The Language of Gemstones: Acrostic Gemstone Jewelry Says It All
Have you heard about acrostic jewelry? I learned about this secret messaging through gemstone jewelry while watching an old episode of Antiques Roadshow UK. Now I’m fascinated by it. Just what I needed–a new reason to be hooked on gemstones!
What is Acrostic Gemstone Jewelry?
Acrostic jewelry is jewelry set with gemstones that spell out a message. Each gemstone represents a letter–the first letter of their name–and they were used like a sparkly alphabet to create messages of love and romance in jewelry. For example, popular gemstones such as diamond would serve as a D, rubies as an R, emeralds as an E, and so on. So if you wanted to spell out “dear,” you’d create a piece of gemstone jewelry that featured a diamond, an emerald, an amethyst, and a ruby, in that order. Sweet, isn’t it?
Acrostic Jewelry History
Believed to have been created in 18th century Paris by Jean-Baptiste Mellerio, jeweler to Empress Josephine and Marie Antoinette, acrostic jewelry soon became a hit in nearby England. Those Victorians, they had all the cool sentimental jewelry–acrostic gemstone jewelry as well as jet mourning jewelry, hair jewelry, friendship bracelets, and lockets. They were also all about romance, secrecy, amusements, hidden meanings, games of the heart.
Most acrostic gemstone jewelry at the time was rings set with stones that spelled out the names of loved ones. According to the expert on Antiques Roadshow, in addition to names and romantic words like “dear,” other popular words in English acrostic jewelry were “regards” (ruby-emerald-garnet-amethyst-ruby-diamond-sapphire) and “dearest” (diamond-emerald-amethyst/aquamarine-ruby-emerald-sapphire-tourmaline/topaz), and “friend” (fluorite-ruby-indicolite*-emerald-nephrite-diamond). Two popular terms in French acrostic jewelry were “souvenir” (French for “remembrance”) and “amitié” (French for “friendship”).
*My research tells me that the I gemstone is iris (in French), but I can’t find out what that was.
Oddly enough, I can’t think of a gemstone way to spell “love.” Lapis lazuli (or labradorite), opal, something that starts with a V, and then emerald . . . but what common gemstone starts with a V? Having started in France, however, early acrostic jewelry used the word “amour”–much easier to spell out in gemstone jewelry than the English “love.” But then you have to consider that the French words were spelled using gemstones that also had French names, which adds a whole new layer of complexity to it, even though many gemstone names were the same or nearly the same in both languages. It does make that V easier, however, as hessonite garnet was known as vermeille in French back then.
The Language of Gemstones
Naturally being the pearl lover that I am, I’ve started thinking of all the sweet words that have a P in them. Peace, of course . . . precious, though that one seems a bit difficult . . . lips, maybe? That’s probably a little too racy for those Victorians. The name of one’s beloved was a popular choice in rings, so much so that a gentleman (who by then had nearly stopped wearing flamboyant jewelry) might give his special girl a nickname if her name was too long to be worn on a ring, as bracelets and brooches for men had fallen out of fashion. I call my favorite guy Prince Charming (aww), so I could spell out “prince” with a pearl, ruby, indicolite, nephrite, citrine, and emerald. Not the prettiest collection of stones, though, hmm?
Some folks might have a hard time figuring out the indicolite and nephrite, but I’d know what they were and what the gemstones meant; isn’t that the important thing? How important do you suppose it was to the Victorians that the average observer knew what the gemstones in their jewelry spelled? Would it be important to you, or would it be more fun to have your own little secret?
For the letters that had no associated gemstone at the time, industrious English jewelers resorted to using colors of other gems to fill in the gaps (fire opal for F, for example). If a piece of acrostic jewelry ended up with too many such substitutions, it could be nearly impossible for average onlookers to decipher the jewelry’s meaning–the secrecy of which only added to the popularity of acrostic jewelry.
The Gemstone Alphabet
Here’s a list of gemstones for the alphabet, off the top of my head–there are others that are less common. Some of them are a stretch, and I can’t think of a thing for some letters (X? Y?). Can you think of others? Share in the comments below! (Update: Thanks for all of your comments! I’ve filled in the list below with your help, though some of these stones can be difficult to find and/or not suited for jewelry because of their softness or crystal structure. Please continue to share!)
A – amethyst, aquamarine, agate, alexandrite, amber, ametrine, apatite, aventurine
B- benitoite, bixbite, black opal, boulder opal, beryl
C- citrine, carnelian, chrysoprase, coral, chalcedony, chrome diopside, chrysoberyl
D- diamond, demantoid garnet, diopside, dioptase
F- fluorite, faustite
G- garnet, goshenite, girasol
H- hessonite garnet, hematite, hawk’s-eye, heliodor, hiddenite, hauyne, heliotrope
I- indicolite, iolite
J- jasper, jade, jet
K- kyanite, kunzite
L- lapis lazuli, labradorite, lepidolite, larimar
M- moonstone, morganite, malachite, magnesite, moukaite
O- opal, onyx
P- pearl, peridot, pyrite, pietersite, prasiolite, prehnite
R- ruby, rose quartz, rhodochrosite, rubellite
S- spinel, sapphire, sunstone, South Sea pearl, smoky quartz, sodalite
T- tourmaline, tanzanite, topaz, turquoise, tiger’s-eye, Tahitian pearl, tsavorite, Tiffany stone
U- unakite, umbalite, Utah Tiffany stone
V- variscite, vessonite, vesuvianite, verdite, vandanite
W- watermelon tourmaline
X- xenotime, xonotlite (a new favorite!)
Y- yttrium fluorite, YAG, yuksporite
Z- zircon, zoisite, zebra stone
You’d think Z would be hard, but in this case, it’s easy, and V, X, and Y left me blank! There are some, of course–mostly collector’s stones that are too rare or too soft and not suitable for jewelry. Thank goodness for all the kinds of garnet. Am I forgetting any gems? Help me out in the comments below!
Isn’t that fun? To learn more clever ways to make gemstone jewelry, including how to set faceted stones and even fancy gems, check out Ann Cahoon’s video tutorials: Introduction to Gemstone Setting: Prong, Flush and Bezel Setting and How to Set Fancy Shaped Faceted Stones.
Learn More About Acrostic Jewelry
In its time, acrostic jewelry spelled out political messages as well as romantic ones. Learn more about that and other delightful details about acrostic jewelry from the blog Alphabet of Gems: The Language of Stones During the Regency. Also, the blog Making Silent Stones Speak: Understanding Acrostic Jewelry has many photos acrostic jewelry pieces, including Napoleon’s elaborate commissioned bracelets.
Update – Here are the answers to my acrostic messages in the above photos:
The first one is: citrine-hauyne-amethyst-ruby-moonstone-emerald-diamond = charmed
The second is: ruby-emerald-garnet-amethyst-ruby-diamond-sapphire = regards
The third one is: tanzanite-amethyst-morganite= Tam, my nickname