There are two sides to every sentimental jewel; one is in how personal it is and the other is in how fashionable it is. This wonderful brooches dedicated to ‘E.H’ has both sides literally interpreted with the connectivity of sentimentality and beauty. During the early 19th century, jewellery began to change its form. From being prominently allegorically in nature, gems and a greater focus on hair placement in the jewels began to take over, along with making designed symbolism secondary to the hair statement.
We can see this approach taken in the brooch, as it is a union of the gold forget-me-not design shown surrounding the central hair in the border (designed upon blue foil), with the interior being the complete hair knot, tied together with a diamond ribbon. Reversing this pendant/brooch, the initials are shown with even more hair woven into a memento.
As a canvas for displaying the hair as its primary sentimental object, this piece has its history in the late 17th/early 18th centuries. Since the hair working industry had taken prominence as the focal point of personal identification in jewellery, hair was either the basis for memento mori symbolism placed on top, or a monogram. By the very end of the century, weaving hair became more delicate and pieces such as the below were possible during the 18th century:
One of the earliest modern industries where women were able to work professionally was in hair weaving, while a man may represent the jeweller, women worked behind the scenes to create weaves seen in jewels. For the above ring, the crystal isolating the knot provides a transparency for the hair display. In the EH pendant, the canvas represents the same method. In this case, the hair becomes the art itself.
This relates directly into the Enlightenment and the Humanist focus on liberalism and the self. Having hair representing sentimentality, and even mortality, means that it goes beyond a symbol of death or ecclesiastical worship. The person is is missed is the ideal of love.
As the 18th century developed into the Neoclassical period, post 1765, the influence of classical art integrated hair into its allegorical representations of love and loss. The open canvas, for which the EH piece has, had its origins with these jewels and their larger shapes. Often painted or displayed vellum or ivory, representations of sentimentality ranged from depictions of the urn, female, willow painted in sepia or colour, through two three-dimensional symbols built from hair and metal (such as the urn) inside a ring, pendant or clasp. With such large jewels to act as mobile pieces of art which adorned the bodice, neck, wrist or finger, any form of popular style could adapt to these shapes.
Hair as the predominant material of sentimentality continued throughout the Neoclassical period, particularly in the 1780s, with hair being woven under domed crystal or glass. Having hair crushed and painted in sepia tones with Neoclassical jewels also wove the two elements together, so that the hair could become the main focus of the piece upon the empty canvas.
Here is a perfect example of how the integration of initials and the sepia colour c.1789 was used in a brooch. The navette shape, showing the sharp north-to-south element accommodates the design. Where this piece has the laurel design in the top and bottom, the EH piece has the forget-me-nots surrounding the outside.
When the smaller jewels of the 19th century evolved to become smaller and more intricate in their design, the larger depictions of the Neoclassical period had been relegated to miniatures and larger jewels which could house their art. In this particular piece, the connectivity between the EH piece is quite clear. The canvas is used for its basis as a palette for the hair to present itself. When considered with the skill it took for a professional to weave hair so delicately and yet so simply, this jewel is crafted with precision. Early 19th century jewels are more nuanced with their materials, as can be seen in the acorn design to the central twist in pearls.
While this was a style used to focus upon the hair, it was a larger popular movement in jewellery design. An example of a pendant which uses these motifs can be seen below:
Perfectly utilising the Neoclassical method of the initials and the newer fashion of the hair knot being presented in high-relief, this pendant is superb. There is no other colour to conflict within the piece and the negative space of the art brilliantly opens up the sentiment to be directly towards the loved one and the union of two people.
Of note is the border with the forget-me-nots. Utilising the language of flowers within the design of a jewel resonates with its time, as the meaning morphed over time depending on the social climate. Flower symbolism conveys messages that are engrained within our culture, through the last two centuries of re-enforcing their statement as symbols.
The 18th and 19th centuries Romantic movement helped establish a push away from the paradigms of ecclesiastical and traditional worship, while putting the focus back upon the natural world around and the passions of the human experience. Hence it is only natural that as the 19th century absorbed much of the cultural shift back to traditional values during the Gothic Revival period, that many of these concepts would remain and be elaborated upon, but not revolutionised.
