Have a Heart: The History of a Much-Loved Shape

Dealer Brad Wilson reflects on a motif that’s been popular in jewelry for centuries.

April 2, 2023  |  Phyllis Schiller
Dealer Brad Wilson; An Art Nouveau locket in 14-karat gold with enamel and diamonds, circa 1905. (Wilson's Estate Jewelry)

When did heart jewelry first appear, and was there any other symbolism beyond romance?
Heart jewelry was seen as early as the Middle Ages, but in our collections, we see heart motifs [in pieces ranging] from Georgian gemstone cluster rings to stylized contemporary open-heart pendants and charms, all of which are quite popular. For those looking for the ultimate romantic gesture, Edwardian and Art Deco engagement rings occasionally feature filigree heart motifs integrated into their lacy designs.
The heart shape is one of the original motifs seen in art and jewelry, and as early as ancient Macedonia on coins. It’s thought that it was used to symbolize health, regional plant life, the human body, religion, mourning, and of course, love. 

Do gems, diamonds or specific types of metal make some pieces more desirable?
Heart jewelry has been reinterpreted time and time again. Iconic styles include gemstone halo clusters, gold charms, and filigree motifs, in designs from puffy gold to heart-cut gemstone faceting. Carat weight and metal type will generally impact value. A platinum piece with high-carat-weight gemstones will be of more value than a piece of the same style with lesser-quality materials.

How do antique and vintage heart pieces integrate into current jewelry wardrobes? 
Heart jewelry has a lot of range. Most wearable and timeless would be a gold heart pendant or charm, maybe with gemstone accents. We see a lot of these from the Retro period. Gold statement pieces are always popular and can be considered a neutral for easy casual wear. I’d recommend a heart charm necklace for casual wear and a vibrant gemstone ring or earrings for an elevated, formal look. 

Which eras and makers appeal most to collectors? 
Pieces by designer jewelers are always of great appeal and retain their value. A notable recent vintage example would be the Open Heart collection by the late Elsa Peretti, ranging from small sinuous heart-motif bypass rings to icy pavé white-gold heart pendants. Gucci and Bulgari also have wonderful heart designs in their vintage collections. Victorian and Retro periods offer one-of-a-kind heart pieces that can be easily incorporated into modern styling. 

What do you look for in the pieces you stock?
We look for well-maintained antique and vintage pieces that exhibit unique design work. We keep an eye out for designer pieces, vibrant gemstones, and jewelry with peak craftsmanship. We want our customers to know they’re purchasing quality examples of such an iconic symbol. The heart-jewelry trend is a true pendulum in fashion. While its popularity ebbs and flows, there are always folks who enjoy the graphic and historical nature of the motif. That being said, we definitely notice when it’s on the rise and try to keep a range in stock.

Do older examples need extra care or repair?
All jewelry should be worn with care to maintain its condition. Early antique pieces and sensitive gemstones, like emeralds, are best suited to a more considerate wearer. It may seem trivial, but remembering to take your pieces off for doing dishes or going to the gym can help preserve them for generations.

Who is Brad Wilson?

A first-generation estate jeweler based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Brad Wilson is the owner of Wilson’s Estate Jewelry. He began his career buying costume jewelry at local auctions and has since evolved to specialize in fine jewelry, colored gems, and diamonds. In addition to attending wholesale and trade shows, his business curates an e-commerce site with a large collection of vintage and antique pieces spanning the past 150 years. 


Image: Dealer Brad Wilson; An Art Nouveau locket in 14-karat gold with enamel and diamonds, circa 1905. (Wilson’s Estate Jewelry)


Dealer Brad Wilson; An Art Nouveau locket in 14-karat gold with enamel and diamonds, circa 1905. (Wilson's Estate Jewelry) Have a Heart: The History of a Much-Loved Shape

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