From the Vault

Tying the Knot

The bow brooch has persisted through the ages as a symbol of love

by Elise B. Misiorowski

Of many recurring themes in jewelry, bows and knots are frequently connected with love and marriage. As far back as the 3rd century B.C., the knot motif was used as a marriage symbol in Greek jewelry. The Heracles knot represented a feminine rite of passage from maiden to married woman and symbolized the strength of a couple's union in marriage. Made of filigreed gold or gold inlaid with cabochon garnets, the Heracles knot was used as a central element in diadems, necklaces, belts and bracelets.

In the late 17th century, the bowknot was a strong symbol of love in jewelry designed by Gilles Legeré for the French court of Louis XIV. Loose double bows of gold or silver, enameled and studded with gemstones, were designed as necklaces and brooches.

Court life was filled with intrigue and included "ribbon language," a playful method for a woman to convey unspoken flirtatious messages. Depending on how they were worn, bow jewels could have several meanings: worn in the hair, they might mean a woman was looking for a man; worn over the heart, they meant she'd found her true love; worn on a ribbon around the neck, they had a teasing significance; worn at the cleavage, they meant "touch me!"

These bow brooches were also called sévigné brooches after the Marquise Marie de Sévigné, an avid correspondent whose lively letters provide an insider's view of society at that time. The popularly of the sévigné brooch continued in the 18th century, and bow brooches as symbols of true love were as prevalent as ever.

In a new manifestation, bows also appeared as the unifying element in love trophies. Emblems of Venus, such as a pair of doves or two roses, were tenderly framed by a ribbon tied in a bow to signify the bond of love.

This demure bow brooch from the early 20th century is characteristically made of sawpierced and millegrained platinum bead set with diamonds.

Courtesy of Sandy De Maio Antique & Estate Jewelry, Bryn Mawr and Manayunk, PA.

The fashion for wearing bows disappeared during the French Revolution because of its close association with the royal court. One hundred years later, ribbon bows made a strong comeback in garland-style jewelry fashionable among the upper classes between 1890 and 1915. The garland style is characterized by highly realistic floral garlands and flowing ribbon bows inspired by the decorative arts from the 17th and 18th centuries. Fluttering bowknots appear in every type of jewel from tiara to ring, with brooches being the most popular by far.

At this time, workmanship in platinum was of exceptional quality, and delicate bow brooches were fabricated of sawpierced, millegrained and engraved platinum to imitate lacy ribbons tied in casual elegance.

Throughout the 20th century, the bow has persisted, its shape and character changing from sleek and stylized during the Art Deco period to bold and sculptural or abstract and unstructured, evolving with each new decade. Though its message may be more muted today, the underlying meaning of the bow in jewelry continues to be the tie that binds.

Copyright © 1999 by Bond Communications.


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