The interpretation of flora into symbolism was aesthetically pleasing, symbolically safe (often with roots back to religious concepts) and were easy to interpret in jewellery design. The motifs worked well within the Christian concepts and symbols, so where many other symbols may cause the viewer to think twice, flora was defined and catalogued for easy interpretation and use.
“Forget-me-not, O Lord!” is what a poor German knight shouted as he fell into a river. He and his lady were picking flowers by the side of the river at the time, and as fate would have it, the knight’s armour dragged him down to the bottom as he fell in. Upon his cries to the Lord, he threw the blue posy of flowers to his loved one and promptly drowned. This tale reportedly dates to around the 15th century, but no doubt had different permeations along the way, as romantic stories often do. Hence, the concept of remembrance, eternal love and faithfulness grow from this.
Another fable is that of the baby Jesus playing magician with his mother Mary. The tale is that thought how wonderful it would be if everyone could see her beautiful eyes forever. He touched her eyes and waved his hands over the ground below and then the magnificent blue forget-me-nots sprung from the earth. Here, the forget-me-not is solidified within Christian symbolism.
Other symbolism of the forget-me-not is implied within its name. It should also be noted that the flower grows quite ubiquitously in Europe, America and Asia. Its first use in English literature is reportedly from c.1532 and is otherwise named Myosotis (mouse’s ear). Interestingly enough is the rise of the flower’s popularity c.15-16th centuries. This is what we need to understand. From this, we have the popularity of the posy ring and its use as a love token in jewellery. The posy (poesy, posie, posey) emerged at a time when modern society was developing through a shift back to the personal and emerging from the middle ages and its strict adherence to ecclesiastical living. Giving a ring with an inscription on the inside as a token of love was a profound statement, it showed that relationships were increasingly interpersonal and not decreed before god. It was between the couple. Hence, the forget-me-not was used as a decoration (often crude) in some of these rings to denote its message of love and remembrance.
During the 17th and 18th centuries, the use of the forget-me-not didn’t change, however, it did blend in well with the Rococo and Baroque excess of design well enough that it could balance with other flowers and leaf motifs. By the time of the Neoclassical period, its use was relegated more towards being a footnote in memorial jewel depictions painted on ivory. During this time and the rise of hairwork weaves becoming mainstream and popular, the forget-me-not did become a symbol used to create floral depictions from hair.
The 19th century is when the forget-me-not truly found its place as a central motif. Many rings, bracelets, brooches and mourning/sentimental peripherals showcased the forget-me-not as a primary motif, often boldly displayed on enamel. Often, other symbols (buckle/belt/serpent/cross) would complement the forget-me-not, rather than it being a symbol used as a design flourish or in repartition. Where the flower was used in more decorative areas of jewellery was in the Rococo Revival period, especially the latter 19th century, and lasted into the 20th century with its reliance on its romantic roots. Its use in the 20th century became much softer; in the Edwardian period, the romantic movement adopted the symbol and applied it (often in enamel) to lockets and by the time of the First World War, its relation to the remembrance of soldiers (carried through by poetry) and into the Second World War was assured.
Today, the forget-me-not is still as resonant as it was one hundred years ago and you can still find it as a popular motif in jewellery to give to a loved one. Used within the border of the EH piece during a time when the blue foil or blue enamel borders had gained popularity through their ability to reflect the light and also utilise the blue colour as a sentiment of ‘considering the loved one royalty’. Note the below miniature from c.1810-20 as a comparison:
It is the knot used in the central motif, entwined by the diamond ribbon which is the true focus of the EH piece. There is no other distraction to draw the eye away from it, simply that the love of two people are entwined within. Knots in jewellery and their particular focus as a symbol of eternity and love rare ancient concepts that span both the East and West.
Its popularity to transcend cultures is a cross between its functional nature and what the knot actually does. The symbol itself is woven in on itself, enough to consider that two individuals are tying together to establish an interwoven union where two become one in the symbol. Next, there is the understanding of the knot becoming tighter as the two ends become further apart. Once again, distance only makes two people closer through its very nature. The knot also loops around on itself and travels in an eternal twist, for the love between the couple is forever undying. Put all these together and you have a rather special and beautiful symbol, one that encompasses much of the basis of what sentimental jewels are created for.
