Spell Your Love with Gemstones
I love it when random research uncovers something really cool! This one came about while I was doing some basic internet looking at gemstones popular during the Regency for scene in my work-in-progress set during the engagement period between Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth. I had never heard of acrostic jewelry, but of course once I did, I had to include it into my story. You’ll have to wait a few more months for that, sorry. Perhaps this snippet of history will give you an idea of what may happen.
Most scholars concur that in the very early years of the 1800s, Jean-Baptiste Mellerio, Parisian jeweler of the House of Mellerio dits Meller, and favorite of French queen Marie Antoinette, began creating all sorts of jewelry with gemstones set in such a way to spell out a message. For instance, J’adore, French for Love, was spelled out in a ring with jacinth, amethyst, diamond, opal, ruby and emerald gemstones, set in that order. Very quickly acrostic jewelry became wildly popular. Documentary evidence of this type of jewelry is first seen in an article published in the Gazette de France, in 1811. It was in this article, written by Étienne de Jouy, under the nom-de-plume L’Hermite de la Chaussée-d’Antin (The Hermit of the Chaussée-d’Antin), that acrostic jewelry was noted to be the invention of Mellerio.
By this time the fashion for acrostic jewelry was widespread in France and had crossed the Channel to England, as well as other parts of Europe. Worn by men and women, rings became the most popular choice as a sentimental token, although brooches, bracelets, and pendants were designed as well. For men the acrostic gift from a loved one might be a lapel pin, fob, or pocket watch. Often times the piece was in a romantic shape, such as a heart or key, with the gems set into the shape, as seen below.
Names were spelled as well as words. French wasn’t uncommon for the acrostic, although English was preferred, especially as the war with France escalated. The possibilities were endless. While the majority of acrostic jewelry pieces were created to convey a sentimental message (romantic or familial) or to commemorate a special event (birth or marriage), a few were to display a political stand. Fascinating, but not how I worked it into my story! In England the two most popular words were Regard and Dearest. Others that were common include: Adore, Forever, and Love.
The gemstones chosen did vary somewhat, mainly due to differences in the names of gemstones in French versus English. This is a fairly comprehensive list, found in Jewels, A Secret History by Victoria Finley, with a few others added based on what I discovered–
A – amethyst, aquamarine
B – brilliant diamond, balas ruby, beryl
C – citrine, carnelian, chrysolite, chrysoprase
D – diamond
E – emerald
F – fluorite, flint
G – garnet (often called vermeil)
H – hematite, heliotrope
I – iris, iolite
J – jasper, jade, jet
K – kyanite
L – lapis lazuli, labradorite
M – malachite
N – nephrite
O – opal, onyx
P – pearl, peridot, purpurine
Q – quartz
R – ruby, rose quartz, rubellite
S – sapphire, sardonyx
T – topaz, turquoise
U – uvarovite
V – vermeil (garnet), volcanic glass
W – water agate, wood stone
X – Xepherine
Y and Z – no stone known at that time
In 1819, it was reported in La Belle Assembleée that ” … the acrostic rage prevails in jewelry,” yet it appears that the style faded to some degree after the Regency. It never died completely, however. Napoleon Bonaparte was a huge fan of acrostic jewelry and commissioned several pieces of acrostic jewelry to commemorate important events, such as births and marriages with names and dates spelled out in stones. The bracelet to the left was a gift from the emperor to his sister, and reads, “Napoleon 3 Juin 1806 a Lucques.” Napoleon’s sister, Elisa Bonaparte Bociocchi gave birth to a daughter at Lucques on June 3, 1806. While not the boy she hoped for, Elisa named her baby girl Napoleon after her brother anyway!
By the Victorian Era in England, acrostic jewelry once again flew into fashion. “Regard Rings” as they came to be called, were a standard adornment, and remained so well into the twentieth century.
A very detailed essay on acrostic jewelry history can be read on The Regency Redingote by Kathryn Kane: Alphabet of Gems
And now, because I love sharing tasty treats with my anxiously waiting and oh-so-faithful readers, here is a small portion of the scene from my WIP – preliminary title “A Season of Courtship” – involving an acrostic ring. Enjoy!
Nestled amid a cushion of velvet was a narrow ring of gold with seven gemstones in a perfect row, each set with an intricate weaving design. Darcy slipped the ring onto her finger, explaining as he did, “Elizabeth, it is important to me that you wear a tangible symbol of our engagement to serve as a reminder of my promises to you. Promises to grow closer during this season of courtship, and that I am committed to stand with you before our families and God on November twenty-eight, at which time another ring will be given to symbolize my commitment for eternity. This betrothal ring is not the one I most desire to place on your finger, and I will say no more on that for now, however, as soon as I saw this in Mr. Bijoux’s jewelry case I knew it was a splendid alternative.”
“It is stunning, William. I cannot imagine another to surpass it.”
“I am pleased you like it.”
“Like it? No, I love it! Never have I seen a ring to compare, and all these stones—“
“It is a new design in jewelry fashion by Parisian jeweler François Mellerio. Normally I pay scant attention to such things, but this one did pique my interest, probably because I was thinking of you. See, the stones are chosen to spell a message.” He touched each one as he explained, “Diamond, emerald, amethyst, ruby, another emerald, sapphire, and topaz.” He gazed directly into her eyes, voice rough and each word enunciated meaningfully. “Dearest. To me, dearest Elizabeth, you are everything that the word encompasses. Precious, beloved, cherished, valued, highly regarded and respected, and so much more. I… I do not wish to overwhelm or… frighten you with my fervor. I do, however, believe it necessary to reveal my heart and the earnestness of my convictions.”
“I am not sure what to say,” Lizzy ventured after a long pause. A tiny smile lifted the corner of her lips. “Strangely, you, the man with the taciturn reputation and claims to not converse easily, have turned out to be the one in this relationship better skilled at expressing emotions verbally.”
“I am practicing.”