Perhaps no other piece of jewelry carries more mystery and allure than an antique locket, a charm with a locking compartment. Only the wearer knows what's secreted inside, but traditionally it's a memento so treasured the owner wants it near at all times. It could be a valuable, a token of love, or a memorial for a deceased loved one.

Lockets come in various shapes—mostly commonly circles, ovals, and hearts—and are attached to rings, brooches, necklaces, and charm bracelets. In ancient times, a locket could carry medicines or herbs needed for spells. The contents of a locket might be intended to ward off evil spirits. Those practicing a darker form of magic might carry poison to use on enemies. Lockets have also been used to carry baby teeth, lip balm, or a cotton ball doused with perfume, designed to mask natural body odors.

Around the 16th century, "memento mori," which is Latin for "be mindful of death," became more and more popular, particularly in the form of jewelry worn to memorialize a lost family member or lover. Up until recent times and the miracles of modern, life was much more fleeting and fragile, so death was a much more pressing reality. Lockets grew to be one of the most important devices in mourning jewelry. While most jewelry at the time was worn to flaunt wealth and status, lockets were often hidden, worn close to the heart.

In the politically tumultuous Georgian period in England between 1714 and 1837, memorial jewelry often featured funeral scenes painted on ivory, or miniature portraits of loved ones on pendants and brooches. The Georgians were also deeply romantic, favoring lover's eye lockets, which contained a painting of an eye, as well as heart-shaped love-token lockets featuring messages coded in gemstones. Many of these lockets could only be unlocked with a small key and had affectionate notes inscribed on them.

Under Queen Victoria's reign, these sentimental charms became even more popular, as artists became masters of painting portraits in miniature for sterling silver lockets. Lovers gave each other heart-shaped lockets adorned with gems, pearls, and monograms. Engaged couples would exchange miniatures with compartments containing a lock of hair. Even Victoria herself wore a heavy bracelet with a miniature of her husband, Prince Albert, in the center.

When the Queen lost both her mother and her beloved Albert in 1961, she went into a permanent state of mourning. She believed that any widow would feel as aggrieved as she did and remarriage was not plausible. From then on, deaths in the Royal Family were frequently and rigidly mourned, and this strict observance of mourning spread across the country.

Lockets created for mourning jewelry were made out of dark materials like ebony, jet—a shiny black coal-like material formed out of driftwood—or gutta percha, a dark rubber mater...

The Victorians were particularly obsessed with the hair belonging to a belated loved one. They would make entire suites of jewelry out of this hair, which might include a necklace with a pendant cross, a brooch shaped like a lover's knot, earrings, and a miniature backed with hair, all mounted in gold. Family and friends would receive gold locket rings containing plaited hair of the deceased.

In the 1860s, the United States, too, seemed overwhelmed with death, as the Civil War casualties mounted, and newborns suffered a high mortality rate. Lockets holding a photograph of the child's dead body and a snippet of the baby's hair comforted bereaved parents. A soldier heading to the war would cut off a piece of his hair, and give it to his family or wife for future mourning jewelry pieces. These Victorian-era lockets are easy to date, as many bear inscriptions that detail exactly who they memorialize and when they passed.

In the 20th century, lockets worn as memorials or token of affection are more likely to contain a photograph rather than a lock of hair. However, in the 1990s, the concept of cremation jewelry extended to lockets, in which a part of a loved one's ashes could be carried at all times.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

All About Jewels Dictionary

All About Jewels Dictionary

This incredible reference dictionary on jewelry, from Enchantedlearning.com, is both beautiful and comprehensive. S… [read review or visit site]

The Scrap Album

The Scrap Album

Malcolm Warrington’s The Scrap Album is a handsomely organized site, as you’d expect from an articulate champio… [read review or visit site]

Stevengraphs Bookmarks and Postcards

Stevengraphs Bookmarks and Postcards

Malcolm Roebuck's tribute to the ornate silk picture bookmarks and postcards ('Stevengraphs') produced by Thomas St… [read review or visit site]

Morning Glory Antiques and Jewelry

Morning Glory Antiques and Jewelry

Jewelry collectors, feast your eyes on this internet gem! It's a goldmine of jewelry information featuring all styl… [read review or visit site]

Cathy Gordon's Jewelry Gallery

Cathy Gordon's Jewelry Gallery

With its vast galleries featuring clear images of jewelry and style, this site really covers it all! Divided up by … [read review or visit site]

