Most people are scared of snakes and yet jewellery in the shape of snakes and serpents has always been popular, representing infinity and eternal love. There are examples of snake shaped jewellery from the ancient Egyptian period, through the bronze age, the Greeks and Romans and so on. Diadems, bracelets, armbands, rings – all were popular. The snake finger ring in gold was first seen in the fifth century AD and remained in use through the Roman period. For some reason, snake jewellery was not common during the Middle Ages, or the Rennaissance, Baroque and Roccoco periods. It has been suggested that this was because of the rise of Christianity and the association of the snake with evil and the devil.
Snake jewellery was very popular in the Victorian period. Queen Victoria wore a snake bracelet to her first Council meeting after her accession in 1837 and Prince Albert gave her a betrothal ring in the shape of a snake. There is a painting from about 1850 in Gere and Rudoe’s Jewellery in the Age of Queen Victoria of Lady Bedford wearing a hinged snake bangle, similar to the one at the top of the post. Gold snake necklaces were fashionable in the 1830s to 1840s. These articulated necklaces comprised scale like links ending in a snake head into which the clasp slotted. Often the snake was holding a heart, combining the symbols of eternity and love. There are some lovely examples on pages 110-111 of the Mascetti and Friossi book, The Necklace: From Antiquity to the Present.
Bracelets and rings particularly were used to represent eternal love, whether just coiled around the wrist or biting their tails. Sometimes, there are two or more snakes entwined in a brooch or bracelet, referencing the herculean knot of ancient Greece. Often, though, the snake is in the form of a ring or bracelet with the tail at one end of the spiral and the head facing down the wrist, and is really only meant to be decorative.
The snake continued to be popular in the Art Nouveau and Jugendstil periods and is still popular today.
If you want to see more about how snakes have been used in jewellery, have a look at Serpentina by Fritz Falk.