The Snake in Victorian Jewellery
The cult of snake jewellery in the Victorian era began with Prince Albert proposing to Queen Victoria. The ring given to her was in the image of a snake set with an emerald head. For Victoria the snake embodied eternal love, and promised her a true ‘happily ever after’.
Snake jewellery reached its peak in the 1840’s representing love, wisdom, and eternity. It was depicted on a plethora of jewellery including, rings bracelets, brooches, and necklaces.
Here at AC Silver we recently obtained a rare piece of serpentine Victorian jewellery. Dated to be circa 1860 due to the old cut diamonds and snake design, this piece was later hallmarked in the 1920’s (due to the introduction of hallmarking in Egypt in 1916). We have never previously held an item of Egyptian origin, so this addition to our inventory has been refreshingly different.
The Meaning of the Serpent
The snake has meant many different things to a multitude of cultures. It was first seen in ancient Egypt, the god Atum creator and ‘finisher’ or the world was often depicted as a snake, and said when the world was destroyed he would revert to his snake form. From this the serpent has since been associated with both rebirth and eternity.
In America the symbol for medicine depicts the rod of Asclepius which dates back to the mythos of ancient Greece. Asclepius was said to use non-venomous snakes in his healing rites, so the serpent and the rod came to represent him. The snake here symbolises healing due to its ability to shed its skin and start anew.
From the Chinese Zodiac the Snake is symbolic for wisdom, philosophy, and creative determination. Serpents frequently appear in Chinese mythology –not as normal creatures– but mythical and fantastic beings, even divinity. Chinese dragons are also very ophidian in appearance.
Through all cultures the snake shares the meaning of intellect, love, healing, balance and eternity. Even in the biblical story of Adam and Eve the snake represents forbidden knowledge, despite even the negative connotations in that, especially given the Victorian era conservative social norms, the snake was still a ubiquitous design.
It is possible that the upper class, who placed great emphasis on history and heritage, knew the symbolism of the snake. With the influx of trading bringing all sorts of exotic and unusual products to Britain it would not be unrealistic to believe the knowledge or interest began there. With collectors seeking out decorative, foreign rugs and experimenting with henna, perhaps the mysticism of the snake worked into Victorian culture from that. Either way, snake jewellery remains an icon of the mid and late 1900’s and continues to be present in today’s society.