Although the wearing of special tokens such as amulets and sentimental baubles is certainly an ancient practice, the popularity of lockets began to rise in the 17th century and reached its peak of popularity in the Victorian Era. A bauble worn close to the heart and containing an image or memento of a cherished loved one becomes an incredibly personal piece of jewelry. We’re thrilled to offer both a treasure trove of stunning lockets at HeirloomFinds.com and a little insight into their history in this week’s blog.
Lockets often served as meaningful pieces of mourning jewelry. The Victorian Era’s low life expectancy and high mortality rate meant that baubles designed to honor a lost loved one’s life were in high demand and at the center of the period’s fashion scene. Queen Victoria initiated the decades-long trend when she went into mourning for her mother and husband in 1861, inspiring society to follow suit and adorn themselves in black clothing and jewelry replete with memorial significance at the loss of a family member.
This is not to say that all lockets of the age were used strictly for mourning. Family members and sweethearts alike would exchange lockets as a sentimental sign of devotion. The wearer of a gifted locket would enjoy a special link to the piece itself, as well as its contents and the person from whom it was given. So heart-warming!
The growth of the middle class and the lowering of production costs gave a wider range of people of varying social statuses access to jewelry, both mourning and otherwise. Previously, affluent members of society could commission portraits of loved ones to be worn in lockets of gold and silver. The development of photography and introduction of base metals made lockets more affordable for the lower classes. Well-off individuals could still have specially designed, bespoke lockets made for them. The lower classes could choose from pieces already available and personalize their interiors with photos, woven hair or other tokens.
In the United States, lockets were especially popular during the Civil War. Soldiers leaving for battle could have their portrait taken for a loved one to wear in a pendant or brooch. They could also carry tokens of their families and sweethearts with them in cleverly secretive lockets of their own. For example, one piece we have discovered at first glance appears to be a pocket watch, but opens to reveal the portraits of an older man and woman – presumably an officer’s parents. One portrait can be removed from the case and reversed to reveal a young lady’s photograph. How deceptively darling!
The use of lockets decreased around the First World War, but came back in vogue during WWII as soldiers were leaving their sweethearts behind on the home front. The pieces of this more recent era have an air of Victorian sentimentality, but often boast their own flairs of modern design and construction.
But what is the appeal of antique and vintage lockets today? For one, their beautiful artistry is timelessly appealing. And who can deny the attraction of concealing a secret while at the same time wearing it around your neck? The aspect we find most appealing, however, is how it offers an analog escape from the digital world. Of course you can keep all the images you like of family, friends and partners on your electronic devices, but a locket creates a special space to hold a tangible token of a person you care deeply about. A locket is real, always accessible and will never run out of battery power.
One final note about the vintage and antique lockets we offer on Heirloom Finds: Many of our locket pendants come with new gold-filled cable chains to create immediately wearable necklaces. You don’t often find lockets of yesteryear on chains, however. Instead, an individual would usually obtain one or more lockets separately and then style them one at a time on a single watch chain. This particular practice of displaying wearable keepsakes lasted up until the 1930′s.
The important questions to ask now are, how will you wear your lockets and what secret treasures will they contain?
by Sarah Clark