Victorian Secrets

The Victorian period was an era of an increasingly prosperous middle class – the ownership of jewellery became democratised and thus there is a particularly large volume of it across multiple Fellows departments (more so than estate jewellery from previous periods, at least). Sentimental jewellery became particularly popular, as the masses could now afford to outwardly express love and loss through the pieces they wore. 







Some of the most interesting pieces that come through our doors often contain hidden sentimental messages or pictures. This is a less common feature of Victorian jewellery, which really brings home the sense that a person –with hopes, dreams and anguishes - cherished the piece over a century ago. Jewellery from this period adheres to the rather bizarre and ritualistic culture of mourning ushered in after the death of Queen Victoria’s beloved Albert. Jewellery with a lock of hair from the bereaved’s ‘dearly departed’ was appropriate for the second year of mourning, and lockets became a particularly popular way of remembering a loved one. Whether this locket was worn openly or underneath the clothes as a personal reminder of a lost one remains unknown (top picture).


In a slightly less morbid show of eternal love, Victorian rings or sentimental jewellery also occasionally contained secret and intimate messages. A fairly popular love token of the time would have been a ‘regards’ or ‘dearest’ ring – these were made up of various precious stones to spell out either regards or dearest in an acrostic. Secret messages of this kind would also have been found in other pieces of jewellery too, such as this brooch (second down) that featured in our August Vintage Jewellery & Accessories sale, spelling out ‘regard’ in the gemstones ruby, emerald, garnet, amethyst, ruby and diamond.



Perhaps the ultimate example of the Victorian’s affinity for mysterious and secretive sentimental jewellery is the Stanhope. These are miniature microphotographic lenses which could be incorporated into a wide range of jewellery (as well as sewing accessories, writing and smoking equipment). When holding one of these trinkets up to the light, and looking through the tiny peep hole, one is able to view the tiny image of whatever is inside. Often, these would have picturesque or classical scenes but sometimes there was also pictures of loved ones. A Lot sold in our September 2012 Vintage Jewellery & Accessories sale is a perfect example (third down); a late 19th century Stanhope ring from France, a look through the peephole reveals a very worn picture of a gentleman with an arm on one hip.



If you’re looking to get your hands on one of these fascinating Victorian curiosities, you can do no better than Lot 17 (bottom left) in our upcoming auction of Antique & Modern Jewellery sale on Thursday 12th September. Made in the late 19th century, the bangle is beautifully crafted with rose-cut diamonds and oval-shaped rubies. It holds a secret message within its bejeweled musical notes, which spell out D, E, A and REST, and is estimated at £700-£900. 

























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