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Brief Peek at the History of Personalized Jewelry

Mar 2nd 2022

by Barry Torman

History of Personalized Jewelry

Pre-Engraved vs. Custom Engraved

Today there are many styles of personalized jewelry available to the jewelry shopper. We offer initial pendants, Tiffany style initial necklaces, ID bracelets, initial bracelets, and so much more! The best-personalized jewelry has always been created through the art of engraving. You can see all of the different personalized jewelry items offered by Thoughtful Impressions from classic elegance to fun new trends.

Jewelry was first created to be an adornment, typically made of precious metals and often set with gems or imitation gems. But, engraving enhanced the beauty and meaning of the jewelry, and thus evolved a wide range of personalized jewelry.

History of Engraved Jewelry

Engraving dates back to prehistoric times when cavemen would sculpt rock drawings or engrave images on pottery. It’s considered by many to be an art form unto itself, and a difficult one to master. Over the years, engraving has been used largely to create original artworks and to reproduce limited editions of original artworks. Among the most famous of the modern and contemporary artists who used engraving to create limited editions of their work are Chagall, Picasso, Miro, and Dali.

The matrices used to prepare the limited editions would be carved either in relief (e.g. wood engraving, or linoleum engraving) or intaglio (directly on a metal plate) depending on the method used to reproduce the image, either spreading the ink on the parts in relief or filling in the depressions.

Intaglio engravings are most often created by hand using specialized instruments, but can also be created through the process of etching, where the drawing is created by applying an acid solution to the metal wherever the metal is to be engraved.

Anyone who has ever attempted to use a hand engraver’s tools for creating personalized jewelry knows that early engravers had to possess the imagination and balance of an artist, the steady hand of a surgeon, and the patience of a saint. Working in a very small space — the size of a silver or gold locket, for example — can be difficult enough, but when the material is curved, it’s difficult to get the proper perspective. Then there’s the need to start the engraving at just the right point so that the finished inscription will end up looking well-balanced. Engraved jewelry is also more challenging because the thickness of the metal may not be consistent, and the depth of the engraving needs to take this into consideration.

No one is absolutely certain when people began engraving names and personalized messages into jewelry, but it likely began around the 14th or 15th century when personalized jewelry lockets were first created in France. What is certain is that personalized jewelry items such as lockets and ID bracelets are often cherished more dearly than other types of jewelry creations.

Some time ago, a man came to visit us wearing an ID bracelet he’d been given by his sister when he was preparing to go off to war (WWII). The ID bracelet had the man’s name engraved on the top of the bracelet, and engraved on the reverse side was the date he’d been given the ID bracelet. Although the man might have cherished any jewelry item given to him by his sister, the fact that this ID bracelet was engraved with his name and the date his sister had given it to him no doubt made it extra special. And, he was still wearing his personalized bracelet nearly 65 years later.

Semi-Automated Engraving

The pantograph was one of the first semi-automated tools used for engraving. Although it’s probably been around in one form or another for several hundred years, the pantograph came into widespread use near the end of the 1700’s when pantographs were used to help create the metal letters used in the printing press. To use a pantograph, one simply inserts a stylus into a cutout template design and traces the template. Attached to the stylus would be an engraving tool that would then ‘engrave’ the template’s image into metal. Templates were soon created for alphabetic fonts and font sizes, and the technique for personalization of jewelry became more exact.

Computerized Engraving

With the creation of the personal computer in the late 1970’s, personalized jewelry engraving moved to a new dimension. Computerized engraving was faster and more precise than either hand engraving or the pantograph technique could provide.

Personalized Jewelry Lockets

Personalized lockets tend to be even more special than id bracelets when engraved with the recipient’s monogram or a personal message, since the custom engraved locket holds one or more photos. Heart lockets are still the most popular of all lockets. Trailing close behind, though, are round lockets, oval lockets, Mom lockets, child lockets, baby lockets, lockets with crosses, lockets with diamonds, and love lockets.

Traditionally, gold lockets have been more popular than sterling silver lockets simply because of the perceived value of gold, but today sterling silver lockets and gold filled lockets have become just as popular. With the price of gold having risen so sharply, sterling silver lockets have also become an excellent value.

Sterling Silver Lockets

In order for silver lockets to be called sterling lockets, they must be made of at least 92.5% pure silver. The remaining 7.5% can be a combination of several metals, but it’s most often copper. Pure silver (99.9%) is too soft for making jewelry or almost anything else that’s large or functional. Adding copper to the silver gives it additional strength without changing the color of the metal. Sterling silver lockets are always stamped with the word ‘sterling’, or ‘925’, or a lion in walking position with its right leg raised (known as the lion passant).

Many people comment that silver jewelry they purchase at a craft fair, or from a silver jewelry stand in Mexico, quickly begins to tarnish. All silver tarnishes in time unless it has been plated (typically with a rhodium finish). The ID bracelets that have a product number that begins with the letters ‘R’ or ‘M’, and the sterling lockets that have a product number beginning with the letter ‘M’ are all plated with rhodium to avoid tarnishing.

14K Gold Lockets

14K gold lockets are made of a combination of metals, 58.3% (14/24th) of which must be pure (24K) gold. The other 41.7% alloying elements are typically silver, copper, nickel, and zinc. These other elements used in producing the gold alloy have a significant effect on the final color of the gold. For example, as the amount of silver increases, the gold will change in hue from yellow, to greenish-yellow, and then to white. Copper causes gold lockets to become redder in appearance. Nickel has a whitening effect. Zinc is used to remove the reddish gold color that results from adding copper, causing the gold to become more yellow.

Why don’t all 14K gold lockets appear to be the same color? Some people prefer gold that’s reddish in color, and others prefer their gold to look more yellow. So, goldsmiths create different mixtures of gold and alloy elements to produce the desired effect.

Gold jewelry is stamped with an official mark to specify its karat purity –10K (41.6% gold), 14K (58.3% gold), 18K (75% gold), or 24K (99.9% gold). The price of a 14K gold locket is determined largely by the weight of the locket, the current price of gold (which fluctuates daily, but which has frequently been in excess of $400 an ounce), and the amount of workmanship and design that has been added to the construction of the locket.

White Gold Lockets

Recently, white gold lockets have been gaining in popularity as a replacement for platinum lockets. They are especially nice for individuals who prefer gold, but who want to match their jewelry with outfits that need a silvery-looking accompaniment. White gold lockets are actually made of the same 14K gold found in yellow lockets, but white gold has more nickel and zinc contained in its alloying elements. White gold lockets are typically priced about the same as their 14K yellow gold locket counterparts. White gold lockets, like 14K gold lockets, are stamped with the karat purity of the gold contained in the locket.

Gold Filled Lockets

Gold Filled lockets have a fused outer layer that’s karat gold, but the metal is filled with other alloys. Gold filled lockets look and wear like 14K gold lockets because the outer surface of the locket is solid gold. There is no electroplating as with gold plated jewelry. Gold-filled jewelry must consist of at least one layer of a minimum of 10K gold. The karat gold layer must represent at least 1/20th of the total metal weight.

Gold Filled offers all the same physical characteristics for jewelry as 14K gold, such as beauty, durability, and strength, but at a fraction of the cost. Since the gold is on the outer surface area, it is nearly impossible to tell the difference between 14K gold lockets and gold filled lockets. Gold filled lockets are typically priced about the same as sterling silver lockets.