Broom locket symbolism jewellery

Let’s light the way this Sunday with one of the more unfortunate symbols in jewellery history, a symbol that would otherwise denote the pathway through the darkness, but here, shows the inherent darkness that we must face.

Yes, it’s Symbolism Sunday and it’s time to look at a motif through the eyes of a 19th century grieving family.

The torch is a symbol that represents several concepts, concepts which harken back to its literal interpretation, for when there is darkness, there is light to guide the way. One of these representations is hope. Hope, as a concept, provides an optimistic future that the birth of a child or the continuation of a family will bring. Without this continuity, the family would be lost to the darkness, without hope, tomorrow is lost. Hence, a torch as light, beacons the new day, the new era and a path that is brighter than what has come before.

Let’s now look at how that reflects upon the torch as enlightenment. Once the torch is lifted into the sky by its barer, there is an inherent reflection upon the torch as a beacon for intelligence, thought and progression into the future from the darkness that falls before it. Hence, it is the torch that shines the way for modernity (or liberté, égalité, fraternity, if you will). Thought, theory, truth, modernity and humanity come together in a design and a symbol of progression.

Let’s take that all in for a moment.

Broom locket symbolism jewellery

In today’s symbolism example, we have to apply these concepts back to the family as look at the design as an overarching motif.

We are presented with an upside down torch. Everything, the very essence, of the family that the upright torch represents is turned upside down and shut off, That bright light which would pave the way for the next generation is gone and lost, the continuation of hope is gone and so is the enlightenment that the family could progress with.

When combined with the Victorian views on mortality and the concept of the family (see the articles about the Gothic Revival period and its impact on 19th century culture here), we’re looking into a bold and very profound statement of mortality that has all the stoicism that the late 19th century generated in the family and the gravity of that symbol when placed over the heart in a locket.

This symbol is surrounded by the buckle, which if you’ve read my writing before, you know well enough what the means, but I will discuss it in another Symbolism Sunday, however, the upside-down torch is loss at its most basic.

Reflecting upon the symbol as that of lost hope, let’s look at how the Neoclassicists depicted this symbol a century before.

Faith jewellery sepia

Faith, hope and charity were (and still are) common symbols for their representation. Cross (faith), hope (anchor) and charity (heart) are still common motifs today (read more about them in my Symbolism Sunday about Faith, Hope and Charity). Their depictions on the symbols in Neoclassical art are often that of the weeping woman, surrounded by the willow and holding onto the (or surrounded by), the symbols which depict the grief. The grief becomes beauty and depicts a serenity that can be appreciated for its artistic merit, rather than its depth of meaning.

There are scenes of the woman clinging to the cross, even upon the anchor, which reflect an outpouring of grief, but the stoicism that the 19th century provides for the matter-of-fact Christian, high mortality, industrialised reality of the black-upon-gold symbolism is its own gravity, it is a statement that doesn’t overcomplicate the design, but enhances it beyond what the prior society would flow around the idea of the concept with humanitarian depictions.

Upside-down torch in jewellery

At this point in today’s lesson, remember that the upside-down torch is the life cut short, the loss of hope and enlightenment. Bereft of future.

Looking at today’s subject of a youth as the focus of the locket, it makes the symbol so much more poignant. The child which would, for the previous three hundred years, be characterised by white enamel becomes a statement for the family’s grief, be it masculine or feminine, the child is lost and the family suffers.

Furthermore to this, the flame as regeneration when held upright is lost. Flame burns, regenerates and feeds of the very air around it, lose this and you lose your familial regeneration.

Other interpretations of the torch are more romantic in basis or for their liturgic reasons, however, we’re looking at the upside-down torch and its representation in mourning jewellery.

