Lodewyk van Bercken, of Bruges, Flanders, is considered by most people in the jewelry industry to be the “Father of Modern Diamond Cutting”. His most notable contribution is that he is credited with inventing the skeif, the world’s first spinning diamond polishing wheel, in 1476. His unique device used a spinning metal wheel covered in a mixture of oil and diamond dust to create an abrasive texture that kept the diamond dust particles in place on the wheel. The cutter was then able to spin the wheel and hold the diamond on the wheel to polish it’s surface. This may not seem revolutionary in hindsight, but it’s important to remember that many people in the 1400s believed polishing a diamond was a physically impossible task.

Bercken used to his new device to change the way the world viewed diamonds. He became obsessed with their reflective insides and creating symmetry in a diamond’s facets. Through his experimentation, he fashioned what would become the world’s first table cut, rose cut, briolette cut, pendeloque cut (and therefore the pear shape) diamonds.

These contributions are unmatched by any one human and deservedly earned Lodewyk van Bercken the title of “Father of Modern Diamond Cutting” and a statue honoring his likeness just a few blocks away from Antwerp’s diamond district.

The Only Problem With This Story is None of It Actually Happened…

All of these stories can be traced back to a man named Robert de Berquen (1615-1672), a man who claimed to be a descendant of Lodewyk. According to Robert, his ancestor invented the process of cutting diamonds with diamond powder in “a singular spirit of genius”.

Oddly enough, this “singular spirit of genius” was not viewed as relevant enough in his time that anyone ever bothered to document any of it. According to Jack Ogden in his book Diamonds: An Early History of the King of Gems, there is no evidence that Lodewyk van Bercken ever existed. Sure, records from that time period are scare, but one would think someone who contributed so much to art of diamond cutting would have been more revered by one of the royals who valued the stones so highly.

Additional evidence against this argument can be found in the form of a gold gem encrusted goblet currently housed in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. Among the gems decorating The Burgundian Court Goblet include a polished pear shape diamond. Considering the goblet was first documented in an inventory dating back to 1467 (7 years before Lodewyk experienced his “singular spirit of genius”), that pokes a serious hole in his story.

Based on historical evidence, Lodewyk van Bercken almost certainly not make all of these discoveries, although significant improvements to the art of polishing diamonds clearly occurred when he was said to have lived. Realistically, the first person to successfully polish a diamond probably occurred centuries earlier in Ancient India or the Middle East.

Whether he single-handedly invented the skeif, made some minor advancements to the craft of diamond cutting or never existed at all, the myth of Lodewyk van Bercken certainly lives on. He has been immortalized through centuries of story telling, his work was reinacted in the 1868 musical play, Berken de Diamantislijper by Karel Versnaeyen, and as we discussed earlier, his likeness can still be seen in the statue by Frans Joris in Antwerp.

On which hand is the wedding ring typically worn? Like most traditions, the answer is not universal and differs based on cultural norms.

The Argument for the Left Hand

In most Western countries, the wedding ring and engagement ring are traditionally worn on the ring finger of the left hand. The origin of this tradition can be traced back to the very first culture to exchange rings as a symbol of marriage over 5000 years ago: ancient Egypt.

The Ancient Egyptians believed that there was a vein which ran directly from the ring finger of the left hand to the heart. This isn’t true, but their belief started the tradition of wearing the wedding ring on that finger, symbolizing the connection between the heart and the commitment of marriage.

The Romans continued the tradition of wearing the wedding ring on the left hand, calling the ring finger "vena amoris," meaning "the vein of love." Over time, this idea remained consistent and the tradition of using this finger to represent marriage spread throughout Europe.

Countries in which wedding rings are commonly worn on the left hand include the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Mexico, and South Africa.

The Argument for the Right Hand

Not all cultures subscribe to the tradition of wearing rings on the left hand. In many countries, the wedding ring is traditionally worn on the right hand, most likely because the left hand was considered “unclean”. Before the adoption of modern hygiene, people did dirty things with their left hand and clean things with their right. We aren’t going to go into too much detail on that one, just trust me.