Jewel History

Jewel History

Since March of 2007, readers of Lori Ettlinger Gross’s JewelHistory blog have been treated to her weekly (sometim… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Antique Victorian Silver Love Token Humming Bird 2 Photo Picture Locket PendantVictorian Asprey Solid 18k Gold Seed Pearl Large & Heavy Locket Pendant,casedGorgeous Victorian Gold Enamel Pearl Diamond Set Heart Shaped Pendant LocketLarge Victorian Solid Silver Locket.Gorgeous Antique Victorian Heavy Gold Filled Persian Turquoise Birds Nest LocketVictorian Silver Locket Collar Necklace, Book Chain, 18 Inch, 14.3gr.Antique Victorian Art Nouveau Large Sterling Silver Photo Locket Fob Pendant Victorian Style Gold Plated Enamel,seed Pearl & Garnet Locket Pendant On ChainAntique Victorian Solid Sterling Silver Hand Engraved Bird Locket PendantBeautiful Antique Victorian Sterling Silver: 2 Hearts & Locket Sweetheart BroochAntique Victorian Locket With Applied Gold LeavesFine Victorian Jet Mourning Locket With Seed Pearl Star To Front Original InsideGood Vintage Sterling Silver 34 " Long Cable Link Chain Ideal For Large Locket1860's Antique Victorian Red Coral & Pearl 9ct. Gold Blue Enamel Engraved LocketStunning Georgian 18ct Gold Portrait Miniature Locket Frame With Woven Hair BackAntique Victorian To Art Deco 12k Gold Filled Charm Bracelet With Charms LocketVictorian Solid Silver Locket.Spectacular Pools Of Light Locket Orb Rare In 14kt GoldAttractive Large Vintage Sterling Silver Photo Locket Engraved With A ButterflyAntique Victorian Wheatsheaf Carved Cow Bone Locket Photo Pendant Dieppe?Fine Quality Victorian Gold & Turquoise Brooch Hair Mourning Locket Antique NrFine Edwardian 1905 Solid Gold Double Sided Locket PendantAntique Vintage Victorian Art Nouveau French Photo Locket Book Fob Charm PendantC1860 Antique Victorian Banded Agate Gilt Etruscan Photo Locket PendantRare Antique Edwardian Gold Engraved Locket Rare Shape On Fine 9kt Gold ChainAntique Victorian Whitby Jet Lady & Grape Vine Love Token Photo Locket PendantFine Solid Gold Engraved Locket PendantAntique Victorian 9ct Gold Front & Back Stone Set Photo Locket Pendant #8 54Stunning Sterling Silver Vintage *large* Oval Engraved Locket Pendant NecklaceAntique Victorian Gold Filled Bar Pins Broochs Locket Lot Of 15 Some Need RepairAntique Arts & Crafts Movement Sterling & 18k Gold Enamel Locket ConvexFine 18k Gold Love Heart Locket Pendant On ChainLot Of 3 - Victorian Gold Filled - Love Or Mourning LocketsBeautiful Antique Solid Sterling Silver,gold & Paste Double Photo Locket PendantAntique 10k Gold & Enamel Heart Locket, Handpainted W/ 2 White Doves, As FoundAntique 19th Century Victorian "faux" Tortoise Shell Locket Necklace No Reserve!Victorian 9 Carat Gold Etruscan Revival Locket BroochAntique Victorian 9ct Gold Miniature Photo Locket PendantLarge Victorian Asthetic Period Sterling Silver Locket Decorated Both SidesBeautiful Victorian Solid 9ct Gold Ruby & Diamond Brooch. .picture LocketAntique Silver And Paste Stone Locket (a6)Victorian Silver Pin / Hair Locket With Rose And Green Gold9ct Rose Gold Watch Chain By John Grinsell & Sons With Locket Fob 13.9 GramsAntique Victorian Mourning C Co Gold Filled Amethyst Dsided Photo Locket PendantVintage Art Deco Sterling Elongated Oval Engraved Locket Pendant NecklaceStunning Antique Solid 9ct Gold, Turquoise & Pearl Double Photo Locket PendantVictorian ' In Memory Of ' Whitby Jet LocketAntique Gold Filled Pocket Watch Chain Necklace Birks Etched Locket Wax Seal FobSmall Antique 9ct Gold And Diamond Back And Front Locket (b11)Vintage Sterling Silver Ornate Locket Pendant #7 261850’s Gold Mourning Locket/fob Daguerreotype Child & Lock Of Hair Pretty Antique Gold Front Back Mizpah Pink Flower Enamel Heart Shaped Locket5 X Victorian / Edwardian Antique Pendants Inc 4 X Picture Fob LocketsFine Antique 15ct. Gold Photo Pendant Locket With Photo Of Ww1 Uniformed SoldierVintage Solid Silver Locket & Chain, Birmingham 1979, By Ej Ltd.Antique 9ct Rose Gold Double Photo Memory Locket PendantVintage Antique 1900’s Large Round Rolled Yellow Gold Locket Bracelet CharmAntique Victorian 12k Gf Watch Chain Bracelet With Tbar Moonstone Ruby LocketAntique Large Solid Silver Double Sided Locket PendantArt Nouveau French Medalist Signed Hugenin Sliding Locket-birds & Forest Floor**