Secret Message in Jewellery Part 3 - Acrostic Jewellery
Symbolism in jewellery was an enchanting element of Georgian and Victorian dressing. There was much to be learned from a quick study of the gems and jewels of those around the room. Whether you were signalling an openness to flirtation, the mourning of a loved one, or a heart enthralled to another- there was likely a perfect jewellery piece for that!
Through-out this series we've seen how symbols and signs were used to interpret a wearer's inner thoughts, but acrostic jewellery quite literally spelled it out!
In these eclectic looking pieces the first letter of each gemstone is used to spell out a word, date, or name to be cherished by the wearer. Or if you're gonna follow the example of Napoleon, a big fan of Acrostic Jewellery, you can go for whole sentence! Below is a bracelet gifted by Napoleon to his sister at the birth of her daughter, who she had named Napoleon in his honour. We can see the acrostic code spelled out alongside. NAPOLEON 3 JUIN 1806 A LUCQUES (Napoleon 3 June 1806 at Lucca).
It was in France in the late 18th Century that acrostic jewellery began. Its first appearance is attributed to Mellerio, a favourite jeweller of Marie Antoinette. Later, acrostic messages became extremely popular with the upper echelons of Napoleonic France. It quickly caught the fancy of the British Georgians. Victorians, with their love of secret messages were alllll over it, setting clandestine codes in golden filigree.
The most common acrostic sentiment was "Regard"... yes, regard, that barely luke-warm, formal email sign off. Once it carried a more intimate depth of feeling, and thousands of pieces of gem-set jewellery displayed that the wearer had someones "regard" ( I like to imagine that some people commissioned these symbols for themselves to pretend to be an object of someone's affections, to draw curiosity - like Cher ordering herself flowers & chocolates in Clueless).
Regard jewellery makes up a large amount of the surviving acrostic pieces. The jewel studded spelling of it went Ruby Emerald Garnet Amethyst Ruby Diamond.
Another common Acrostic message was Dearest: Diamond Emerald Amethyst Ruby Emerald Sapphire, and Tourmaline.
And occasionally Love: Lapis Opal Vermiel ( another name for Garnet - not the gold covered silver of today) Emerald
But Acrostic jewellery could be more personal too. The most valuable examples today are ones which spelled something other than the "off the shelf" sentiments of Regard, Dearest, and Love. Below is a cuff bracelet that spells Rosemary: Ruby, Opal, Sapphire, Emerald, Moonstone, Amethyst, Ruby, and Yellow Citrine.
Whatever you wanted to spell could be attempted in the acrostic gemstone alphabet. Some jewellers, like those who made Napoleons bracelets, were very ambitious and would likely write a novel in gemstones in you paid them enough! Others stuck to a more modest alphabet of more attainable stones.
Here's a list I made of some of the more common "letter gems" from antique jewellery:
Queen Alexandra, daughter-in-law of Victoria, had an acrostic engagement ring which spelled "Bertie" the pet name of her husband, King Edward IIV of Britain. Here's a beautiful illustration of the ring by The History Press. The stones used to spell Bertie were Beryl, Emerald, Ruby, Topaz, Jacinth, and Emerald... sooo it actually spelled BERTJE, but similar letters were often used as substitutes in acrostic, V(ermiel) for U, or j(acinth) for i, etc.
This fashion for spelling names has been the most enduring use of acrostic jewels. The modern acrostic alphabet tends also to be much more extensive and considerable more affordable! The ability to create something unique and personal is a major selling point, and acrostic jewellery is once again surging in popularity.
So, from Etsy to local highstreets, you'll find many jewellers who are still setting our messages in sparkling stone.