Countries in which people tend to wear their wedding bands on the right hand include Bulgaria, Denmark, Greece, India, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Russia and Spain.

Eastern Orthodox Tradition

In Eastern Orthodox Christianity, the wedding ring is worn on the right hand. This practice may stem from the belief that the right hand is associated with blessings and power, and therefore represents a closer relationship with God. Some customs also suggest that a devil sits on a person’s left shoulder, and an angel sits on their right, so choosing the right hand represents siding with God. In a lot of western cultures, Eastern Orthodox weddings will still place the rings on the right hand of each person, even if they choose to switch it to their left after the ceremony.

Jewish Tradition

In Jewish tradition, the wedding ring is also placed on the right hand during the marriage ceremony. Just like with the Eastern Orthodox tradition, this is typically ceremonial and in Western countries, most people will move the ring to their left hand following the ceremony.

Islamic Tradition

According to Islamic traditions, there are no rules for which hand the wedding ring is worn. For women, there isn’t even any specific rules requiring a certain finger, although for men are forbidden from wearing the ring on their index or middle finger. The only exception to this is in Iran, where it is customary to wear the wedding rings on one’s right hand.

The oldest diamond in recorded history was first mentioned in the 12th century when it made it's way to Europe, most likely in the form of booty captured during the 2nd Crusade. The stone was initially owned by the Nawabs of Punjab, which essentially equates to Indian royalty from the period. Realistically, the “Briolette of India” was most likely a was not a briolette cut during the 12th century. It was most likely a large rough diamond, or potentially a polki cut, which are not faceted, but polished to enhance the visual appearance. 

The World’s Oldest Recorded Diamond Comes to Europe

The famous stone was originally gifted to Eleanor of Aquitaine by her husband King Louis VII of France, both of whom were traveling with the crusading soldiers. There is no documentation of how they acquired the stone, but let's be real, it probably wasn't purchased. Despite the jewels, this was not a happy marriage and campaigning together in the holy land made their marriage far worse. The two were subjected to a bitter annulment discussion which lasted years before finally being granted on March 11, 1152 on grounds of consanguinity (which essentially means they were related – Eleanor was Louis’ third cousin once removed). The two shared two daughters from this marriage, custody of whom were awarded to Louis.

Following the finality of her annulment, like literally two weeks later, Eleanor would go on to marry the Duke of Normandy, who would soon also earn the title King Henry II of England. Ironically, she was more closely related to Henry than she had been to Louis, but I suppose that just comes with the territory of being in royal families during the Middle Ages. From this marriage, she and Henry would have five sons and three daughters. The most famous of their children, King Richard I of England, also known as Richard the Lionheart, is alleged to have inherited the famous stone and taken it into battle with him during the Third Crusade.

Going Into Hiding

From here, the storied diamond is lost for a few centuries, only to resurface in the late 16th century when King Henry II of France gifted the diamond to his famous mistress, Diane de Poitiers. It is suspected that following King Henry’s death, the stone became a part of the French Crown Jewels, which means it was most likely either stolen in 1792 or sold off in 1887.

A Return as Mysterious as It’s Disappearance

The diamond then mysteriously reappears once again in 1908 when it was recut from what was referred to as a “double rose cut” into a more pure briolette cut and sold to Cartier. It was set as a pendant with a large pearl, and then a year later, it was paired with a pair of 22 carat emeralds and sold to American Financier, George Blumenthal. Mr. Blumenthal’s wife, Florence Meyer Blumenthal, wore the piece in a Tiara. Following George Blumenthal’s death, the stone was acquired by Harry Winston and sold to an Indian Maharaja.

From here, the stone passed through many hands and always came back to Harry Winston in between owners. In 1971, Harry Winston set the famous stone in a platinum necklace decorated with marquise and pear shape diamonds and sold the piece to Austrian billionaire Helmut Horten, who gifted the stone to his wife, Heidi.

