A Brief History of Heart Jewelry: Facts & Beginner’s Guide
When you see a modern-day heart symbol, what do you think of? It’s more than just your Mom’s favorite emoji - this symbol has long referred to devotion, friendship, affection & most iconically, love. The idea that a heart represents love between people dates back centuries and continues today. With Valentine’s Day coming up, we thought we would provide a bit of history on heart-shaped jewelry — where did this tradition begin?
Medieval Period (15th & 16th Century)
Versions of the heart symbol have been used in art since Ancient Roman times. The earliest known examples of heart-shaped jewels are seen in the late Medieval Period (15th & 16th centuries). A heart shape was seen in rings & brooches, often inscribed with short love poems.
A common style across Europe was a heart brooch called a Witch’s Heart. It’s said these curved, asymmetric hearts were originally worn in ancient times to protect against any ill-meaning spirits or witches. In Scottish culture this style of brooch is called the Luckenbooth heart. Over time their meaning changed to show you were ‘bewitched with love’. Sometimes covered in red gems, a single heart meant you were in a relationship & a double heart meant you were married.
Witch’s Heart - Image via The Jewelry Editor Online
Luckenbooth - Image via National Museums Scotland
Notice these early pieces do not have quite the same heart shape we are familiar with today. That’s because most early forms of heart-shaped jewelry are more pear-shaped. The image of the heart has evolved over time, and is now a more exaggerated, symmetrical style.
Diamonds became popular ornaments in the 1400's - over time different diamond shapes were being made. A heart-shaped stone was allegedly first mentioned in a letter from the Duke of Milan in 1463. Later, Mary Queen of Scots is known to have sent a gold ring with a heart-shaped diamond to her cousin Queen Elizabeth in 1562. Heart jewelry continued to gain popularity after the 15th & 16th centuries, with the romantic undertone of giving your heart to another.
Mary, Queen of Scots Image Via Scottish Borders Council
Elizabeth I, 1550–99, Image via the Rijksmuseum Museum
Georgian & Victorian Times (1714 – 1901)
Towards the end of the 18th century, artistic Romanticism spread, and heart jewelry became a must. These were times when wearing jewelry was rising in popularity. Not only were people dawning it for sentimental reasons, but fine jewels showed status as well. Statements of love were often shown via jewelry, honoring famous people, friends, and lovers
The fede gimmel ring had two hands clasped together that swivel open to reveal one or two hearts, and was given as a betrothal ring. Another popular betrothal style in the 1800s featured gem-encrusted double hearts set side by side, meaning ‘bound together’. The Irish claddagh ring displays two hands holding one heart - ‘I hold your heart in my hand’. A heart with a flame on top meant ‘burning with passion’, or devotional/religious love.
18th Century Irish Claddagh ring, Image via British Museum
The early 1800s saw the rise of heart-shaped padlocks or lockets. This period was one of instant sentimentality and love. Lockets gave people a way to lock away a memory of a loved one and keep it near. Popular gemstones in these times included ruby, emerald, garnet, amethyst, ruby & diamond - which have initial letters that spell ‘REGARD’.
‘REGARD’ Locket ca.1840, Image via The Victoria and Albert Museum
Hearts in jewelry reached their peak during the reign of Queen Victoria, in times where sentimental jewels were worn predominantly (i.e. mourning jewelry). She was particularly fond of heart shaped jewels & owned a charm bracelet with a heart shaped charm for each of her children.
Queen Victoria's gold & enamel charm bracelet, Image via Royal Trust Collection
20th Century & Modern Day Icons
Designs of heart-shaped jewelry developed through the 18th & 19th centuries to what we know today. Now, the heart is universally known as the symbol of love.
In the early 20th century, the love story between King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson featured gifts of incredible high jewelry. On their 20th anniversary, he gifted her an emerald, ruby and diamond 20th anniversary brooch, by Cartier, Paris, 1957. Edward always regretted that his wife was never bestowed Her Royal Highness, so the crown was a part of their lifelong love code spoken in jewelry, and to signify her regal status in his eyes.
20th anniversary brooch by Cartier 1957, Image via Sotheby’s
Modern Day Examples:
Tiffany & Co Hearts
The Open Heart necklace designed by Elsa Peretti in the 1970’s for Tiffany’s was wildly successful - it’s still sold to this day, along with the instantly recognizable Return to Tiffany heart charm.
The Open Heart & Return to Tiffanys Pendant Images via Tiffanys
Heart of the Ocean - Titanic
This might be a fictional item, but it’s instantly recognizable to any pop culture fans out there. This piece was made of CZ and white gold for the film, and was inspired by the very real Hope Diamond (a 45.5ct blue diamond).
The Heart of The Ocean from the film Titanic, 1997
American artist Lady Gaga famously received this huge 6 Carat heart-shaped ring by Lorraine Schwartz from Taylor Kinney in 2015.
An image Gaga shared on her Instagram of the rare 6ct heart-cut diamond
The Italian superstar & digital entrepreneur wowed followers with this massive emerald ring by Masetti Luxury Jewels - December 2020.
An Image Chiara shared of her ‘New Favorite Ring’ with her followers on Instagram
An even more recent example? Singer Katy Perry recently wore custom heart-cut diamond earrings at President Joe Biden’s inauguration just this month!
A photo from Perry’s Instagram showing off her heart-shaped diamond earrings by Rahaminov Diamonds, 2021
The heart has been interpreted in many ways over time, but ultimately represents romantic, enduring love. We hope love hearts will always be featured in jewelry - we just love them. They are the perfect symbol of romance that have lasted the test of time.
True Bijoux has a large selection of heart-shaped jewelry that are perfect for the people you love this Valentine’s Day. Browse our heart themed necklaces, bracelets, rings and earrings below. Shop online, call us at (613) 232-2229, or email us at email@example.com, we are happy to help.