There are quite a few variations on the knot, one of the more popular being the Celtic knot, which is dated to around 450 CE, which is often referred to as the ‘mystic knot’ or the ‘endless knot’. In this, there is the allusion to birth and rebirth. The expression ‘tying the knot’ is thought to be where the couple had their hands bound in an endless knot as part of the wedding ritual, however, there are several other explanations for this related to the wedding ceremony itself. One of the more enticing explanations from E., M. A. Radford’s The Encyclopedia of Superstitions is that:
“In the seventeenth century, one or two of the bride-favours were always blue. These were knots of coloured ribbons loosely stitched on to the wedding gown, which were plucked off by the guests at the wedding feast, and worn as luck-bringers in the young men’s hats.”
For Neoclassical pieces, you can’t go much further than the depiction above that explicitly uses the knot as a primary symbol and sentiment. Look for the knot to appear in many Neoclassical mourning and sentimental depictions, either as an overt statement or relegated to a symbol being held by a central figure or as a flourish depicted in the art. Often, this can be as subtle as a knot painted onto a plinth or tomb.
In hairwork, the knot is quite often displayed with the hairwork of a couple being interwoven and the symbol itself is implied without appearing as the primary focus of the symbolism itself. This is quite common from around the 1780s to the late 19th century in bracelet clasps, brooches, rings and other forms of peripheral jewellery that would house a hair memento.
Then there is the knot as a primary focus, which is very typical in rings and necklaces. The knot is most often seen with the Celtic influences, but many second-half 19th century rings retained a knot motif, often seen as a twist, in various styles and materials. Knots in necklaces were also popular from the 1860s onwards, with the necklace itself twisting into a knot around the chest. Chains were also tied into the concept of the knot, used in bracelets, necklaces, links in fob chains and other items as well.
In the reverse, the monogram is the final element which unifies the piece. Sentimental jewels were often not relegated to having the wearer’s initials in the jewel, but the givers. This way, the person who was wearing the jewel would always have a token to remember them by.
Style of jewellery in fashion was then growing more with external influences and higher mobility in transit. Style from other countries would influence and compete against mainstream British styles, however, the standardisation of mourning and sentimental jewels was due to their nature. The monogram in a jewel remained, even through the massive influence of the Neoclassical style in c.1765. All the elements of Memento Mori, those being skulls, crossbones, scythes and tempos fugit, were relegated to becoming anachronisms, as the styles of romantic allegorical depictions took over.
Note how this ring (1796) still retains the basic elements of the monogram; it is set above the hair and under domed glass. What is more interesting to note is how the Neoclassical influence adds the embellishments of the pearls to the border and the enamel, which still was as sentimental as the Memento Mori affectations, but relevant to its time. The white enamel, meaning virginity and purity, was alluding to the unmarried or young, while the blue was to consider the loved one as royalty.
Inside, we can see the stylisation of the K itself; this is a design aspect that defines many memorial and sentimental jewels over time. It is easy for the modern collector or historian to identify a jewel based upon popular typography, especially in the following Gothic Revival style post c.1820 and throughout the 19th century.
Here, we have another example from 1797. This piece shares many of the same elements as the above, with the three-dimensional single letter and its excessive design curvature. Surrounding this is are the diamonds and pearls to the border, but we lose the hairwork and cover the bezel with blue enamel.
In these rings, we have the similar motifs to the EH piece; blue and the initials. Even though they are different in their concept, being contemporary, they share popular styles. If the EH jewel is anything to teach us, it is that an audience must understand similar styles to interpret its meaning. Here, there is no doubt about the sentimental influence and this is how it would have been worn.
A beautiful pendant/brooch (note that many pendants and ribbon slides had later conversions to brooches) for a beautiful time. There is not one element of this piece which does not make a statement of grand love and fashion for its time. From its use of materials, such as the diamonds, to the initials and the central motif of the hair, this piece is one to look towards for its historical relevance.
Courtesy: Sarah Nehama