A Jewelry Sale As Significant and Contentious As the Diamond's History

Upon Heidi’s death in 2022, the 90.38ct D color, Type IIa “Briolette of India” was sold by Christie’s in what was arguably the most important and most controversial jewelry sale in modern history. The Briolette of India necklace was sold to an unknown collector for $7.1m.

The main reason for the controversy surrounding the sale comes from the fact that Helmut Horten made a significant amount of money purchasing Jewish businesses, which were sold under duress, during World War II.

Combined with the rest of Heidi's collection, the jewelry sale brought in a total of $202m, making it the most expensive private jewelry collection of all time. The previous record being from the collection of Elizabeth Taylor in 2011, which totalled $137.2m. 

The Victorian era was a time of elegance, refinement, and an intricate language of symbolism. This was particularly evident in the realm of jewelry, where fashion becomes even more personal. While today, we may be used to women buying jewelry for themselves for no other reason than because they love the way it looks, that was not a mindset the average Victorian woman would have understood. To them, jewelry was rare and valuable, and each piece should be special and symbolic of some greater meaning other than beauty. 

Animal Symbolism

The symbolism of animals in Victorian jewelry can be traced back to ancient mythology, folklore, and religious beliefs. The Victorians drew inspiration from these rich cultural and historical references, incorporating animal motifs into their jewelry designs to convey their ideals, aspirations, and personal narratives.

    • Serpent: The serpent is one of the most commonly seen animals in Victorian jewelry, representing eternity, wisdom, and rebirth. The snake's ability to shed its skin was seen as a metaphor for personal growth and transformation. Serpent motifs were often depicted in rings, bracelets, and necklaces, with coiling serpents symbolizing eternal love and loyalty. It was believed to represent the unbreakable bond between two individuals and was frequently used in engagement rings and wedding bands. The intertwining nature of the snake's body also symbolized the union of two souls.
    • Lion: The lion was a majestic creature symbolizing strength, courage, and leadership. In Victorian jewelry, lion motifs were frequently incorporated into signet rings and brooches, representing power and nobility. Lions were also associated with loyalty and protection, making them popular symbols in family crests and coat of arms.
    • Butterfly: The delicate and ephemeral butterfly was a symbol of beauty, transformation, and the soul. Victorians admired the butterfly's life cycle, viewing it as a metaphor for personal growth and spiritual rebirth. Butterfly motifs adorned pendants, earrings, and brooches, capturing the essence of elegance and grace.
    • Bee: Bees were symbolic of industriousness, teamwork, and community. These tiny creatures represented hard work, dedication, and cooperation. Bee motifs were often featured in brooches and hairpins, serving as a reminder of the value of collaboration and working towards the greater good.
    • Horse: Horses symbolized freedom, power, and vitality. The horse's strength and grace captivated the Victorians, and equestrian-themed jewelry became popular during this era. Not to mention that horses were also the most common method of traveling for most people. Horses were also associated with loyalty and companionship, making them significant symbols in friendship jewelry.
  • Dog: Dogs have been cherished human companions and symbols of loyalty and fidelity dating all the way back to Ancient Greece. Dog motifs were frequently seen in lockets and brooches, representing devotion and friendship. Different dog breeds held varying symbolism, with common choices including terriers, greyhounds, spaniels, collies, poodles, and bulldogs.
  • Elephant: Elephants represented wisdom, strength, and longevity. In Victorian jewelry, elephant motifs were often depicted with their trunks raised, symbolizing good luck and prosperity. These majestic creatures were seen as protectors and bringers of fortune. 
  • Fish: Fish represented fertility, abundance, and transformation. The fish's association with water connected it to emotions, intuition, and the subconscious. Fish motifs adorned jewelry pieces, particularly brooches and pendants, capturing the fluidity and depth of emotions.
  • Cat: Cats were associated with mystery, independence, and sensuality. Cat motifs in Victorian jewelry depicted the feline's grace and allure, symbolizing femininity and intuition. Cats were also linked to good fortune and protection against evil spirits.


