Victorian Symbology

The Victorians wore jewellery which conveyed nuanced meaning, expressed sentiment and brought fortune. They celebrated life events, friendship, love, and courtship with these designs. Below is a list of motifs and an outline of what they symbolised  for the Victorians. Many of these meanings remain today although others have been lost along the way. 

BIRDS

Birds had a wide variety of meaning for the Victorians. For example, swallows symbolized love and mating for life.

Read more about the LANGUAGE OF BIRDS 

 Victorian turquoise and silver bird bangle. Elder & Bloom. 

Victorian turquoise and silver bird bangle. Elder & Bloom. 

CRESCENT MOON AND STARS

The crescent moon represented a new relationship and the hope it would “wax” into matrimony. Read more about ASTROLOGICAL MOTIFS 

  The   simple crescent moon was a popular motif in the late Victorian era  England, c. 1890 Gold set with diamonds V&A Museum   

The simple crescent moon was a popular motif in the late Victorian era
England, c. 1890
Gold set with diamonds
V&A Museum

 

CROSSED OARS

Crossed Oars symbolised ‘contentment’.

  Photo source: Spielman Antiques    

Photo source: Spielman Antiques

 

DOGS

A dog symbolised loyalty and friendship.

 Victorian Micro Mosaic Dog Brooch. Lang's Antiques

Victorian Micro Mosaic Dog Brooch. Lang's Antiques

 

FIGURE EIGHTS

Figure eights symbolised eternity or ‘infinity’.

 Victorian 'Figure Eight' Brooch. Photo Source: Lang Antiques. 

Victorian 'Figure Eight' Brooch. Photo Source: Lang Antiques. 

FLOWERS

Flowers and plants had diverse hidden meanings for the Victorians. An entire 'language of flowers' was developed, known as 'Floriography'.  Read more about the LANGUAGE OF FLOWERS

  Forget-me-not, rose and acorn motif. The acorn symbolized strength and longevity.   Paris, c. 1820-1840 Brooch with gold, diamonds and turquoises. V&A Museum

Forget-me-not, rose and acorn motif. The acorn symbolized strength and longevity.

Paris, c. 1820-1840
Brooch with gold, diamonds and turquoises.
V&A Museum

GARTER MOTIF

The garter symbolised chastity and virtue. The 'order of the garter' was an order of chivalry founded by the British monarchy. 

 Garter Motif brooch. Source, Lang Antiques. 

Garter Motif brooch. Source, Lang Antiques. 

GREEK KEYS

The Greek Key motif symbolised infinity or the ‘eternal flow of things’. Read more about the GREEK KEY MOTIF

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GRIFFINS

The mythical griffin represented courage.

 Victorian Griffin Pendant. Elder and Bloom. 

Victorian Griffin Pendant. Elder and Bloom. 

HANDS

Hands had a variety of different meanings, depending on the form, including affection, strength, family and love.  

See THE HAND MOTIF  See also  FEDE, CLADDAGH, GIMMEL and PUZZLE RINGS

 Victorian Hand Motif Necklace / Watch Chain. Elder and Bloom. 

Victorian Hand Motif Necklace / Watch Chain. Elder and Bloom. 

HEARTS

These symbolised love, friendship, affection and devotion. Combined hearts and flowers signified fidelity and remembrance. 

 Victorian Heart Earrings. Elder and Bloom. 

Victorian Heart Earrings. Elder and Bloom. 

 

HORSESHOE

Horseshoes symbolised good luck and fortune.

 Victorian Horseshoe Motif Brooch. Source: Ebay. 

Victorian Horseshoe Motif Brooch. Source: Ebay. 

 

KEYS

Keys symbolised knowledge and success and were also given as a 'coming of age' gift on the 21st birthday. They also meant 'you have the key to my heart'. 

 Victorian Key Pendant. Source: Butter Lane Antiques. 

Victorian Key Pendant. Source: Butter Lane Antiques. 

LIZARDS

A lizard  symbolised ‘wedded bliss’ and was given as wedding or anniversary gifts.

 A Victorian opal, diamond and ruby salamander brooch, late 19th century.  Bonhams. 

A Victorian opal, diamond and ruby salamander brooch, late 19th century.

Bonhams. 

 

LOVER’S KNOT

Lovers’ knots symbolized ‘eternal love,’ ‘fidelity’ and ‘commitment’. See also  FEDE, CLADDAGH, GIMMEL and PUZZLE RINGS

 Victorian Lover's Knot Ring. Lang's Antiques. 

Victorian Lover's Knot Ring. Lang's Antiques. 

SCARAB

Scarabs symbolised ‘endurance of the soul.’ They rose to prominence with the 'Egyptian Revival' Movements. 

 Victorian Scarab Necklace. Lang's Antiques. 

Victorian Scarab Necklace. Lang's Antiques. 

 

SHAMROCKS AND FOUR-LEAVED CLOVERS

Shamrocks and four-leaved clovers symbolised good health, good luck, and happiness. They were very much associated with Ireland and many were produced there. They could often be made with real shamrocks or four-leaved clovers set under clear enamel, rock crystal or glass. 

 Victorian Four-Leaved Clover Brooch. Source: Ebay

Victorian Four-Leaved Clover Brooch. Source: Ebay

 

SNAKES  

Snakes symbolised eternal life, sexuality and mystery. Read more about SNAKE MOTIFS

  Victorian gold serpent ring. Elder and Bloom.     

Victorian gold serpent ring. Elder and Bloom. 

 

STONES

Acrostic jewelry was a way to convey a sentimental message by way with the first letter of each stone, the first letter of which spelled out a word. Read more about the LANGUAGE OF STONES

 England, c. 1830 Pendant, gold with lapis lazuli, glass in imitation of opal, garnet, emerald and gold. Here, the pendant has the stones of Lapis Lazuli, glass in imitation of Opal, Vermeil ( the old name for garnet ) and Emerald which spell LOVE. V&A Museum

England, c. 1830
Pendant, gold with lapis lazuli, glass in imitation of opal, garnet, emerald and gold.
Here, the pendant has the stones of Lapis Lazuli, glass in imitation of Opal, Vermeil ( the old name for garnet ) and Emerald which spell LOVE.
V&A Museum


Further reading: https://beautifulantiquetreasures.com/2013/02/21/charm-bracelets/

 

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