Antique Lockets: Guide to Pieces of the Past

Antique Lockets: Guide to Pieces of the Past
Antique Lockets: Guide to Pieces of the Past

Lockets are a traditional style of a pendant that is much coveted, and not only by jewelry enthusiasts. Although there is no exact date of when lockets were first worn as decorative jewelry, locket-style pendants were certainly used in ancient civilizations as symbolically meaningful amulets.

Children in Ancient Rome, for example, wore a Bulla – a pendant with a pouch. The locket as we know it now evolved over the years, reaching its pinnacle of popularity during the Victorian era. The locket became popular because of the strong family values that were prevalent at the period, allowing images, locks of hair, and other mementos to be kept close to one’s heart. Isn’t that what we all seek from a meaningful piece of jewelry? 

History of Antique Lockets

Expect to find antique lockets fashioned in a range of materials, the most popular of which are gold filled gold, and silver. The locket’s style and decoration would represent the family that owned it. A wealthy family, for example, would display their wealth in their custom jewelry pieces, which would most likely be studded with jewels and gems. Less extravagant pieces, maybe in plain silver, would be owned by less affluent families. 

Since the Victorian Era, these beloved personalized jewelry pieces were originally created in different forms, being either round, heart-shaped, circular, or more squarish. The popularity of lockets in the Victorian Era but not only is related to their sentimental value, as you, the wearer, could open up the locket and place a photograph of a beloved one within, a lock of hair, or another meaningful object. 

Other mementos or objects could be stored in a locket as well. Archaeological excavations have discovered that ancient lockets, especially those from the medieval era, carried inside medicine, personal talismans, herbs, a slip of paper with a prayer or wish, good-luck charms, and even malicious liquids like poison. 

Locket jewelry was also used in the Victorian Era as a romantic gift idea or gesture such as carrying a lock of a loved one’s hair. In addition, Victorians also used lockets as mourning jewelry, representing the connection to a deceased loved one. Over time, small photographs became the most popular item to place in a locket. 

Antique Lockets – Tips to Find Original Pieces

The shopping process, especially when looking for antique jewelry, is as exciting as wearing the piece. You never know what you will find in an antique store, thrift shop, or estate sales. It always feels like searching for hidden treasures. And if you are looking for antique lockets, with some luck, you can find some affordable, unique, and original lockets from the Victorian Era. 

Antique lockets are those pieces that are over 100 years old. If the locket piece is newer, between 50 and 100 years old, it is considered vintage. Vintage jewelry, unlike antique jewelry, is frequently worn and displayed since it is less prone to break. They’re both valuable, however, although well-preserved antique lockets are more exclusive. So what to look for in an antique locket? 

  1. Antique Lockets are Engraved and Handcrafted

A century ago, handcrafted jewelry was the norm. Many antique lockets will feature this quality. They also come with engravings, marking the purity/carats of the metals they are made of, whether be gold, silver, or other. The maker’s mark can be sometimes found on the pin backs, or engraved on the clasps. The assay or hallmark will indicate what material the jewelry is made of, and might as well include a date and maker’s mark. The family initials to which the locket belonged may also be engraved on the inner part. 

  1. Check the Enamel on Antique Lockets

Many lockets, especially those made for wealthy families, were adorned with enamel, a difficult jewelry making technique. If you happen to find an antique locket of this type, check the condition of the enamel. The piece is genuine if there is any sign of wear and tear on the enamel. As for pieces with significant touch-ups or chipping, those are better to be left there. And if it happens to encounter a locket made of 18 to 24k gold, or/and adorned with gemstones, and monograms, or engraved with ornate decorations, keep in mind that this is the most coveted, and valuable antique locket every antique jewelry collector is after. 

