Unlocking A Trend: Victorian Symbolism And 80s Punk Continue To Inspire Hardware For Jewelry

Locks and padlocks have been witnessing a renaissance in jewelry, borrowing inspiration from both Victorian symbolism and 1980s punk-inspired hardware. Independent designers are influenced by the more romantic spirit of the 19th century, while legendary jewelers such as Tiffany & Co. and fashion houses such as Vuitton and Hermes are reimagining their original designs.

Tiffany & Co. modern ‘Hardwear’ collection

Historically, the padlock in jewelry dates back to the 19th century, featuring intricate and often coded messages and motifs. During this period, bracelets and necklaces were traditionally given when a man had to travel. The locks were secured with a key upon his departure and unlocked upon his return. Allusions to chastity and fidelity were also part of the symbolism, but today, we recognize these jewels as tokens of affection and passion.

If we fast forward to from the Victorian era to 1969, Aldo Cipullo created one of the most successful iconic lock-inspired piece of jewelry ever designed—the Cartier Love Bracelet—which drew on similar allusions to the padlock and was influenced by medieval chastity belts that symbolized purity and loyalty. Cipullo’s revolutionary bracelet was a pared-down form of heartfelt expression that held onto its precursors’ romantic spirit.

Enter Donald Claflin, who in 1971 designed Tiffany & Co.’s original ‘Hardwear’ collection, which featured ball-and-chain bracelets with padlocks. Over time, this collection expanded and evolved and has enjoyed renewed popularity.

In the world of high fashion, padlocks were intrinsic hardware on accessories at such companies as Louis Vuitton and Hermes and have inspired the new generation of designers at these houses to revisit padlocks in their jewelry collections.

Today’s independent jewelry designers take an imaginative, intricately detailed and innovative approach to these hardware-inspired designs. In a time when more and more women are purchasing jewelry for themselves and self-love is a relevant message, these new interpretations, which often reference romantic themes, eliminate the more outdated concepts of the 19th century of being ‘locked together.’ Instead, they subscribe to the sentiment described by Cipullo when describing his creative process, “ I was searching for a permanent symbol of love.”— a sentiment that resonates with jewelers and their clients today and will do so well into the future.

Designers such as Sevan Bicakci, Polly Wales Jenna Blake, Jade Trau, Annoushka and Erica Molinari all create padlocks that can close and open on a necklace and can be seen in a previous article (here). In this new article, I added a fresh range of jewelers who create different incarnations and modern interpretations. I have also included those from the first article’s evolution—new iterations of the lock theme.

Sevan Bicakci is a master jeweler whose padlocks are functional and three-dimensional works of art. Bicakci delves into different techniques such as micro-mosaics, a small world of garden motifs, birds and butterflies under rock crystal and patterns engraved and created from placement of colored gemstones and diamonds in a variety of shapes, including shields and lantern silhouettes.

Susan Cohen of Circa 1700 creates padlocks covered in diamonds with accents of rubies or sapphires—her padlocks draw inspiration from the Victorian era, rendered in more contemporary round shapes, and they are imbued with the charm of still requiring a key to open them. Cohen hangs the key on a thin chain from the padlock to play on the romantic theme of the 19th century, which adds another layer to the design, yet the wearer can always open the padlock themselves.

Nan Fusco has set the padlock on its side and has created a two-tone metal version in which the lock is in sterling silver and the magnetic piece that opens it is in 18K gold. It is elevated with a center heart motif in either pink sapphire or emerald with a diamond surround and can be worn on a bracelet or necklace chain.

When we talk about locks, we can’t help but think of the ingenuity of Marla Aaron who reinterpreted a carabiner into fine jewelry in multifunctional connections for chains and charms. It is not only that she took the oval shape and reworked it into engraved and bejeweled styles in three sizes, but she added different silhouettes. These include geometric as well as heart and star motifs, and her most recent is a Moonlock series, one of which features the iconic phrase “fly me to the moon.” Aaron explains, “This new version of our Moonlock in 18K gold has an elegant and highly functional lever mechanism that opens and closes. It’s different than the old Moonlock. It is weighty in the way you would expect from our jewelry. And they are, of course, good at bracelet-ing, necklace-ing, charm-holding, and everything else you will dream up as you play with them.”

Marie Lichtenberg mixes up different cultures in her locks, which are clasps that open yet also serve as the main pendant in lively enamel colors on threaded cords or chains. The design was initially inspired by a necklace that Lichtenberg received from her mother for her 14th birthday. “This necklace was a big hollow gold link chain that closed with a three-dimensional lantern-shaped clasp.

“ This is a very special piece of jewelry for us. My mother’s family is from Martinique (French Indies). This type of necklace is one of the most famous Creole jewelry pieces.” Lichtenberg played with designing a similar clasp on a chain or a cord. “I wanted to create an heirloom type of collection with all that inspired me—the colors and the beautiful enameling from India, the French and English sentimental words, pop art from the 70s and the vintage jewelry my mother used to sell in the antique shop she owned when I was growing up.” And it is now all featured in a collection that is a colorful, optimistic collection that bespeaks hope, joy and happiness.”

Samantha Jackson for Heavenly Vices new collection of locks don’t simply fasten; they contain messages that reflect all aspects of life. The Lock Stories collection of five different symbolic locks complements her existing “Love Stories “ collection – one-of-a-kind antique love tokens from the Victorian era in newly created bezels in a range of settings and gemstones. Her ingenious necklace replaces a clasp with a fully functional combination lock with some of the most recognizable talismans and motifs from the Victorian era, which have been reinterpreted with Samantha’s eye for detail and the nuance of artfully combining the past and present. Four free rotating rondels comprise the combination part of the lock and the result is a three-sided combination lock with each side representing the same sentiment in a different language – the Roman alphabet, Victorian symbols, and Braille. When locked, the rondels are scrambled, and only when they are lined up to spell the word will the key release. Here we feature the LOVE LOCK, accentuated by diamonds and the four symbols traditionally representative of love: a rose, a dove, double hearts and a lovers’ knot.

The evolution of the designers I featured in my prior padlock article includes:

Jade Trau has updated her original Bette padlock lariat with a diamond embellished version named Beatrix on a 22” chain which can be worn in numerous ways.

Jenna Blake expanded her hardstone collection of padlocks to include malachite, which looks sophisticated and elegant with the 18K gold accents and can be worn as a clasp or pendant on many different styles of chains.

Annouska has added more styles to their Love Locks collection, including this Lucky Star diamond version.

And the big brands continue to expand upon their jewelry collections in their distinctive aesthetic, so find your style and lock one on.

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