We’re going to talk about one of my favorite obscure subgenres of jewelry today: acrostic jewelry! Popular in the Georgian and Victorian eras, acrostic jewelry is jewelry that holds a secret message coded in gems (!!).
What is acrostic jewelry?
In acrostic jewelry, the first letter of each gemstone in a piece spells out a word. You most commonly see acrostic jewelry spelling out classic terms of endearment, like “adore,” “regard,” “dear,” or “dearest.”
So an acrostic ring spelling out “dear” might feature a (D)iamond, (E)merald, (A)methyst, and (R)uby to spell out D-E-A-R. The ring above uses the same method to spell REGARD.
This particular acrostic ring is early Victorian and takes the form of a pansy for extra romance (pansy means “think of me”). This piece is circa 1830 and is from Nalfie’s.
The utterly romantic trend of acrostic jewels began in the Georgian era and flourished throughout the Victorian period. It is believed that acrostic jewelry was first created by Jean-Baptiste Mellerio of the House of Mellerio, who started designing jewels with gems that spelled out “j’adore.”
Napoleon Bonaparte admired Mellario’s acrostic designs and commissioned acrostic jewels for both Empress Josephine and his second wife, Empress Marie Louise.
The Georgian era acrostic pendant above features lovely gold cannetille work and gemstones that spell ‘LOVE.’ This beauty is circa 1820 and includes a compartment on the back for a lock of hair. It’s from Argentum Antiques & Collectables on 1st Dibs.
These three Georgian era lockets are from Fable & Windsor and they are all acrostic pieces with gems that spell “REGARD.”
Secret messages of love encoded in gems went perfectly with the Georgian and Victorian love of romance and symbolic meanings. These sentimental jewels would have been gifted to lovers, family members, or even treasured friends.
Let’s look at a few more examples of acrostic jewelry, shall we?
This lovely acrostic ring is from from Audrey & Wolf and dates to the Victorian era. It takes the shape of a pretty little flower with gemstones that spell out “DEAREST,” starting with the diamond in the middle.
Acrostic pieces are highly collectible and they’re getting harder and harder to find. Most of the pieces featured in this post are already sold, but not all. If you see one you love, don’t wait: snap it up!
This exquisite Georgian era acrostic locket from 1820 is from The Three Graces.
This beauty is a truly exceptional example. It is adorned with layers of grape vines and grape leaves, which The Three Graces says symbolizes fecundity, plenty, and the reaping of life’s bounty. Hidden within the vines are gems spelling out REGARD with a Ruby, Emerald, Garnet, Amethyst, Ruby, and Diamond.
The locket opens to reveal a secret compartment, perfect for keeping the hair of a loved one or other treasure.
This Victorian era brooch is an example of how acrostics can easily be overlooked if you’re not in the know.
At first glance, this appears to be a pretty brooch with a scattering of lovely gems. Then you realize….(D)iamond (E)merald (A)methyst (R)uby = DEAR. It’s an acrostic piece!
This brooch is from Laurelle Antique Jewellery. (Also, it comes in its original box!)
Many of the antique acrostic pieces still on the market today are sweet little rings like this one. This one is an early Victorian acrostic ring, circa 1840.
This acrostic ring spells DEAREST, with particularly vivid gems. This piece is from Nalfie’s.
Any number of pieces from history could be secret acrostics with gems spelling out less typical terms of endearment, names or even inside jokes. We’ll never know and I love the mystery of it all.
What gems would I use to spell out my own name on an acrostic jewel? I have some tricky letters. Maybe (B)eryel (E)merald (C)hrysoberyl (K)yanite (Y)ellow sapphire?
This piece is one of my personal favorites from all the examples I’ve featured here – there’s just something about it that calls to me.
This pendant is an early acrostic piece, dating to 1800. It’s a heart shaped pendant with a locket compartment in the pack, for hair or other small sentimental treasure. Its secret message is encoded in a pansy for extra romance! It spells “REGARD.”
This acrostic jewel is from Fable & Windsor.
This jaw-dropping brooch is an early example of acrostic jewelry; truly museum-worthy.
This exquisite Antique Georgian era brooch is a bonanza of romantic symbolism. The elaborately detailed key and dangling padlock carry the symbolic message of “you’re the key to my heart” while the dangling gems spell out REGARD. There’s one more surprise on the back: the padlock conceals a compartment for a treasured lock of hair.
This beauty is from Butter Lane Antiques.
This acrostic ring is Georgian and – could you tell from looking at it? – it’s another REGARD. This beauty features absolutely lovely rose and green gold cannetille details. The cannetille is that beautiful, swirly gold work.
This acrostic ring is also from Nalfies.
This piece is a spectacular and rare example of acrostic jewelry from a later era! A signed piece by Tiffany & Co, this gorgeous vintage book locket features an acrostic embellishment on its clasp: (D)iamond (E)merald, (A)methyst, (R)uby.
This piece was recently sold by Estate Jewelry Mama.
I have seen a few modern designers using the acrostic design technique, like Lulu & Shay and Erica Weiner, but the trend hasn’t really taken hold in a widespread way since the 1800’s. I love the idea of using acrostic gems to include a secret message in a piece, even if it would only ever be known to the wearer.
Here’s an especially magnificent acrostic piece! This beauty is Georgian and not only is it designed to look like a book (which I love) it is a vinaigrette!! The book opens to reveal an open space protected by an elaborate piece of gold with openings in it and it would hold something with a nice scent, to perfume the wearer and offer a respite from the potentially unpleasant odors of Georgian era life.
There’s also a compartment for hair on the back of the dangling heart. This piece is a Georgian trend home run.
And of course, it is an acrostic, which is why it’s here! The word REGARD spelled on the front in gems. From Hancock’s London.
This late Victorian acrostic ring looks wonderfully wearable: it’s sleek and bold and wonderfully gemmy. It spells REGARD and is from Heart of Hearts jewels.
If you’re anything like me, you’re now desperate to own a piece of acrostic jewelry.
I have good news for you: I’m about to do a giveaway for an incredible antique acrostic ring!! I’ll be announcing it right here in the next few days, so stay tuned!
Much of my knowledge of acrostic jewelry comes from chatting with antique jewelry dealers over the years, but I also consulted the following sources:
Antique Animal Jewelry. “Acrostic Jewelry: The Language of Stones.” Antique Animal Jewelry, 20 Jan. 2021.
Branstrator, Brecken. “The History behind … Acrostic Jewelry.” National Jeweler, 20 Nov. 2014.
Dawes, Ginny Redington, and Olivia Collings. Georgian Jewellery. Antique Collectors Club Dist, 2007.
GIA. “Secret Messages in Jewelry – Acrostic Jewelry.” GIA 4Cs, Gemological Institute of America , 12 Oct. 2015.
Lyon & Turnbull. “Acrostic Jewels.” Accessed 4 Mar. 2021.
All images c/o the source tagged below each image.