History of Lockets

"Hang my seal around your neck, wear my seal on your finger"

Song of Solomon 8:6. 

 

No-one knows the first time when a mother wrapped her baby's first tooth lovingly in a cloth and tied it with a string around her neck; or when lovers first exchanged each other's locks of hair as a token of their love.

But it is certain that the desire to hold a keepsake or remembrance of our loved ones goes back to the earliest days of civilisation.

In the Biblical Song of Solomon, written over 3,000 years ago, the writer desires to have his seal worn as a keepsake around his lover's neck. In those days, the seal represented a person's identity, and every person's seal was unique, much like a signature today. 

From the time of the Renaissance, 800 years ago, when the art of portraiture became more widely established, portraits began to be incorporated into lockets which were embellished with the most precious jewels and decoration.

Miniature portraiture is extremely painstaking and laborious, sometimes using paintbrushes with only a single hair.  A few artists specialised in miniature portraiture. Nicholas Hilliard (1547 - 1619) was the most famous miniature portrait artist of his generation, as well as a goldsmith, and his jewelled lockets and miniature portraits encapsulate some of the most beautiful works of art of his era.

Hidden away in their secret compartment, were some touching and historically important miniature portraits. When Queen Elizabeth I died, a ring was taken from her finger which she wore every day of her life. Upon examining it, her courtiers found that the ring contained a secret compartment and inside was a portrait of Queen Elizabeth herself and her mother Anne Boleyn, who had been executed  by her father King Henry VIII when she was only 2 years old.

 

 

 Below on the left is a superb portrait of Thomas Cromwell, who was the minister to Henry VIII, painted by Hans Holbein.

On the right is a 16th century locket portrait of King James I, by Nicholas Hlliard. This locket was gifted to Thomas Lyte by King James I and is known as the Lyte Jewel (By courtesy of the British Museum).

Because these portrait were preserved inside their lockets, they are almost as fresh today as when they were painted, over 500 years ago. 


Lockets have long been associated with royalty. In Ancient Egypt, over 2,000 years ago, Queen Cleopatra gifted lockets with her image inside, to her favoured courtiers. Queen Elizabeth I also did the same. Wearing the image of the monarch was a sign of great favour and also a statement of loyalty to the Crown.

 

During the Middle Ages, Valentine's Day became a day for lovers to celebrate their love, and lockets were commonly exchanged on that day as love tokens. It was believed that February 14th was the beginning of birds' mating season and many lockets contain images of hearts, butterflies and lovebirds, to celebrate this.

In the 18th century, the tradition developed of gifting a locket on a wedding day. This tradition still continues today, with lockets being often gifted to the bride and family members on the day of their wedding.

In the 19th century, Queen Victoria was gifted a locket bracelet by her husband Prince Albert. Eight lockets hung from the bracelet, and each locket contained a lock of their children's hair.  After Prince Albert died, Queen Victoria wore a locket containing his portrait for the rest of her life.

Lockets are traditionally worn as necklaces, so that the loved one can be worn close to the wearer's heart. They are often worn on long chains so that the wearer can turn the locket round and look at the image inside.

When worn as a bracelet or ring, the wearer can easily open and view the locket in order to gaze on the loved one's image. They have also taken many other forms, whether as attachments to a bracelet, or tied round a wedding bouquet. Men's lockets were occasionally set into seal rings. 

The revolutions of photography and modern engraving methods mean that lockets are now within everyone's reach, and can be used to capture not only momentous but also spontaneous and precious moments in your life. 

Lockets are the most personal and romantic of gifts. They celebrate the union of loved ones to each other, preserve the bonds of family, and link the past to the future.