Broom locket symbolism jewellery

Previously on Symbolism Sunday:

The Peacock




The Cypress

The Lantern

The Elephant

The Pelican

The Arrow and Quiver

The Knot

The Grape

The Daisy

The Oak

The Acanthus

Revisiting The Trumpet

The Harp


The Acorn

The Trumpet

The Male

The Woman

The Three Graces

Faith, Hope and Charity

The Clover

The Willow

The Column

The Hourglass

The Serpent

The Dove

The Dog

The Angel

The Marigold / Lily

In Memory Of Mid Victorian Brooch

'In Memory Of' in Black Enamel, The New Direction

Before (and somewhat during) the heavy influence of the heavy Neo-Rococo designs that worked so well with memorial and sentimental symbolism in jewellery, the heavy, clean lines of the Empire Style (seen previously during the Neoclassical movement of the first quarter 19th century), had an influence on jewellery of the mid 19th century era, straightening out the embellished Neo-Gothic designs and producing something quite bold and powerful, such as this brooch.

With a simple insert of banded sardonyx and the clean lines giving way to break the brooch into quarters of ‘IN’, ‘MEM’, ‘ORY’, ‘OF’ trailing around its oval shape, the piece is on the verge of a movement that would see brooch styles grow very large. This piece, however is around 3.5cm in width, not very large and shows how the simplicity of mourning jewellery in stark symbolism was overtaking the gold embellishments of Neo-Gothic period and the opulent artistic allusions and scenarios of the Neoclassical era.

With such high mortality rates and a royal family that was imposing classic Christian family values upon the household, mourning was losing the surrounding pomp that had been popular fifty years earlier. Symbolism was sharp and bold (such as snakes, forget-me-nots and many other symbols still popular in funerary art today), with the construction of the pieces being large, bold and simple with a typical mourning statement on top or wrapped around a piece.

Don’t forget to head over and join the Art of Mourning Facebook Group if you want to have a chat with other collectors or see some more lovely items! Tomorrow, you might get to see something equally as lovely and then there’s Sunday… I wonder what symbolism will be on display then?

Further Brooches

A Sentimental Brooch For a Mother and Daughter, c.1860

Join Me with a Look at a 19th Century Sentimental Cameo Brooch of Artemis Featuring Hairwork

Spotlight On: Soul Brooch

Spotlight On: Snake Brooch

Spotlight On: 1788 Sarah Honlett Brooch

From the collection of Marielle Soni comes this amazing and very important 1836/37 ring. Why is it so important? Well, firstly, it’s a ring that truly shows the transition of popular art styles and being made with obvious expense, one can determine the intrinsic importance of the piece. Let’s take a look.

Gothic / Baroque Transition Ring Lieutenant Henry Dove RN 1836

Before we take a look at some of the motifs that make this ring special, the facts are that the ring is 18ct gold and was made in London, hallmarked for the 1836/1837 period, yet reappropriated in 1851 and dedicated to Lieutenant Henry Dove RN. The gold content, location of manufacture and density of the ring are the first indicators that the ring moves beyond lighter, more mass produced pieces of the time and the dedication to a Lieutenant completes the importance of the ring. Military, religious and aristocratic figures often had the upper level of mourning jewels, either due to status or simply wealth.

Gothic / Baroque Transition Ring Lieutenant Henry Dove RN 1836

Beginning with the primary sentiment on the top of the piece, we have the very elegant Victorian Gothic Revival font with the ubiquitous ‘In Memory Of’ and what makes this so special is that there is an attention to detail in the upper and lower cases of the font that is rather unusual for the Neo Gothic period, which was often in complete upper case. This has a delicate nature and shows some experimentation with the developing style.

Gothic / Baroque Transition Ring Lieutenant Henry Dove RN 1836

To the shank there are repeated acanthus/floral motifs that show another emerging style that would eventually overtake the Gothic Revival period in mainstream jewellery design, but see here how the design is also rather naive in that it’s a singular pattern repeated across the band. It’s not a fluid motif that entwines the ring, but is more segmented. Once again, there is experimentation at play.