  1. Know the Typical Designs of Antique Lockets

Although difficult to remember, these are the designs that conventional antique lockets were made. Along with hand-carved bone lockets, heart-shaped lockets, the ones that look like a book, or a scroll are the rarest and more collectible. Other conventional designs include the following:

  • Locket in the shape of a fan with a scrollwork cover.
  • The locket is made of gold and has a scrollwork cover.
  • Cameo-encrusted gold oval locket.
  • Brass oval locket with etched floral pattern.
  • A simple gold heart-shaped locket.
  • Oval rose gold and black enameled locket.
  • Egg-shaped gold filigree locket that opens in the middle.
  • Ornate square-shaped locket with filigree artwork on both sides.
  • A circular metal locket with a seed pearl rose pattern on the cover.

Time affects jewelry and makes antiques wear out or deteriorate with the passing of time. This is why these pieces are so coveted, as it is difficult to find any that are preserved in excellent condition for over 100 years. And who knows the history that locket will never be able to tell? Who was wearing it and what was he or she treasuring inside with so much zeal? You can only imagine!  

Where to Find Antique Lockets

So far we have mentioned several places where you can find antique lockets offline. Your preferred jeweler, the local pawn shop, antique stores, thrift shops, or estate sales are the places where you have the most chances to find antique lockets. As for where to go online, we recommend scanning in eBay and Etsy, following reputable auction sites like Christie’s or Sotheby’s, and/or surfing through AJC antique locket collection.

Modern Lockets – Preserving an Old Tradition 

Today, high-end and mid-tier designers create exquisitely detailed lockets in both traditional and modern styles. Designer brands are linked with quality and craftsmanship, so you can anticipate jewelry that is both attractive and durable, whether it is crafted in a classic or more modern style. Some of the best jewelry makers that you can head over to seek a locket pendant to treasure forever are Swarovski, Chanel, and Tiffany. A lesser known jeweler, Krikawa, specializes in custom, spectacularly hand-made lockets. 

Filigree Lockets – Still the Best of Modern Time

Filigree lockets are a lighter alternative to the heavy mass of solid patterns. Because these lockets come in a variety of forms, sizes, and designs, you can choose one to complement any jewelry collection.

Filigree Locket with Pattern 

The metal embellishments that make up the face of the locket, like the holes in a filigree locket, can create a beautiful pattern. For both: modern and historical filigree designs; starbursts, swirls, checks, and other geometric patterns are popular.

Find It Here

Book-Shaped Locket

A rectangular locket is ideal for retaining a strand of hair or other personal objects, and a filigree design on the front of the locket helps break up the length to make the design more delicate. The filigree may extend to the locket’s edges, or it may cover only the central piece for a more understated appearance.

Find It Here

Partial Filigree Locket

The patterning on a partial filigree locket is limited to a portion of the piece. The locket’s additional design elements might be brushed or polished metal, artwork, crystal, tumbling rock, or gemstone. This is a beautiful option for a design that incorporates a splash of color as well as traditional filigree.

Find It Here

How to Care for and Clean Antique Lockets?

Cleaning and caring for antique jewelry certainly can become a real challenge. The metals and gemstones are not in the condition they used to be 100 years before when they first were put together and made that piece. So what you should consider is proper storage and using jewelry-safe cleaning methods. For storage, you can consider keeping your antique jewelry (when not worn) in a decent jewelry box with its dedicated slot. As for cleaning your antique lockets, keep in mind the following tips:

  • Do not soak the locket in liquids as it can loosen crystals from their settings. Additionally, gemstones can be discolored or lose their finish. 
  • To clean, use a cotton swab, or a lightly dampened cloth.
  • To remove tarnish from silver lockets gently use a jeweler’s polishing cloth.
  •  Avoid using abrasive chemical cleansers and polishing solutions.
  • Remove the locket when having a shower, swimming, participating in rough sports, or performing heavy chores.

Keeping something meaningful close at heart

If lockets would be a company, this would be their slogan. They truly allow us to keep something meaningful close to our hearts, anything that may be. And if a thoughtful gift for your loved ones or significant other is what you were looking for in the first place, an antique locket will surely be much appreciated and treasured forever.