Posted in Holidays, Jewelry, Vintage Collectibles

by Pamela Wiggins

Mosaic heart-shaped brooch signed AP

Back when Valentine’s Day was a novel idea, lovers gave each other handmade greeting cards decorated with just about anything — bark, feathers, dried flowers, scraps of ribbon, and even locks of hair — to show their sweethearts how much they cared. By the mid-1800s, it was much easier to buy a mass-produced Valentine’s Day card as a token of love. Those, and the Valentine’s that followed decades later, were adorned with crimson hearts, images of Cupid, and other romance-filled themes.

Fast forward more than a century … friends and lovers are still exchanging Valentine’s Day greetings, but it’s not uncommon to present a gift to go along with them. Those who take it a step further look beyond mass-produced trinkets to explore the world of vintage costume jewelry, especially if their sweetie or dear friend is a collector.

Selecting a vintage jewelry gift lasts far longer than flowers and won’t add pounds like candy. It will also show you really put some thought in selecting the perfect present.


Jewelry doesn’t get much more sentimental than that dating back to the Victorian era. Following Queen Victoria’s lead, jewelry made for the masses held symbolism rarely found into today’s wearable baubles. And it goes way beyond mourning jewelry.

Sterling silver Victorian swallow brooch with photo chamber on reverse

In fact, black jewelry was often worn simply because it was fashionable, and hair work jewelry was frequently exchanged between the betrothed or husbands and wives. If you don’t find inherit mourning symbolism in a piece of hair work jewelry or woven into an item like a watch chain, it was probably a piece meant for sweethearts rather than to memorialize the passing of a loved one.

As for loving symbols in Victorian pieces, you can buy the obvious heart-shaped this or that but don’t forget to look for other motifs. For example, a piece of Victorian jewelry featuring a swallow can signify mating for life. A piece with a crescent moon and star signifies femininity, as it hints toward the beauty of the moon goddess. More obvious symbols include horseshoes and clovers for luck, but those extended to protection from evil as well. Cupid and cherubs were also liberally woven into Victorian jewelry, and those pieces make obviously splendid Valentine’s gifts as well.


Heart motif jewelry runs the gamut from artsy modern sterling silver pieces to ruby red larger-than-life rhinestone brooches, necklaces, and bracelets. When buying a piece, whether it’s for a special friend or the love of your life, think about how they’ll be wearing it and their own personal style. If they’re all casual, all the time, a sterling silver heart-shaped vintage pendant hanging from a leather cord might be appropriate. If they dress for the office, a lovely gold-tone brooch shaped like a heart might be in order.

Cupid’s bow and arrow brooch by Trifari

Or, you can think outside the Valentine’s Day gift box and go with something a little more funky like a pair of lips, or a winking eye in the form of a brooch. Again, think about the personality of the recipient and what they’ll enjoy — not only getting as a present, but wearing too.

Don’t forget the Valentine’s Day kitsch as well. There are some really fun pieces that were made specifically for Valentine’s Day that have a loving greeting printed right on them. You can also find novelty items like pins from the 1940s and ‘50s with themes appropriate for the occasion. Take an enameled chatelaine pin set with Daisy Mae chasing Lil Abner as one suggestion.

Just don’t buy her something like a little dainty scatter pin if she usually prefers bold jewelry, or something silly and cute (like the great plastic Scotty dog brooch above) if her taste is always more elegant, and you’re sure to hit a home run.


What do you get a guy for Valentine’s Day other than a tacky-albeit-fun pair of novelty print boxer shorts? Well, if he’s the sort of chap that enjoys a romp through the flea market as much as you do, don’t forget the vintage jewelry.

Ruby red glass cabochon tie bar by Swank

A tie bar, like the one shown here, outfitted with a dash of red can express your passion in a unique way. He’ll also be prepared when he needs just a hint of power red in that big meeting. Cuff links with red stones or other red accents (tiny shotgun shells, anyone?) also make the perfect gift for the dapperly dressed man in your life.

No matter who you’re shopping for, or what their taste, vintage jewelry options are often very budget friendly as a bonus. For far less than that dozen roses or pricey bottle of perfume, ferret out a costume jewelry gift that’s a lot more clever and fun.


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