Antique Lockets


The Victorians

Lockets have been around for centuries as secret compartments for mementoes of loved ones, but really they came to the forefront in the Victorian Period.
The Victorians were great sentimentalists and when Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert tragically died at the age of just 42 in 1861 Britain was plunged into sadness.P1410751 (800x600) Memorial or Mourning Jewellery became de-rigueur and lockets were the perfect piece of jewellery to carry the memories of loved ones in the form of a lock of plaited hair or a photo.

 Left: A Victorian 18ct Gold Locket decorated with a real pearl starburst.


Materials such as carved Jet (fossilised wood) or Vulcanite (a hardened & polished form of black rubber) were popular mediums for lockets as black jewellery was in keeping with a nation in mourning and also high fashion.

A Victorian Aesthetic Period Silver Locket & Chain

Above: A Victorian Aesthetic Period Silver Locket & Chain

In the 1860’s the US Nevada silver mines were discovered making silver cheap and plentiful and by the 1870’s silver jewellery was all over Europe. Large silver lockets hung from flat link “book” chains. Many were engraved in the Aesthetic manner, a movement whose influences came from Japanese art. Lockets were engraved with “Japonism” themes and patterns such as Willow, Cranes and other birds.
Of course the most popular of all materials was gold, usually in 9ct, 15ct and 18ct.

What does 9ct Back & Front mean?

Around 1880, the fashion for lockets reached a peak and they were being manufactured in their thousands. A huge number were termed or stamped 9ct B & F or 9ct Back & Front or just Gold Back & Front. There is some confusion in the market place as to what this means – many wrongly assume that these lockets are just rolled gold or gold plated when in fact they are not. I’ll explain in more detail…………P1000195

In the late Victorian & indeed Edwardian period, lockets were manufactured with solid gold fronts and solid gold backs – to clarify, the metal at the front is a sheet of solid gold and the metal at the back is also a sheet of solid gold. Using this method allowed heavy engraving which would not be possible on rolled gold or gold plating.

The sides, hinges and sometimes the loose frames inside are usually made of a sturdy base metal that has been gold plated.

Above: A 9ct Rose Gold Back & Front Locket showing a Typical 9ct BK & FT Mark

The reasoning behind such construction is that gold is a soft metal and lockets by default are opened and closed regularly. Using a sturdier metal than gold meant that they                       were less likely to buckle or break.
Of course this method also made then cheaper to manufacture!
On the plus side, these lockets ARE 90 – 95% solid gold and in the parts that are not they are gold plated and the plating is generally of such a good thickness / quality that it still stands 100 years later.

P1450081 (800x600)The Decoration of Lockets

Engraving was the most popular form of decoration by far during the Victorian period. The late Victorians liked to engrave every possible surface and thousands of skilled workers were employed to carry out this beautiful and intricate form of decoration. There are some very beautiful examples in the form of lockets.

Above: A Victorian gold locket beautifully engraved with a Squirrel

Earlier lockets are literally “carved” by hand using a hand held graver or burin tool, much like a wood carvers chisel but smaller. Of varying shapes and names like spitsticker, lozenge or onglette Gravers carved out mainly patterns, foliage, or scrollwork. Sometimes there are unusual subjects like the beautiful Squirrel pictured right.

P1440588 (800x600)Many were inlaid with enamel or set with gemstones or paste (coloured glass). The Victorians were Romantics and used hidden love symbols in their Jewellery either in form or decoration. Plants and flowers were popular symbols, Roses for happiness and love, Ivy for friendship and strength, Pansies for keeping in ones thoughts and forget-me-knots are just a few.


