Sentimental Jewelry

by Sasha t on May 02, 2023

Sentimental Jewelry - Jack Weir & Sons

Sentimental Jewelry

In today’s society, we often consider being sentimental a bad thing - something that is overly sweet, a cloying sadness, or a longing for the past. In jewelry, sentimentalism refers to something a bit different. In the world of estate jewelry, sentimentalism refers to creating and wearing pieces that hold a deeply personal or emotional significance. Throughout history, people have turned to jewelry not just for ornamentation but also to symbolize love, friendship, or to remember loved ones. This concept dates back to ancient civilizations where people would wear tokens or talismans as a way to express love, devotion, or to ward off evil spirits. However, the true emergence of sentimental jewelry can be traced to the Victorian era, when the practice of exchanging what we would now call sentimental jewelry became more commonplace. 

The History of Sentimental Jewelry

In order to understand how sentimental jewelry became such an important piece of the zeitgeist, we have to understand the cultural context.  First and foremost, the Victorian era was marked by a strong emphasis on societal norms and expectations including emotional restraint in public. Additionally, the Victorian era was marked by a rigid social hierarchy, and displays of emotion were seen as a sign of physical weakness, lack of mental health, or lack of control. It was considered unbecoming for women, in particular, to display strong emotions in public, as it was believed to be a threat to their femininity and social status.

As a result, people were expected to maintain a certain level of emotional restraint. This emphasis on emotional restraint can be seen in the popular literature and art of the era, which often portrayed characters who maintained a stoic and composed demeanor, even in the face of tragedy, adversity, or other traditionally emotional moments.

However, wherever there is rigidity - there are people who want to break through it.  The stoicism of the era led to the emergence of heightened emotional expressions in various art forms. Though the majority of art at the time was still being created for “purpose,” such as religious or political interpretation, there was a movement called “Art for Art’s Sake,” which pushed to explore the emotional and ethereal facets of the craft. Ultimately, art was seen as a socially acceptable way to convey emotions and sentiments that were otherwise frowned upon in public.

The Romantic movement, which was a significant artistic movement during the Victorian era takes the idea of emotion in art one step further, often emphasizing individualism and emotional expression, and the sublime. A famous poet of the time, Alfred Tennyson grapples with the loss of a friend at a young age in his poem, “In Memoriam AAH,” and wonders how the natural world and the systems of faith society has in place work together, explores doubt in what he has always accepted as true and embraces the grief that he feels day in and day out. 

Sentimental jewelry was a popular form of emotional expression during this era because it allowed people to convey their emotions toward one another in a socially acceptable way. This jewelry often featured symbolic elements, such as hearts, lockets, and other motifs, that conveyed emotions and sentiments that were otherwise difficult to express in public unless you were an artist willing to risk pariah status in such a society. 

In addition to the rigorous societal norms around emotion, the Victoria era was a time of significant industrial and economic change as rapid industrialization and urbanization led to increased mobility and ultimately separation of families and loved ones. Jewelry was seen as a way to keep loved ones close, even when they were physically apart, and pieces had specific meanings as a way to remember the people who matter the most. 

Types of Sentimental Jewelry

Acrostic Jewelry 

Acrostic jewellery is believed to have originated in Paris in the early 1800s and was first created by Mellerio, a famous Parisian jewellery company, before being adopted in England. In the Georgian and Victorian period secret messages and symbols were very popular as a way of expressing their feelings.

Acrostic jewelry is a form of jewelry that uses gemstones to spell out a message or sentiment, with each letter of the message represented by the first letter of the name of a gemstone. For example, the word "regard" might be spelled out using the following gemstones: ruby, emerald, garnet, amethyst, ruby, and diamond. The first letter of each gemstone spells out the word "regard," conveying a message of affection or esteem. Acrostic jewelry often used gemstones with specific symbolic meanings to convey the sentiment of the message. For example, the ruby might represent love, the emerald might represent hope or new beginnings, and the diamond might represent eternity or commitment.

As we know, the Victorians were masters of hidden messages. Courting during the Victorian era was complicated and full of processes and procedures involving the whole family and community -  jewelry was the beautiful way a man could express his love to the one they liked to get their attention. Closely guarded by their parents and chaperones, jewelry expressed a deep message more than he was able to communicate in person.

Victorian gemstone acrostic ring spelling out "regard" with the first letter of each gemstone on a 14k yellow gold setting

Locket necklaces 

Locket necklaces are designed to hold small photographs, keepsakes, or even locks of hair inside their hinged, framed compartments. These personal items typically represent cherished memories, loved ones, or significant moments in a person's life. Wearing a locket necklace allows the wearer to keep these precious mementos close to their heart, both physically and emotionally.

