Discover the hidden history of romantic jewellery

Long before Valentine’s Day was the commercial spectacle it has become today jewellery was used as an expression of love, romance, passion and commitment. I was recently commissioned to make a unique pair of love-knot earrings for a customer; I had such a wonderful time diving into the history of love knots that I couldn’t resist researching more on the subject of love and jewellery. Here are some of my favourite discoveries.

Tie the love knot

Catherine Hills Jewellery, Love knot sketchbook

The history of love knots in jewellery dates back centuries. The love-knot pattern usually has no discernible beginning or end to symbolise the constancy of the lovers’ bond. Love knots have been found in ancient Egyptian carved sculptures, ancient Greek jewellery and Celtic artwork. I found out recently that love knots were also incorporated into protective girdles worn by brides and are the likely origin for the phrase “tie the knot”. I’ve been experimenting with my own take on a love-knot design.

Catherine Hills Jewellery, Love Knot earring commission

I made these bespoke love-knot earrings as a recent commission using metal from some family wedding rings (I used the remainder to create a stacking bobble ring). What I love about them is that one has two 22ct gold hoops with a single platinum hoop and the other has two platinum hoops with a single gold hoop so they are opposites that complement each other beautifully. I thought this type of design could also work really well as a pair of cufflinks, which would make a wonderful Valentine’s Day gift or present for a man – they are on my workbench at the moment and I look forward to sharing them with you soon.

A very similar love token was the gimmel ring, formed of a two hoops interlocked to form a single sculpted ring, see the top of this page. In the 16th and 17th centuries betrothed couples would each wear one of the hoops, that were joined together on their marriage to symbolise enduring commitment.

Queen Victoria’s serpent

It was during the peak of the Romantic Movement that nature-inspired jewellery first became popular. This coincided with the early reign of Queen Victoria, who was known as a romantic and passionate person. The serpent was a popular choice at this time and was seldom out of fashion for the whole of the 19th century. The Queen wore a serpent bracelet at her first council meeting and her engagement ring was a gold serpent encrusted with emeralds. The continuity of the serpent holding its tail in it's mouth symbolised eternity.

Catherine Hills Jewellery, Snake cufflinks

My snake cufflinks have a much more modern inspiration. A dream-come-true commission was being asked to make the jewellery for the Harry Potter films, including the silver rings, tie pins and snake buttons worn by characters from the school house of Slytherin. The design was based on the Slytherin crest: you can see more here.

Inspired by poetry

Catherine Hills Jewellery, Seasons ring

Rings with inscriptions date as far back as the 5th century but were particularly popular between 1200 and 1500, when rings, often including engraved words, were a common gift between lovers. The inscriptions were known as little poems or 'posie', which is derived from the French word for poetry. The engraved messages, which were usually in French or Latin, were a way to personalise the jewellery and for the wearer to possess something unique. The V&A has a wonderful collection of posy rings, which I popped back to revisit while researching this piece. Popular inscriptions included: 'joy without end' and 'let liking last'. Rings from the Middle Ages have also been found with the following inscriptions: 'one chosen both happy’, 'my heart is thine', 'let love continue', 'God made us two one' and 'after consent ever content'. In early rings words were often engraved on the outside but later inscriptions were more commonly on the inside because wearing the message against the skin was believed to increase its potency.

Catherine Hills Jewellery, Elements ring

Recently engraving has been far less popular in jewellery design but it’s something I’m very fond of. I have a wonderful hand-engraver who I work with to add inscriptions and engraved details to my work. My Seasons and Elements rings both have engraved wording and I’ve recently worked with my engraver to create a complete range of alphabet charms that can be combined with any of the other charms from my new Pollen collection to create a unique necklace. Look our for more about my Pollen collection soon.

Catherine Hills Jewellery, Letter charms