love, from the ancient world to current times and illustrates through text and photos how passion, desire and enduring love remain constant but the jewelry that evokes these feelings has evolved over time.

In her introduction, she writes, “Love is as old as civilization, It transcends boundaries and is universally understood.” Chadour-Sampson also speaks to the various types of love from infatuation to unconditional love to illicit love and the love of family, friends and love in mourning for someone close that has passed on. She goes on to talk about how commitment: how the ring is the most personal of all jewels, its endless circular form reflecting the everlasting union of two people.

Throughout the book, she reveals the different traditions and styles of betrothal and marriage bands, the symbolism of gemstones and a variety of meaningful motifs that jewelers of each time period turned into wearable symbols of all types of love. And, the pieces she features date back to European royalty of the Renaissance onward to The Duchess of Windsor, Grace Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor through Kate Middleton and Lady Gaga.  

 Some of my personal favorite pieces are in the Alice and Louis Koch Collection in Zurich Switzerland for which she continues to be the curator and the William and Judith Bollinger Jewellery Gallery at the Victoria and Albert Museum for which she was a consulting curator for its redesign. The stories behind these pieces capture the heartfelt meanings, terms of endearment and secret ways of declaring one's intentions or feelings as well as the continuity and unity of marriage through intricate and rare jewels. 

Posy rings (their name derived from poesie (poetry) were first designed in medieval times but were popular through the early 19th century. They were often plain gold bands with messages or mottos on the outside or inside and were given as a gift of friendship or love and eventually gained in significance in the later centuries in which it was designed. This particular ring displays four views of one posy ring with springs and hearts and the French inscription pense de moy (think of me), circa the 1400s and it resides in the Victorian and Albert Museum, London.

Miniatures of scenes originally painted for Madame du Barry, the last of the mistresses of Louis XV of France, by Jean Honore Fragonard which included four canvases under the theme “The Progress of Love. The book displays two of these rings which were from Austria, circa 1790 with gold foiled silhouettes against green or bright blue backdrops. One of the rings depicts two alters of love with flaming hearts linked by garlands for an arch and held by to doves in flight with the French inscription ‘Nous sommes unis’(We are united by love).

 Cupid played a large role in the sentimental jewelry of love. An example in The Power of Love features a playful take on romance in a ring that features cupid absconding with a flaming heart set with a ruby. Engraved into the band of the ring is the English inscription “Stop Thief” England circa 1725 (Victoria and Albert Museum, London)

 “The Language of Flowers” imbued designs with just the right emotion for each occasion when it was given and provided intricate designs that were engraved, enameled and offered a beautiful insight in the emotions and soul of the giver. This ring features alternating rose sprigs (roses translated to different types of love, depending on the color) and daisies translated to innocence. These were rendered against an ornately engraved background. The daisies conceal four compartments bearing French inscriptions—which translate into “I love you a little. I love you a lot, I love you passionately, I love you not.” Circa 1830-1840. (Alice and Louis Koch collection in the Swiss National Museum, Zurich)

 Pansies were one of the most popular flowers during the 18th and 19th centuries. Pansy (pensée) meant to think or think of me in The Language of Flowers and in this ring it acted as a rebus (a puzzle of words and motifs) beautifully enameled with a pansy on one side and the words ‘a votre ami” which as the book states means “ ‘think of your friend’ and was a romantic reminder of a loved one’.” France, circa 1800s. (Victoria and Albert Museum, London)

In this Victorian brooch/pendant, “the myrtle is a bridal symbol, the dove evokes love, the pearls, innocence and chastity and the forget-me-nots (in this design) consistency and faithfulness.” They often referred to the same flower for remembrance. London, Circa 1850-73, (Victoria and Albert Museum, London)

 This ring is designed with a secret compartment that was popular in the 1830s and 40s in both rings and pendants. They would be shaped like an envelope and would open like a love letter to reveal hidden messages. “The top ring features a white rose against a dark blue enamel background and, when opened reveal the word ‘Amour.’” France, circa 1840. (Alice and Louis Koch Collection in the Swiss National Museum, Zurich)

A gold floral engraved ring given to Vivien Leigh by Lawrence Olivier, which then sold at Sotheby’s in 2017. It is inscribed ‘Laurence Olivier Vivien Eternally,’ and is thought to be one of Leigh’s wedding bands from Olivier.

These are just a few highlights from the affection and passion that unfolds throughout this enchanting book, proving that love, when translated into jewelry, knows no bounds.

All You Need Is Love

As a few examples of how jewelry can capture one's deepest emotions, I have included two sentimental jewels from Wartski in London, for which I fell head over heels when I visited it’s engraved gem exhibition. These two pieces are for sale as are others in antique shops and fairs which fall under the category of sentimental jewelry. Once you have read the book, why not go out and find the tokens of affection that speak to your heart and soul.

 How romantic is this hinged yellow gold bangle by Lucien Falize, set with diamonds and decorated with enamel in the Medieval style of an illuminated manuscript, the inscription reading ‘Aultre n’ Auray’ (I would have no other). Paris, circa 1881

 Another sentimental jewel that is so intricately detailed, it had me at “hello”. A yellow gold brooch by Lucien Falize featuring the word ‘Recuerdo’ (remember) in Medieval script, the initial letter enameled translucent blue in a separate cartouche against a paler blue foliate ground, the remainder of the word in translucent red enamel against an opaque cream ground simulating illuminated script on vellum, Bordered with rose diamonds. ‘Remember’ in this case refers to pre-betrothal—a promise that you will be together soon and to wait for that person. Paris, c.1880.