Monday, May 22, 2017

Acrostic Jewelry: A Historical Primer

The sentimentality of the Victorians was something to behold.  I dare say, a characteristic that many in today's society probably do not share.  But oh what an era they lived in!

As an example, Victorian gentlemen were expected to court a woman using a complex system of rules: calling on her father and mother first; then visiting again in the presence of the whole family; leaving calling cards, sending letters, attending dinners or dances; and finally requesting the family’s permission to spend a few minutes talking to the girl in the family parlor with a chaperone.  All this trouble was to ensure that the lady remain pure before marriage since pre-marital sex could destroy the lives of whole families.  Being unable to touch or kiss in public without scruple, Victorians utilized a complex symbolic language system to intimately express their most heartfelt desires.


One of the most common terms of endearment was "regard" as spelled out in this ring through
the use of a ruby, emerald, garnet, amethyst, ruby & diamond.

And one such system that lovers and family members would use to share secret messages of devotion, love, fidelity and more was through the use colored gemstone jewelry - commonly known as “REGARD” jewelry but the correct terminology is ‘Acrostic Jewelry.’  Primarily, rings were the message delivery system of choice.  But other jewelry such as lockets and brooches were also used.  


Not only does this stunning brooch have the common, REGARD, spelled out in paste stones but it also features a
traditional lover's knot decorate with florette appliques, from The Hidden Chamber, $485.

Colored gemstones would be used in a specific order to spell out a single word based upon the first letter of the gemstone.  For example, each gemstone represents a different letter of the alphabet, with ‘A’ for Amethyst, ‘B’ for Beryl, ‘C’ for Citrine, ‘D’ for Diamond, ‘E’ for Emerald and so on (for a complete list, read further!).  How romantic!  Imagine receiving a stunning ring or brooch that spelled out a secret love message!


Not every acrostic piece has the stones set in a linear fashion, this adorable Victorian piece f
rom David J. Thomas Jewelry is much more subtle, $425.

The most often used word being REGARD, as in 'I hold you in only the highest regard.'  A term of endearment and where the common descriptor for this entire style of jewelry came from.  In the Victorian era, engagement rings set with stones spelling out "regards" were often exchanged, as the word carried a much deeper and more romantic meaning back then.

Words most commonly seen include: 
  • ADORE – Amethyst, Diamond, Opal, Ruby, Emerald
  • AMOUR – Amethyst, M, Opal, Uranite, Ruby
  • BELOVED – Beryl, Emerald, Lapis, Opal, Vermeil (Garnet) or Volcanic Glass, Emerald, Diamond
  • DEAR - Diamond, Emerald, Amethyst, Ruby
  • DEAREST - Diamond, Emerald, Amethyst, Ruby, Emerald, Spinel or Sapphire, Topaz or Tourmaline
  • REGARDS - Ruby, Emerald, Garnet, Amethyst, Ruby, Diamond, Spinel or Sapphire

The history of acrostic jewelry dates back to 18th century Paris when jeweler Jean-Baptiste Mellerio first conceived the idea of spelling out words with colored gemstones. These sparkling love letters quickly caught on, and some of the earliest acrostic bracelets were created by the French jewelry house, Chaumet, during the Napoleonic era, as gifts for Empress Jos├ęphine and Empress Marie-Louise.


A late Victorian 15ct gold REGARD locket brooch.  The locket conceals a panel for notes, a lock or hair or more!

If happen to find a piece of acrostic antique jewelry dating back to these times, it can still be a bit tricky to decipher the message.  Especially if the piece comes from a non-English-speaking country!  Plus, to add to the confusion, jewelers would sometimes improvise by using the color of a gem to represent certain letters without an associated gemstone, for example fire opal for ‘F.’  Some stones are also known by other names today, such as the garnet, which used to be called vermeil.


Here is a list of some of the most commonly see stones in acrostic jewelry:

  • A - amethyst, aquamarine
  • B - balas ruby, beryl 
  • C - citrine, carnelian, chrysolite, chrysoprase
  • D - diamond
  • E - emerald
  • F - fluorite, flint
  • G - garnet (often called vermeil at that time)
  • H - hematite, heliotrope
  • I - iris, iolite
  • J - jasper, jade, jet
  • K - kyanite
  • L - lapis lazuli, labradorite
  • M - malachite
  • N - nephrite
  • O - opal, onyx
  • P - pearl, peridot, purpurine
  • Q - quartz
  • R - ruby, rose quartz, rubellite
  • S - sapphire, sardonyx
  • T - topaz, turquoise
  • U - uvarovite
  • V - vermeil (garnet), volcanic glass
  • W - water agate, wood stone
  • X - Xepherine
  • Y and Z - no stone known at that time

Acrostic jewelry is seeing a resurgence in recent years with contemporary interpretative collections from jewelers such as Jessica McCormack, Chaumet and Verdura.  Not to mention the numbers of designers making some amazing custom pieces such as Chinchar Maloney.  Either way, it’s hard to compete with antique acrostic jewelry – all that historical, pent-up passion!  Yum!

The Verdura D.E.A.R. Bracelet is a modern interpretation of Victorian acrostic jewelry, $53,500.


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