Bird Symbolism

Birds held a special place in Victorian jewelry, capturing the imaginations of wearers and serving as powerful symbols of meaning and sentiment. Each species had its own significance, representing various virtues, emotions, or qualities.

  • Dove: The dove was a cherished symbol of peace, love, and purity. In Christian iconography, the dove represented the Holy Spirit. In Victorian jewelry, dove motifs were often seen in brooches, pendants, and lockets, symbolizing harmonious relationships, marital bliss, and the sanctity of love.
  • Swallow: Swallows were popular motifs in Victorian jewelry, symbolizing loyalty, devotion, and the return of a loved one. The swallow's ability to migrate long distances and return to the same place every year represented faithfulness and commitment. Swallows are also known to mate with one partner for life. Swallow motifs were often used in brooches and lockets, serving as tokens of love and fidelity.
  • Peacock: The peacock was admired for its beauty, grace, and extravagance. It symbolized pride, dignity, and refinement. Peacock motifs were incorporated into various jewelry pieces, showcasing the regal allure and opulence associated with this majestic bird. Peacocks were especially popular with the expansion of enameling abilities that became popular after Japan opened up it’s borders and the European world became fixated on Japanese art.
  • Owl: The owl was associated with wisdom, knowledge, and intuition. Owls were often depicted in rings, brooches or pendants with wide, knowing eyes, capturing the enigmatic wisdom that fascinated the Victorians.
  • Hummingbird: Hummingbirds were symbols of joy, energy, and resilience. Their vibrant colors and ability to hover in mid-air captured the imagination of the Victorians. Hummingbird motifs were used in jewelry to represent vivacity, playfulness, and the enjoyment of life's fleeting moments.
  • Eagle: The eagle symbolized power, strength, and courage. It represented leadership, vision, and a connection to the divine. Eagle motifs were frequently found in brooches and cufflinks, embodying the spirit of determination and triumph.
  • Peacock Feather: The peacock feather held its own symbolism, representing beauty, rebirth, and protection. The intricate patterns and vibrant colors of peacock feathers were incorporated into jewelry designs, signifying grace and the renewal of the spirit.
  • Rooster: The rooster was associated with courage, vigilance, and new beginnings. Its crowing at dawn symbolized the start of a new day and the triumph over darkness. Rooster motifs were used in jewelry to convey strength, resilience, and the readiness to face challenges.

Flower Symbolism

In the enchanting world of Victorian jewelry, flowers held a special place as symbols of deep emotions, sentiments, and hidden messages. Each flower was carefully chosen for its unique meaning, allowing individuals to express their feelings through the language of flowers.

