Check out this amazing ring from about 1820!
Isn’t it stunning? It’s absolutely the most perfect ring and I must own it now because I have the perfect dress that….Wait a minute….How come this ring has all pink stones and then a random emerald stuck on the bottom? Did one of the pink stones get lost along the way?
Do you remember passing love notes in class during grade school? It was so fun to watch the note travel hand-under desk to the far side of the room and watch your sweetheart’s face blush when they finally got your origami “I Luv U!” When you grew up, those little notes became lengthier letters, boxes of chocolates, or jewelry. The most intimate of love tokens is probably the ring. Modern culture puts a lot of weight on engagement rings, going for the biggest or the most diamonds we can squeeze between onto our 4th finger. Originally, diamonds symbolized eternity and the strength of love’s bond because it was so clear and almost unbreakable. Today’s diamonds mostly mean money money money! We’ve lost the brilliant system of symbolism that we cherished in grade school: the excitement of little pink hearts, true love’s first kiss, and the secret notes no one else was supposed to see. The Victorians loved symbolism. Crosses, anchors, flowers, birds, and acronyms were all the rage and each object had an important message. The Victorians needed a symbolic system to communicate more intimate emotions in their world of strict etiquette.
Today, if a man wants to go on a date with a woman, he just asks her outright. Victorian gentlemen, however, 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 adultery (pre-marital sex) could destroy the lives of whole families. Being unable to touch or kiss in public without scruple, Victorians utilized symbolic language to intimately express their most heartfelt desires. Some of these traditions live on today in simplified forms, like the dozen roses. This Valentine’s Day tradition stemmed from bouquets that contained messages literally made of flowers. Since each flower meant something different, sending a mixed bouquet would be like sending an entire letter!
One of the most beautiful ways a man could express his love is a sentiment ring. These amazing pieces of jewelry look ordinary to an uninformed eye. Their just a line or circle of gemstones chosen at random, sometimes repeating for no reason whatsoever! Why are there two rubies, but only one amethyst? Why didn’t the jeweler put the rubies on the ends? Why does this wedding band have turquoise on it? If you were a Victorian lady and you opened a box to find one of these, you would be the happiest girl in the world! You’d know that each gemstone stood for a letter: those rubies were Rs and an amethyst stood in for A and that little turquoise cabochon was a definite T. Your beau had sent you a lavish gemstone love note!
This ring, for example, has one of the most common phrases in acronym jewelry: REGARD. The word forms part of the phrase “with my REGARDs” or “I highly REGARD you,” meaning that your lover holds you very close to his heart. Can you find the word hidden in this ring? It’s not written out or carved inside the band; it’s in the jewels themselves! The pink stone on the left is a natural (R)uby followed by an (E)merald, (G)arnet, (A)methyst, another (R)uby, and on the far right, a (D)iamond. Using this system, you could spell out many other words like:
This little ring proclaims its giver’s sentiments with an (A)methyst, (D)iamond, (O)pal, (R)uby, and (E)merald. Like a little love note your can wear, this ring wraps around your finger as a reminder that “I ADORE you!” It also lets all those other potential beaus out there that the wearer already has a special someone, spelled out clear as day in costly gemstones. Sometimes the gems aren’t set in a line like a printed word. These rings are a little harder to “read” and are even more intimate than other sentimental jewelry. Let’s see if you can make out the message in this amazing Georgian ring:
If you cheated and checked out the link, good for you! All the rings here are linked to their full descriptions so you can learn more about them. In this ring, the message is disguised by scattering the stones instead of lining them up: (D)iamond, (E)merald, (A)methyst, (R)uby, (E)merald, (S)apphire, and (T)opaz. This message is especially sweet because you can regard someone, you may even adore someone, but calling them DEAREST lets them know that they are your one and only!
Here’s another modern re-make of the DEAREST ring:
In this ring, a tiny turquoise cabochon has replaced golden topaz as the T, a perfectly suitable substitute since turquoise began to gain popularity around 1880 and continued to be favored throughout the early 20th century. It’s a wonderful example of how the stones used in the acronym can be changed to suit budgets or tastes. T is the most often varied stone, ranging from topaz and turquoise to various tourmalines. A really poor gent with a big heart might go for a regard ring made of paste set in rolled gold. The virtue of paste stones is that glass could be clearly colored to easily denote one stone from the other for a bold proclamation. Early sentiment rings that used natural stones were often much more subtle and hard to read, like the exceptionally fine version of the hands holding a blossom:
Since all the stones in this ring are old, natural gems, the colors are comparatively subdued, making it a challenge to decipher the sentiment on the spot. This ring is also a tad tricky! Here’s a clue: whereas most acrostic flowers place the first letter in the center, this ring places it at the end: (D)iamond. The (E)merald is readily identifiable, but those four pink stones might trip you up. They are, in fact, two (R)ubies, a (G)arnet, and a lovely (A)methyst. So it’s not just a ring with mismatched stones, but a fantastic Georgian REGARD ring!
Sentiments didn’t appear exclusively on rings, but could appear on pendants, lockets, brooches, and stick pins. Some pieces keep the message in orderly, straight lines or wheels so the sentiment is easy to read. This Victorian rock crystal pendant has gold overly and the word REGARD caught up in the scrolls:
Other pieces mix the stones up into a puzzle, like this art nouveau stick pin:
When you put the stones in order– (D)iamond, (E)merald, (A)methyst, (R)uby, (E)merald, (S)apphire, and a pink (T)ourmaline– they spell out the sentiment.
Victorians were masters of hidden messages! These jeweled masterpieces are so much more special than most plain diamond rings. When you’re wearing one, it playfully reminds you– in their own words– that someone truly cares about you!
For an alphabetical list of popular gemstones, click here. It contains all letters except: N, U, V, W, X, and Y. There are minerals for every letter (list here), but some of these are rare or unsuitable for jewelry.