Gems and their hidden meanings

PUBLISHED: 13:52 07 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:45 20 February 2013

Blue enamel and diamond heart padlock clasp, circa 1870, Charlotte Sayers Jewellery London.

Blue enamel and diamond heart padlock clasp, circa 1870, Charlotte Sayers Jewellery London.

As Valentine's Day approaches and the wedding fairs gain momentum, antiques expert and our new antiques writer Susan Rumfitt takes a look at jewellery as tokens of love and affection

With our hectic lifestyles and a preference for a minimalist look, we regard diamond set jewellery as the modern way to a woman's heart, diamonds being seen as the easiest way of representing eternal love.

But since jewellery was first worn there have been very many different ways in which sentiment has been incorporated into its design. The Victorians introduced romantic attitudes and behaviour into every aspect of their lives and in particular their jewellery.

Among the most popular themes to emerge were specific words, symbols, flowers, animal motifs and the use of coloured gemstones and enamels. They have all been used to produce a very obvious or a very secret message of true love and devotion.

Coloured gemstones, like flowers, are used to express emotions and intentions. For example a ruby represents passion and emerald hope. A more complicated message would be created by combining a number of coloured gemstones; the first letter of each gemstone forming the word.

Popular words were DEAREST, formed by the combination of Diamond, Emerald, Amethyst, Ruby, Emerald, Sapphire and Topaz or perhaps REGARD, with a Ruby, Emerald, Garnet, Amethyst, Ruby and Diamond.

The colours chosen as well as the gems themselves played an important part in passing on a message of love.

When turquoise enamel is used in Victorian jewellery it carries the underlying message of 'do not forget me'; its turquoise colour represents the blue of the forget-me-not flower.

This message was also popular in bridesmaids' jewellery. The turquoise set eagle brooch is one of the jewels presented by Queen Victoria to her bridesmaids when she married Albert of Sax- Coburg in 1840. Doves were a more popular theme for bridesmaids' brooches but the eagle is used here as a reference to the Coburg family.

Another popular animal theme was the serpent and when it is modelled with its tale in its mouth it is known as the Ouroboros and can be used as a symbol of eternal love, a power which consumes and renews itself.

A heart is perhaps the most obvious expression of love and is often depicted with cupid. More simple examples are decorated with enamel and gemstones and would often have a simple padlock clasp with a key; the simple closing of the padlock represents eternal love.

Another expression of love is a platinum, ruby and diamond pendant, circa 1900, in the form of the flaming urn. It is a dramatic representation of passion that would keep anyone's heart warm this Valentine's Day!

About Susan Rumfitt

International jewellery specialist Studied history of art and architecture at Reading University Gained a Master of Philosophy in Decorative Arts at Glasgow University Trained within the silver department at Christie's, Glasgow Joined Phillips Auctioneers in Edinburgh where she ran the silver and jewellery department for two years.

Moved to Phillips main auction house, London, where in 1999 she was asked to set up a second jewellery department for the company.

In 2003 she launched her own jewellery advisory business in Harrogate Joined BBC's Antiques Roadshow as one of their specialists.

Lectures for the National Association of Decorative Arts Yorkshire Life antiques correspondent

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