Since the 1840s, photography had changed the landscape of sentimental jewels. Many factors contributed to this, involving improvements in technology leading to cost-effective methods of production, highly mobile societies and an equally high mortality rate.
What is important is to look at what had come before. The society that existed before the 1840s was no different in terms of social mobility, indeed, the affectations of jewellery and fashion were quite attainable for not only high society. But, it was the technology that was required to capture an image of a loved one which was missing. Wanting to capture an image of a loved one was an arduous and expensive task. Miniaturists developed quite a steady industry around the production of miniature portraits in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, but the fundamentals of having a portrait made still remained. A person was required to sit and have their portrait painted and then set into a jewel. The Neoclassical ideal depiction of the person, with almond-shaped eyes and stylised features made the pre-design of a portrait easier to establish and then tailor to an individual at a higher speed (and lower cost), but it wasn’t the near-instantaneous and perfect depiction that the photograph would bring.
And what of people who wanted that instantaneous rendering of a loved one at short notice? Silhouette portraits of a loved one, set in jewels or wall-mounted, were a popular way to capture the memory for a family and have a keepsake from a moment. Silhouette artists were common at popular holiday spots to provide for a society that found itself with funds to spend on non-essential items and visit places of leisure.
For the post-photographic society in the 19th century, the one element that photography couldn’t capture was colour. Painting over the image, or colourising, meant that the elements of person could more greatly be captured and the memory retained. Despite the lack of colour, the new technology captured the image in a way that was not possible. The fact remained, not the ideal; each and every line on a fact was captured for the retention of memory.
In this locket, we see the transition of style. There is the belt/buckle motif upon the machine-turned front and reverse, which as an object of use, the belt dates to the prehistoric, basically as necessity dictates the use of a way to either hold up any clothing below the waist or fasten objects to the waistline for ease of access. This could be as practical as holding up a pair of pants or as precious as holding a ceremonial/ ecclesiastical object for decoration. The device is a perfect marriage of form and function. And to accompany this, as long as humans have been mining metals, at least recorded to the Iron Age, the buckle has accompanied the belt to hold fast to the waist.
From a high level perspective, the belt and buckle split the body in two, creating a clear delineation through the waist from the northern and southern halves of the body, but also holding the body together through this middle separation through its interconnecting and tight nature. As we move on, you’ll see how this relates to its context with other symbols.
Essentially, the buckle/belt motif relates back to this unbreakable strength of upholding loyalty and in turn, memory forever. Its eternal loop is combined by its strength with which it holds up the virtue that it contains. When related back to the family as a unit, a loved one who is lost would ordinarily break down the family and cause untold grief and sadness, however, the presentation of this symbol from a loved one as representation of the person who has passed on only intensifies the eternal strength and love for the person, as well as the strength of the family to stay together. This symbol also relates to love tokens, for this eternal loving strength can obviously be applied to the living; it is a symbol that is all encompassing. So, while many rings and bracelets took on the shape of the buckle in the 19th century, they don’t necessarily denote mourning or death.
Inside is the most remarkable depiction of the gentleman. Note the colour to the face and the angle of the perspective. There is no direct front-facing photographic style that was typical of the period, but a peripherally-looking man in a more ideal pose in contemporary fashion.
Finally, the last thing to mention is the size. Jewels of the 19th century lacked the external presentation of the sentiment, which was on display either on the body or at the home. This jewel barely measures an inch from north to south, is enclosed in a locket and more than likely worn under the clothing. The approach to mourning and sentimentality was becoming more practical than it had been in previous generations, but with greater restrictions around the proprietary of mourning, as well as the social changes of the 19th century, having a loved one in a jewel was cheaper and more personal than ever before.