It is such an iconic symbol of love – the heart shape – but this relationship has only existed from about the 14th century. There is a beautiful tapestry in the Louvre Museum called the ‘Le Don du Coeur’ (The Gift of the Heart) which shows a man giving a tiny red heart to a seated lady. It was created around 1410. There are a few heart shaped rings in museums dating from 14th century, one with an inscription ‘ The heart brings love to you’. The British Museum has some gold heart-shaped dangle earrings from the 15th century.
The 16th and 17th centuries saw a revived interest in the medieval concept of courtly love, medieval poetry conjuring up images of broken hearts and stolen hearts. This imagery can start to be seen in jewellery. From the 1600s, fede gimmel rings became popular. They have two hands clasped together and open up to reveal one or two hearts. In the 17th century, the claddagh ring from Ireland has a heart held in two hands, often with a crown on top of the heart, meaning ‘ruler of my heart’. In France, ‘alliance’ ring set with two hearts became popular as wedding rings in the 18th century.
The heart symbol can very simple, like the tortoiseshell heart at the top of the post, or more complex, like the heart surround to this lovely blue paste stone above, with its seed pearl detail and bow at the top. Victorian heart shaped lockets, pendants, and charms, like the four examples below, are common, and heart shaped jewellery is still just as popular today, particularly on Valentine’s Day