"In Charles Dickens’ Little Dorrit, Mr Dorrit arrives in Paris and proceeds to a sophisticated jeweller to buy a gift. The shop attendant inquires if he was looking for a “nuptial gift” gesturing to the brooches and rings, or a “lover’s gift” directing him towards the earrings and necklaces. This language of jewellery created marketing opportunities and spoke to a highly visual society keen to relay the right messages in their adornments.
However sentimental jewels existed long before the Victorian period. In the late Medieval period a trend began for rings inscribed with little rhymes or poems. Posies or “little poem” in French, were inscribed on the inside or outside of band rings. Frequently these rings were very simple in form, a little band of gold, but more elaborate examples existed and were beautifully engraved and decorated in colourful enamel.
The sentiment of a posy ring was typically either religious or romantic in nature. And the messages they contained were either public or private knowledge depending on if the inscription was on the inside or the outside of the band. Jewellers would keep these rings in stock with typical inscriptions ready to be engraved depending on the sentiment to be relayed. Typical examples were:
As gold is pure, so love it pure
God above increase our love
I cannot show the love I O
I long to have but blush to crave
Posy rings continued in popularity for hundreds of years but by the mid 1800s interest was dwindling. The British Hallmarking Law of 1855 which required gold items to have a full UK hallmark brought about the end of the posy ring as there simply wasn’t enough space to accommodate the messages. However at about the same time, Queen Victoria adopted the Germanic custom of giving her groom a wedding band and started the modern tradition of brides and grooms exchanging bands. The simple posy ring was replaced with the sentimental wedding band we know today.
Before a wedding, there is an engagement, and here again you see Victoria and Albert setting trends. In 1839 Victoria purposed to Albert, as custom would require, and to mark the occasion he gave her a ring designed as a snake consuming it own tail. This distinctive ouroboros symbol dates back thousands of years and is found in Egyptian iconography. This image of a never-ending circle created by the snake clasping its own tail represents an unbroken line, a symbol of eternity.
Like so frequently in the 19th century, where the royals led the people followed, and snakes became hugely popular in Victorian jewellery. These jewels were admired for their complex construction needed to create the sinuous forms wrapped around the body. Not always did the jewels hold to the ouroboros form however and the snake’s head is frequently seen overlapping the tail.
This trend for snakes in jewellery continued in popularity throughout the 19th century. However, just when we see it dying out, a new jewel is introduced with takes on the same meaning. In the 1920s we first see the introduction of the modern eternity ring. The same principal of the snake ring is encapsulated in these simple bands, a never-ending line of gemstones reflecting an unbroken devotion to the recipient.
By the 1950s, eternity rings were fully established in their popularity. Indeed, two of Hollywood’s most famous stars, the “royalty of the 20th century”, have become closely associate with the jewel. In 1954 Marilyn Monroe married her second husband, the American baseball star Joe DiMagio. For her wedding band she received a channel-set baguette-cut diamond eternity ring. Two years later Prince Rainer III of Monaco purposed to Grace Kelly with a ruby and diamond eternity ring. The red and white gems reflecting the colours of Monaco. This was shortly followed by the epic 10.48 carat emerald-cut diamond ring, also from Cartier.
These simple bands, set with an unbroken line of diamonds or coloured gems relayed that same sentiment of unending love, of eternity.
Jewels created with a particular sentiment in mind are the ultimate in sentimental jewellery. The wearer has the double pleasure of receiving a jewel but also receiving a specific message or sentiment from the giver. Whether the message is private, cleverly hidden in the jewel, or if it is a public decoration of an emotion, these jewels are treasured forever."