There have always been a lot of traditions and rituals associated with weddings. Many of these are relatively quite recent, such as double ring weddings and wedding gift registries. Others are a bit old. Engagement rings really only became popular in the middle of the 19th century as did white wedding dresses (but only for the very wealthy). There has always been a lot of symbolism associated with weddings but not all wedding jewellery included hearts and birds. Some items of jewellery have been associated with weddings for a few centuries and two of the items I discuss below fall into that category. The third item discussed was only associated with weddings for a limited period in Australia a hundred years ago.
The first item is jewellery made of seed pearls. Seed pearls, small round and nearly round pearls generally less than 2mm in diameter, became popular in the 18th and 19th centuries as gifts for brides and young girls going out into society. Pearls were associated with modesty and purity. Seed pearls were used to provide a border for a jewel or miniature, for tassels, to encrust a piece in pretty patterns or to imitate a cluster of grapes. However, between 1840 to 1860, jewellery comprised completely of seed pearls was very popular. Seed pearl suites with created with a necklace, two bracelets, two earrings, a brooch and a corsage.
For brides and families who could not afford pearls, mother of pearl offered a cheaper alternative. This necklace would have been worn by a bride in the 1840s and 1850s. Pieces of mother of pearl have been carved into flower shapes and sewn onto brocade to form a necklace. Again, the mother of pearl represents purity.
Bracelets and bangles were associated with weddings during the Victorian period in that a man would give his betrothed a bracelet to celebrate the engagement and would then give her a matching bracelet on the day of the wedding. You can still find sets of such bracelets, beautifully boxed, but they are rare.
In Australia, though, from around the 1890s to the 1930s, it was common to read in newspaper accounts of weddings that a gift of the groom to the bride or to the bridesmaid was a gold bangle. The bracelets were simple plain bangles, sometimes hinged, sometimes not. I will talk about why these bangles became associated with love and weddings in my next post.