The locket is traditionally defined as "a small ornamental case, typically made of gold or silver, worn round a person's neck on a chain and used to hold things of sentimental value, such as a photograph”. Objects that could be held within a locket include miniature portraits, a lock of hair, or even a tiny love letter. The appeal of the locket is that it allows the wearer to keep a loved one close to their hearts at all times. Lockets have been crafted from various materials over the years- including gold, silver, silver plate and even wood- and also in many different styles ranging from a simple oval shape to highly decorative heart shaped lockets, such as this stunning synthetic ruby and diamond encrusted locket we have here at AC Silver.
The tradition of wearing a locket has spanned thousands of years and can be traced back as far back as the 16th Century, during which time they were worn by both men and women. Lockets containing a portrait of the of-the-time monarch were frequently worn by those with particularly patriotic tendencies.
In general, lockets come attached to chains and are worn as pendants. Throughout history however, they have been styled in various ways, including ‘charm lockets’ attached to bracelets, or even in the form of a ring. One such ring locket was commissioned by Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603) in 1575. This locket held two miniature portraits- one of her mother, the late Queen Anne Boleyn (1501-1536) and one of herself, and was made from a band of gold and mother of pearl which was then set with diamonds and rubies. It featured the letter ‘E’ set with six diamonds, placed over an ‘R’ made out of blue enamel. It is said that the Queen wore this locket up until her death.
Displaying a certain level of class and wealth, the locket became a highly desirable item of jewellery. During the Elizabethan era the most highly acclaimed artists were hired to paint miniature portraits, resulting in truly unique, and consequently expensive, pieces of jewellery. It wasn’t only the price of lockets that gave them their high status; it was a tradition of Elizabeth I’s to gift a locket containing a portrait of herself into her favourites within her court.
One famous example is ‘The Penicuik Locket’, which is thought to have belonged to Mary, Queen of Scots. This locket was crafted in enamel and featured 14 oval filigree beads which originally contained small deposits of perfume. The locket featured two portraits: one of Mary and one of her son James. It is believed that the same locket was given to Giles Mowbray, a loyal servant of Mary, on the eve of her execution in 1587.
By the 17th Century, lockets had accumulated even more sentimental value as they began to be used to pay respects to loved ones who had passed away. Mourning jewellery became very popular around the time of the execution of Charles I in 1649. His loyal subjects took to wearing miniature portraits of him set into rings and lockets. These portraits had to be worn in secret to avoid persecution; therefore lockets which closed and concealed their interior were ideal. It also grew more popular, during the 17th Century, to conceal a lock of hair within a locket.