Historically, lockets could very well be the most important piece of jewelry ever given from one person to another. The evolution of the locket dates back for centuries, beginning as symbolic amulets to generate good luck or ward off bad luck.
Lockets have been worn through the ages by both women and men. In the 18th Century, men usually wore them on watch fobs or as cufflinks, and the ladies popularized them in the style of rings, pendants, bracelets, and brooches. They were made from gold or silver, some being polished and smooth, to a more ornate engraved design, often with embedded jewels such as rubies, or with a carved cameo figure on top. It was once reported that Anne Boleyn sat for a portrait to be placed inside a locket ring, which was later worn by her daughter, Elizabeth I. The ring was admired so much that Elizabeth began giving jewel encrusted lockets away as gifts to her friends and suitors, one being Sir Francis Drake. Others followed suit and began gifting lockets to their loved ones. Traditionally, only the wealthy could afford to commission the best artists to hand paint their image in miniature.
During the 19th Century, England’s Prince Albert gifted Queen Victoria with a bracelet designed with eight heart-shaped lockets. Inside each was a lock of her children’s hair. The locket again was popularized by this gesture as a christening gift to new mothers to keep a tassel of their baby’s hair as a memento. After Prince Albert’s death, Queen Victoria went into a state of perpetual mourning. Lockets were worn in his honor, thus popularizing the custom of ‘mourning lockets.’
The biggest, and perhaps the more advantageous change toward bringing the locket into greater popularity, was the invention of daguerreotype photography. A subject would need to sit for 30 minutes for their image to be captured and fused to glass. While that still entailed time and patience, it was favored over spending countless hours sitting for a painter. Though this was still something more affordable to the upper class and aristocracy, as advancements in photography moved forward during the industrial revolution, it became more affordable and accessible to common folk.
April of 1861 saw the start of the Civil War in America. With the news of Prince Albert’s death in December that same year, the idea of wearing lockets took on new meaning in America, and people rushed to have their photographs made for their lockets and fobs to give their loved ones. By the onset of World War I, lockets were being made in mass quantity. Soldiers slipped their photos inside and gave them to their wives or sweethearts before heading overseas. Often, soldiers wore lockets to war as a way to keep their loved ones close and find comfort while far from home. It was not uncommon at that time for a locket to hold a photo of their sweetheart on one side, and a cotton ball with drops of her perfume on the other.
Through the decades, lockets have continued to evolve as symbolic and beautiful pieces of jewelry. When you open a locket, you open a heart!
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