The History of Lockets: The Story Behind these Nostalgic Necklaces

A piece of antique jewelry can be a very sentimental gift. A locket, however, can emphasize this sentimental aspect ten fold. A reminder of your loved one close to your heart has been one of the most cherished accessory choices for centuries. By definition, a locket is a pendant that opens up to reveal a portrait, a lock of hair, or even a minuscule love letter from someone close to you. Lockets can tell stories, and can be admired as a beautiful piece of jewelry at the same time. But, have you ever wondered about the history of these nostalgic trinkets? Read on to discover the history of these specific pieces of jewelry.

Ruby and 14K Gold Locket, 7.00 Carats
Ruby and 14K Gold Locket, 7.00 Carats

This stunning 14K gold locket is encrusted with 240 glistening rubies that catch the light beautifully and dazzle the eye. Upon opening the latch, the locket reveals a mirrored interior that could also withhold a small memento for an added sentiment. This piece could be worn on a necklace like most classic lockets, but can also be carried on a chain from a pocket or simply displayed on a desk or vanity.


Designs for the locket can be traced back to 16th century Europe. In these cases, they were not always seen as a romantic gesture. For example, some lockets were worn to pledge allegiance to a fallen leader in times of political turmoil. In other instances, lockets were used to hold healing herbs, perfumes to mask a stench, or even poison! In these cases, lockets were worn by men just as much as they were worn by women. An appealing aspect of these accessories was the element of something hidden- something just for you.


This, of course, developed to become a more affectionate notion. The secretive concept of the locket can bring two people closer together with the understanding that this physical object is a representation of the strength of a relationship. This does not always have to be romantic. Queen Elizabeth I of England, for example, wore her locket ring daily that contained two portraits; one of her mother, Anne Boleyn, and another of herself. She continued to show her appreciation for the accessory by gifting her loved ones lockets containing a portrait of herself so that she may always be held close to their hearts.


Mourning Portrait Miniature by Alexander Gallaway
Mourning Portrait Miniature by Alexander Gallaway

This miniature portrait inside a glass locket is a perfect example of the mastery artist’s of the time achieved. Not only did Alexander Gallaway capture his sitter’s likeness with incredible detail, but he also did so on a minuscule scale. As a precursor to the photograph, a portrait of your loved one within a locket was the ultimate affectionate sentiment.


By the 17th century, mourning jewelry became widely popular following the execution of King Charles I. His loyal followers would conceal a portrait of the King within a locket and sometimes a prized lock of his hair. During this time, locks of hair were often hidden within elaborate settings of a locket so as not to be seen by any onlooker. A locket that closed and concealed its interior was ideal. By the 18th century, however, locks of a loved ones hair were proudly showcased by curling or plaiting it within the locket.


It was during the Victorian era that lockets reached their peak popularity. This, in part, had to do with Prince Albert gifting a locket bracelet to his beloved Queen Victoria. The bracelet included eight lockets, each containing a lock of hair from their eight children. Upon his death, Queen Victoria had an intricate mourning locket made with Prince Albert’s portrait and a lock of his hair. During this time, the nation was required to wear dull, color-less mourning clothes to honor the death of their leader. Lockets became the optimal way to add flair to the mundane yet mandatory style with intricate engravings or encrusted gemstones.


Cabochon Garnet Mourning Pendant
Cabochon Garnet Mourning Pendant

Circa 1855, this luxurious mourning locket is exemplary of a decorative jewelry piece of its time. Meant to encapsulate a lock of a loved ones hair, the cabochon garnet is surrounded by stunning turquoise and seed pearls. The electric blue of the turquoise border would certainly add a well-needed splash of color to a mourning outfit. This piece is a perfect example of how locket styles developed and adapted to personal tastes over the years.


The sentimental history of the locket is a rich one. Today, people wear lockets for a variety of reasons. They could be gifted between a bride and groom on their wedding day, as a birthday or anniversary present, or simply as a keepsake for a loved one moving away. The nostalgic aspect of the locket makes it perhaps one of the most heart-felt jewelry pieces to be gifted.


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