Locket necklaces have been a popular form of sentimental jewelry for centuries and have been passed down through generations as heirlooms. They serve not only as beautiful pieces of adornment but also as tangible symbols of love, affection, and remembrance.

Edwardian diamond royal blue guilloche enamel locket and chain necklace on a 14k yellow gold setting

Charm Bracelets

Charm bracelets are composed of various individual charms, each representing a special memory, event, or aspect of the wearer's life. These charms can be added over time, creating a unique and personalized piece of jewelry that reflects the wearer's experiences, interests, and milestones.

In the Neolithic period, pieces of bone, shell, and wood were strung onto leather to create bracelets. Throughout the Bronze Age, charms were used as amulets to ward off evil and bring good luck to the wearer. The first use of charms being used to self-identify seems to be during the Roman Empire when Christians would wear a fish charm (called an ichthys) to identify themself to other Christians.   However, the most significant era for the charm bracelets we are familiar with now was the Victorian era when the Queen herself would wear gold charms of lockets with portraits or locks of hair from those she loved. 

Charm bracelets allow the wearer to share their story and keep their cherished memories close at hand. The individual charms can represent anything from personal achievements and hobbies to tokens of love, friendship, or travel. Each charm adds to the bracelet's sentimental value, creating a piece of jewelry that holds special meaning for the wearer. Charm bracelets are considered so special because they can be customized to represent unique life experiences and personal connections that hold emotional significance for the wearer.

Birthstone Jewelry

Birthstones are gemstones associated with the month of a person's birth, which creates an inherent personal connection between the wearer and the jewelry. Birthstone jewelry is often given as a gift to commemorate a birthday, graduation, or other significant life event. 

birthstone chart
Birthstone Chart
Scholars trace the beginning of birthstones to the Breastplate of Aaron, described in the Biblical book of Exodus. This breastplate was a garment that used twelve gemstones set in gold filigree, to represent the twelve tribes of Israel. Like everything in history, we have to suspend our disbelief as writings in the 1st and 5th century AD connect these twelve gemstones to the twelve signs of the zodiac. This led to people owning a collection of the twelve gemstones and wearing them each during the corresponding zodiac. Again, a long jump needs to be made here - but Scholars trace the modern, widespread idea of a person wearing a gemstone that corresponds to the month of their birth to 18th century Poland, with the arrival of Jewish gem traders. Jewish gem traders were known for their networks and expertise in the trade and skilled in sourcing, cutting, and trading precious stones. Their connections allowed them to efficiently distribute these gemstones throughout Europe, making these various gemstones, often associated with the zodiac and ultimately birth-month, more accessible to the public.  

Many of the birthstones we’re familiar with were identified during this time in Poland, but the modern birthstones wouldn’t be identified until 1912 when a list was released by the National Association of Jewelers. Today we have three types of birthstones - ancient, traditional, and modern.  Gemstones on the “ancient” list have been widely recognized and used for thousands of years, while stones on the “traditional” list have been available for use for the past 500 years. The “modern” list of birthstones boasts gems that have only been widely available for the past 100 or so years.

Wearing birthstone jewelry is a symbolic representation of a part of the wearer's identity, as well as a way to celebrate their uniqueness and personal story. Birthstones are sometimes said to carry specific secrets and attributes which contribute to their lore. Culturally, birthstone jewelry is often shared among family members or friends with the same birth month, which creates an even stronger bond. 

Overall, Sentimental jewelry serves as a powerful means of expressing love, emotion, and personal connections. From love tokens to mourning jewelry, these pieces hold deep meaning for their wearers, often becoming cherished heirlooms passed down through generations. In an age where mass-produced items dominate the marketplace, sentimental jewelry stands as a testament to the enduring power of human emotion and the desire to create and wear items that celebrate our most cherished relationships. 

At Jack Weir & Sons, we celebrate the past, present, and future of each of our pieces - they each have a story to tell. Sentimental pieces tend to have even more stories because there are so many layers to their history. If you’re interested in checking out a few of these pieces or exploring the genre more, please reach out! 


Here at Jack Weir & Sons we’ve spent the last 40 years traveling to Europe and all over the world, curating extraordinary estate jewels. JWS is where the old world meets the new world. Celebrate life, preserve history, and discover your own priceless heirloom jewel. We are extremely grateful for our clients and the ability to help people to celebrate their special moments through one of a kind jewelry. To share that gratitude and our strong family values, we chose to partner with Baby2Baby. So far, we've donated $125,000. A portion of every sale goes towards children living in poverty to provide them with diapers, clothing, and all the basic necessities that every child deserves. 

We offer in-person and Virtual Appointments and are happy to answer any questions about your favorite jewel. 

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