Hidden Beauty: History of Lockets

Every locket hides a unique, personal treasure, from precious photographs to sparkling charms. Read on to unlock the history of these beautiful pieces of jewelry.

History of Lockets
Source: Walters Art Museum

The Earliest Lockets

In ancient times, people used mystical amulets, perhaps the earliest form of lockets, as talismans against sickness and danger. Throughout the Middle Ages, these pieces eventually evolved into accessories with more fashionable and practical purposes. Worn as pendants, rings, brooches and watches by both men and women, lockets can take a wide variety of shapes and forms. They make perfect accessories for almost any outfit or occasion.

Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, lovers sent each other eye miniatures — or “lover’s eyes” — as subtle, romantic gestures. In 1785, the prince of Wales showed his love for Maria Fitzherbert by commissioning one of these miniature eye portraits. He set this portrait in a locket, giving it to his less-than-eager subject. The prince ultimately won her over, and they were married a month later.

A Matter of Style

Elaborate marriage proposals aside, many also inserted small pieces of perfume-doused fabric in their lockets to help distract from their unsanitary surroundings. No soap, no problem — smelling good was a matter of style, not hygiene.

Occasionally, however, the contents of some lockets weren’t quite so sweet. Especially popular in the sixteenth century, poison rings graced the hands of those with mortality on the mind. You definitely wouldn’t want to ask any of them to pass the potatoes at the dinner table! Complementing their morbid, poisonous counterparts, lockets were also used as mourning jewelry in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Their size and shape made them perfect for carrying locks of hair and small portraits of the dearly departed.

Now lockets mostly carry romantic or sentimental value. Heart-shaped lockets continue to be a Valentine’s Day favorite, and vintage lockets from Grandma can be some of the most priceless treasures in any jewelry collection. Find your own perfect piece in our collection of personalized lockets!

Locket image trio: Hallwyl Museum / Helena Bonnevier / CC BY-SA

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