Above: An Art Deco gold locket set with Rubies & Diamonds

How to insert a photograph into an Antique locket

P1450124 (800x600)Inside the locket there is usually an inner frame or surround on each side (although sometimes they may be only on one side). These can be carefully lifted out with the blade of a craft knife (ask a jeweller if you are not confident). Sometimes there is also a “glass” to protect the photo, most often this is a clear piece of celluloid plastic (you may be surprised to know this “plastic” was around in the Victorian period!) – put this to one side for now, but don’t worry if this part is missing right now.
Lay the metal inner frame onto your photo and position it so that the part of the photograph you want to see is centred in the frame. Use the frame as a template to size it and draw firmly around the outside edge of your photograph with a fine pen / biro. Next, using a pair of small nail scissors or craft knife, cut around the edge of the photograph. To make sure the photograph sits flat and does not sink into the concave hollow of the locket, pack behind it with some folded acid free tissue paper or natural cotton until it is just short of flush with the top of the locket frame.
Place the photo onto the packing making sure you have it the correct way up and then place the clear “glass” / celluloid over the top. Finally, put the inner frame over the clear glass / celluloid and push it into place. If it doesn’t click into place try running the blade of your craft knife between the inner frame and outer frame, sliding it in as you go and that should do it.

Missing Parts

It is common to find missing parts inside lockets but dont worry. If your inner frame is missing  there is usually a ridge on the under side of the locket that your picture can be tucked under, if not use a “glue dot” to secure your photo t othe locket. If your “glass” or celluloid is cracked or discoloured this can easily be replaced with modern clear Acetate. This is inexpensive and readily available. I find the best source is A4 sheets of clear page dividers for punch files. You can even use clear hard plastic packaging like that used on candles etc. Cut to size using the same method as for your photo.
I hope you like my guide – add me as a favourite as I will be frequently adding to these guides on Antique Jewellery.

See our current Antique Lockets for sale

©Ruby and Jules Antique Jewellery

Ango-German Jewellery


Focus on Theodor Fahrner….

I love the Jugendstil (German Art Nouveau) and Art Deco jewellery produced in Pforzheim, Germany around the 1900’s. This small town, on the outskirts of the Black Forrest, became the centre of the German Jewellery industry. An industry that employed more than 14,000 men and women producing some of the most fabulous and innovative jewellery of the period.

It was exported all over the world and many pieces were sold her in the UK through wholesalers like Murrle Bennett & Co, who supplied high end retailers like Liberty’s of London. The popularity of this imported jewellery is now gaining growing recognition amongst collectors which is often referred to as “Anglo-German Jewellery” .

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1) Early Theodore Fahrner Jugendstil Brooch – 18ct Diamond Pearl & Emerald C.1890

2) Early Theodore Fahrner Jugendstil Necklace – Gold Sapphire & Enamel C.1890 -1900*


One of the many firms producing jewellery in Pforzheim was that of Theodor Fahrner. After the death of his father in 1883, Theodor Fahrner Jnr took over the business and began actively collaborating with numerous prominant designers including those working at the Mathidenholm Darmstadt Artist Colony.  The factories relationship with respected designers such as Joseph Olbrich and Patriz Huber a renowned German Architect undoubtedly led them to enjoy the real commercial success from around 1900.

Evidence of the collective collaboration of designer, manufacturer and exporter/wholesaler can sometimes be seen on the rear of these Anglo German pieces where you will see the marks of all three on Fahrner pieces.

Thoedor Fahrner Jnr died in 1919 and Gustav Braendle acquired the company in the same year and continued to keep the business commercially successful, he renamed it Gustav Braendle, Theodor Fahrner Nachf.

The Mark of Theodor Fahrner

The mark of Theodor Fahrner 1901

The mark of Theodor Fahrner 1901

Variations of this mark can be seen thereafter and are sometimes accompanied by the word Depose (the French term for patent / design registered) and 935 for silver.

FAHRNER began to be stamped in the 1920’s followed by FAHRNER ORIGINAL in the late 1920’s

Further Reading…

Theodore Fahrner Jewellery Between Avant-garde and Tradition


Art Nouveau Jewellery


* the enamelled suspended heart element of this piece can be seen in another piece of Jewellery see plate 203  in the above Vivienne Becker book

See our Fahrner Jewellery for sale here………..

Theodore Farner & Theodore Fahrner Jnr pieces

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