Solving The Mystery of A 19th Century French Brooch

Just to let you in on a little secret about me—I am enamored and often entranced by antique and period pieces, which have imagery based on covert symbols and language of love. Many of these can be deciphered in diverse ways or that needs a good jewelry detective on the case. Often times I can figure out the meanings. Other times, there are combinations of symbols, which make it a bit more difficult to decode; but I do love a good mystery and this past weekend I found one.

Wartski, the renowned London-based jewelers specializing in antique jewelry and the work of Carl Faberge featured a photo of a French, c.1890 brooch on Instagram and posed the question of what the motif and gemstones on the piece mean.

The brooch literally stopped my morning IG speed scrolling. I stared at it, mesmerized by the beauty and surrealistic nature of the piece before I was even able to make my way past the photo to the possible symbolism that the post proposed. Once I began to read, I saw that there were 32 responses and answers in the feed to how the piece might be interpreted.

At this time of this article, there are also approximately 850 ‘likes’ on the post. I was certainly not alone in being intrigued by this gold circular brooch, which features an enamel cupid hammering a ruby set nail into the eye of an enamel and rose cut diamond man in the moon.

Thomas Holman, one of the directors of Wartski explains, “Instagram is a wonderful arena to ask other antique experts, aficionados and collectors about pieces that we can attempt to decipher based on what we know about the jewelry of that period yet haven’t completely figured out.”

He continues, “there was an entire covert language and vocabulary of symbols in jewelry spoken between lovers, that is somewhat lost today. Therefore we are thrilled to open a dialogue to help solve the mystery of what certain pieces mean.”
Sure enough, Thomas found some of the IG jewelry sleuths interpretations quite “lovely, interesting, thought provoking and on target.”

Thomas explains, “It is probable that it is a mixture of amorous symbols. The ruby mounted horseshoe nail is emblematic of ‘lucky in love’. Diamonds are a symbol of eternal love,  forever pure and indestructible.”

“There is one theory which someone put forward on Instagram is that it is a visual symbol of ‘moonstruck” Another post read that the nail in the eye is emblematic of ‘love is blind.’ Maybe a combination of both?” Thomas suggests.

Thomas goes on to quote the famous speech in Romeo and Juliet:

“O, swear not by the moon,

Th’inconstant moon,

That monthly changes in her circle orb,

Lest that they love prov likewise variable.”

He theorizes, “ Could Cupid be pinning down the inconstant moon with true love?”

“All of these translations make sense,” Thomas explains. He is leaning towards “Moonstruck” but doesn’t mind having a few different reads that speak to the romanticism and the language of the day.

“I have only seen one other brooch, approximately the same size and same style with two cupids playing badminton with a heart. We believe they are done by the same artist but that is all we know at this point.” Thomas adds.

While the mystery might not be completely solved, I realized that like many pieces of jewelry that leave us with a sense of intrigue –the covert symbolism is there and the sentiment is there. And if you have those elements, isn’t jewelry, like art, all in the way the owner perceives a piece and relates to it on a personal level and how it resonates with them?