  • Rose: Roses were the epitome of love and passion, and different colored roses held distinct meanings. Red roses symbolized passionate love, while pink roses conveyed grace and admiration. White roses were associated with purity and innocence, and yellow roses represented friendship and joy. The rose, in all its varieties, was, and still is, recognized widely as a cherished symbol of love and beauty.
  • Lily: Lilies were revered for their elegance and purity. They symbolized innocence, virtue, and refined beauty. The regal Madonna lily represented purity and spirituality and was often used in bridal jewelry. Lily of the valley, with its delicate white bells, symbolized sweetness and the return of happiness.
  • Violet: Violets were beloved symbols of modesty and faithfulness. These small, delicate flowers were often associated with humility and were given as tokens of devotion. Purple violets symbolized love and loyalty, while white violets represented innocence and purity. These enchanting flowers adorned brooches, lockets, and rings, speaking volumes about the wearer's steadfastness and loyalty.
  • Forget-Me-Not: The forget-me-not flower held a poignant meaning in Victorian jewelry. As the name suggests, it symbolized enduring love and remembrance. Often given as tokens of affection, forget-me-nots were seen as a promise to always remember loved ones, even in their absence. These charming blue flowers with yellow centers were delicately crafted into jewelry, serving as heartfelt reminders of cherished memories.
  • Daisy: Daisies were symbols of innocence and purity. Their delicate white petals and golden centers represented simplicity and true love. Daisies adorned bracelets, necklaces, and rings, capturing the essence of youthful joy and pure affection.
  • Pansy: The delicate beauty of the pansy flower was cherished for its symbolism of loving thoughts and fond memories. Pansies, with their array of colors and velvety petals, represented tender feelings and heartfelt remembrance. They were often exchanged as tokens of affection, carrying messages of deep admiration and fondness.
  • Bluebell: The enchanting bluebells were associated with gratitude and humility. These bell-shaped flowers symbolized everlasting love and faithfulness. Bluebells were believed to possess magical qualities and were often given as expressions of gratitude and appreciation.
  • Carnation: Carnations, with their ruffled petals and diverse colors, conveyed a range of emotions. Red carnations represented deep love and admiration, while pink carnations symbolized a mother's undying love. White carnations signified innocence and purity. These versatile flowers were commonly used in Victorian jewelry, allowing individuals to express their emotions with subtle grace.

Other Prominent Victorian Symbols

  • Crescent moon: The crescent moon was associated with femininity and represented the transformative power of time. Crescent moon motifs adorned brooches, earrings, and pendants, serving as a reminder of the cycles of life and the constant evolution of one's journey.
  • Horseshoe: The horseshoe was a symbol of good luck and protection. Always depicted with the open end facing upwards to catch and hold good fortune, it was seen as bad luck to have them reversed as it represented one’s luck pouring out. It was also believed that wearing a horseshoe-shaped piece would bring luck and ward off evil spirits.
  • Key: The key symbolized unlocking the doors to the heart and represented love, trust, and freedom. Victorian key-shaped pendants and charms were often given as tokens of affection, representing the giver's willingness to trust and open up their heart to the recipient.
  • Anchor: Representing hope and steadfastness, the anchor was often used in jewelry to symbolize stability and a safe harbor. This was an especially popular motif in jewelry worn by sailors and their loved ones, signifying their longing for a safe return from sea voyages.
  • Scarab: The scarab beetle held deep significance in Victorian jewelry, representing rebirth and immortality. Inspired by ancient Egyptian mythology and influenced by a multitude of archaeological discoveries that kept the public constantly interested, scarab beetles were associated with the sun god and were believed to bring good luck and protection. Scarab motifs were intricately carved into gemstones and used in rings, pendants, and bracelets. It was also common for people to make jewelry out of authentic ancient scarab beetles, which many Egyptian merchants sold to tourists.

Towards the end of the Georgian and the beginning of the Victorian period, a time when the middle class was beginning to exist and opulence was revered, one particular accent jewel captivated the hearts of both high society and the fashion-conscious masses: seed pearls. Diamonds were just beginning to become commercially available in large amounts and were not yet ready to become the white stone accent staple we know them as today. Meanwhile, pearls (remember, this is before the age of cultured pearls) were considered the most rare and valuable gemstones in the world. Delicate and undeniably elegant, these tiny pearls became the epitome of Victorian style and grace.

Affordable Luxury

Pearls have symbolized purity, innocence, and wealth for millennia. While larger pearls were very highly sought after, the introduction of seed pearls—tiny, perfectly round pearls—ushered in new opportunities for elegance. Harvested from freshwater mollusks, these minuscule pearls were meticulously sorted by size and skillfully incorporated into stunning creations that adorned women of all ranks. These tiny pearls finally gave the average person the ability to own their first real pearl piece of jewelry, an idea many had probably not believed possible in the past.

Craftsmanship at Its Finest

Creating jewelry with seed pearls was a true testament to the skill and patience of Victorian artisans. Each individual pearl, often no larger than a pinhead, was individually drilled and strung onto fine threads or wires or half drilled and glued onto a tiny post. These fragile strands were often meticulously woven into intricate patterns, resulting in mesmerizing jewelry pieces that showcased the delicate beauty of seed pearls.