Gothic / Baroque Transition Ring Lieutenant Henry Dove RN 1836

Underneath is another surprise – a ring constructed in the 1830s with the hair compartment/glass covering. This was a style not very typical until the mid 19th century, but here it is. All the various styles are at work in this ring, which makes one consider why it was constructed. Could it have been the experimental work of a London jeweller? Could it have been specifically requested by the Dove family for later use and the motifs were concepts put forward? That’s why I think this ring is so special, pieces that show the inception of very popular styles always tend to be of a higher quality, but any thought put to their actual inception can be supposition without the correct data to uphold the ideas. That said, the first half of the 19th century was a lot more playful with styles that would define the latter half of the 19th century, much of this has to do with the higher manufacture of jewellery due to the allowance of lower grade alloys from 1854, leading to greater demand and production.

Portrait of Lieutenant Henry Dove RN, attributed to Francesco Renaldi, oil on canvas, 55.5 x 44 cm

Portrait of Lieutenant Henry Dove RN, attributed to Francesco Renaldi, oil on canvas, 55.5 x 44 cm

It should be noted that Lieutenant Henry Dove RN “retired from active service with the Navy at the end of the Napoleonic wars in 1815, taking up an appointment at Deal, Kent connected with the Cinque Ports.” (Wikipedia) His son, Patrick Edward Dove (31 July 1815 – 28 April 1873) was born in Lasswade, Scotland and was the author of The Theory of Human Progression, 1850. In relation to this ring, it speaks of the quality and the affluence with which the ring would have been purchased. The household could afford and was expected to portray mourning at the highest level of custom for the time.

Courtesy and Thanks: Marielle Soni

Form factor is one of the most important things to look for when discovering oddities in jewellery design. Every era has their quirks and their set styles, mostly following whatever appeals to the mainstream.

Victorian Snake Ring With SymbolsAs mourning/sentimental jewellery collectors, we’re particularly at the mercy of what sold well in its prime. Pieces were made to a high degree in order to facilitate the demand and necessity of the social display of mourning, hence when something that defies the trend pops up, then it’s a sight to behold.

Along with this high production and demand (people were going to die, families needed to display their grief), the Hallmark Act of 1854 saw the allowance for lower grade alloys to be used in jewellery construction, hence even higher production for mourning jewellery at smaller cost. So, once again, we need to discover some nice quirks surrounding popular movements in mainstream jewellery design/art.

Victorian Snake Ring With SymbolsWhich brings us to this snake ring, which revels in the excess of its design and also constructs the design around its materials. We have the forget-me-nots set in white enamel across the black of the shank, which twists into a design that curves around the ring and twists in upon itself, providing the sentiment of eternity. The garnet and its rich, red colour is the main centrepiece of the ring, balancing the emergence from full mourning during the late second to third stage with the very organic mourning symbolism of the shank and the ‘In Memory Of’ dedication. This takes a lot of the visual styling of the mid-19th century and rises above the common due to the confluence of designs and sentiments. There’s the touch of white enamel (purity/innocence), the rather standard black enamel and ‘In Memory Of’ and then the use of the garnet on top. Do note that many mourning jewels were reappropriated in the hairwork memento on top with other stones, but this piece appears untouched and original.

Victorian Snake Ring With SymbolsThe hallmarks are particularly crisp and its overall condition is pristine. Much of the time, rings like this were sparingly worn after being commissioned, or kept simply for their sentiment and not worn.

Pieces like this I tend to keep as pristine as possible. I would personally ensure that this time capsule from an earlier time remained as it was the day it was made, rather than harm the delicate enamel through wearing. There is a lot of indifference with some collectors towards Victorian pieces, mainly due to their recent history and how common they are to find (many were produced en masse through catalogues), but be it a piece of alloy or a finely created piece like this, the sentiment is the same and it’s an existing testament to a bygone age.

Courtesy: Barbara Robbins
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