The popularity of the locket dates back to the middle ages and the renaissance, where it was a development of the hinged reliquary pendant. These little cases with hinged lids that opened had a space used for keeping a lock of hair in, either of a loved one or a person who had died, as a keepsake. The pendants that opened or shut and called lockets were made of gold, silver or other metal and noted for wearing on a chain or a black velvet ribbon as a decorative locket necklace or as a choker neckpiece.
It was customary in the sixteenth century for the Sovereign to present gifts of hinged lockets including a portrait of him or herself. In following centuries, the gold locket became fashionable with decoration of enamelling, gemstones or etched motifs and had either miniature portraits or locks of hair inserted in them.
During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and particularly during the Victorian era, the locket fashion extended to inclusion of photographs. They were often a heart locket that had photographs of people inside and given as a sentimental gift. Even today, there is a great demand for antique lockets, both for collectors and for decorative wearing.
Popular shapes of lockets
• Heart shaped lockets
• Oval lockets
• Rectangular lockets
• Reversible Lockets
• Circular Lockets
There are also locket rings, where the bezel of the ring is actually a locket. A good example of an antique locket ring is one now at Chequers. The hoop and the cover of the ring set with gemstones, and inside, are portraits of Queen Elizabeth 1 and Anne Boleyn.
Usually a locket holds one or two photographs, but there are also lockets that can hold as many as eight photographs. With the reversible keepsake locket, the one side is made of a glass pane and used for holding a lock of hair. It is transparent so that there will be no loss of the hair by opening the locket repeatedly. A photograph inserted in the other closed side is of the person to whom the hair belonged.
A style common during the Victorian era, was the ‘spinner’ locket, whereby the bail attaching the locket to the locket necklace is there, but the locket itself left free to spin.
Lockets as Gifts
Probably the most popular shape of locket is the heart locket. A popular gift on Valentines Day as a token of love, other occasions for giving lockets are Christenings or Weddings and during the Victorian era, a gold locket present for giving at funerals. Today, besides the heart-shaped locket, the oval locket is also a very popular gift for special occasions.
Lockets come in various sizes. There are very small ones suitable for putting on a charm bracelet or larger ones for wearing as a locket necklace. Always charming to look at and for wearing as decorative items of jewellery, they have retained their popularity through the ages. Made in nine, or eighteen-carat gold or sterling silver, decorated with motifs, plain or engraved with the owner’s name, they always have appeal.
Another kind of locket popular in the past was in filigree style and had a small cushion for adding perfume, inserted in the centre. Perfume lockets were excellent for masking body odours in the days when people did not regard personal hygiene as a necessity for their well-being.
Every little girl wants to have a locket of her own; especially to wear a locket necklace, so giving lockets for children’s birthday gifts has gained in popularity, particularly for a heart-shaped gold locket. It makes them feel so grown-up wearing them, even if only allowed to wear them for special occasions until, they are older!