Unlike most other gemstones, pearls are also incredibly delicate. Drilling into these tiny, easily broken gems (keep in mind this was before the invention of electric drills or even electricity for lighting) and stringing them ornately on wire is a task I am very grateful is not my responsibility.

Queen Victoria's Influence

No discussion of seed pearl jewelry (or any jewelry trend of the Victorian period) would be complete without acknowledging the profound influence of Queen Victoria herself. After the death of her beloved husband, Prince Albert, in 1861, Queen Victoria entered a prolonged period of mourning. Her public appearances became fewer, and her jewelry became more downplayed and muted. She also began to wear a lot of mourning jewelry, which would often be composed of a piece of onyx accented with seed pearls. Queen Victoria’s public appreciation, combined with the common use of mourning and other sentimental jewelry styles, the popularity of delicate, understated jewelry soared, with seed pearls becoming a public favorite.

Sentimental Symbolism

As with most jewelry trends in the Georgian and Victorian periods, the symbolism behind the jewelry was as important as the fashion. Pearls had long been known to symbolize luxury, grace and purity. They were frequently used to create intricate motifs such as hearts, flowers, and crosses, symbolizing love, devotion, and faith. Additionally, seed pearl jewelry was often gifted as tokens of affection or presented as wedding jewelry, symbolizing the eternal bond between partners.

Types of Seed Pearl Jewelry

Seed pearls were not just designated for mourning and wedding jewelry. Seed pearl accents in jewelry came in a wide array of designs, with each piece reflecting the Victorian’s appreciation for delicate detailing. Necklaces, bracelets, brooches, earrings, and tiaras adorned with seed pearls were all the rage. Most often set in gold or silver and used to accent ornate designs or other gemstones, these jewels exuded a subtle opulence that perfectly complemented the refined tastes of the era.

Seed Pearls Lose Their Luster

While seed pearl jewelry reached the pinnacle of its popularity during the Victorian era, their use in jewelry continued for decades. The widespread availability of diamonds slowly reduced the demand for seed pearls over time, probably because they were far easier for jewelers to work with and served a similar purpose in regards to offering a small, white accent stone. The durability of diamonds also meant that people would be able to wear them freely without worrying as much about their favorite piece breaking. Even as popularity slowly dwindled, seed pearl jewelry can be commonly found throughout the Edwardian and Art Deco periods.

How to Care for Seed Pearls

To ensure the longevity and beauty of seed pearl jewelry, proper care is essential. Due to their delicate nature, these tiny pearls require gentle handling and protection from harsh chemicals, moisture, and excessive heat. It's advisable to store them separately in a soft pouch or jewelry box, away from other pieces that may scratch or damage them. Occasional cleaning with a soft cloth is all they need to maintain their luster and shine, ensuring that these precious treasures can be enjoyed for years to come.

If you are cleaning a stone in a piece of jewelry with seed pearl accents, it is best to avoid using the jewelry cleaning solutions you may normally use for diamonds, rubies or sapphires. The best solution would be mild mixture of Dawn dish soap and warm water being scrubbed softly with a tooth brush before being rinsed off with water. Drying them with a hair dryer would not be recommended.

From Victorian Times to Today

From Queen Victoria's personal preference to the sentimental symbolism it carried, seed pearl jewelry captured the hearts of Victorian society and continues to fascinate vintage jewelry enthusiasts today. As we admire these tiny treasures, we are reminded of the artistry and legacy of a bygone era. However, the allure of seed pearl jewelry doesn't end with mere admiration, these pieces are still suitable to being worn today. The internet opening up the past to fashion influencers has led to everyone having the ability to craft their own unique style. The elegance that defined the Victorian era has certainly found a place in modern fashion.

More Pictures of Antique Seed Pearl Focused Jewelry

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