Queen Victoria & the Snake Ring
, by Talia Wallis, 4 min reading time
, by Talia Wallis, 4 min reading time
The fashion conscious and fresh faced monarch, Queen Victoria, was crowned at the tender age of eighteen. Her engagement with Prince Albert was unique seeing as due to her position, it was dictated that she should be the one to propose. The ring Prince Albert provided was also very distinctive, setting this royal proposal apart from others and making it even more legendary.
The snake ring, that was gifted to Queen Victoria by Prince Albert in 1839 has become an iconic piece of jewellery in British history, known for both its beauty and it's symbolism. It is reminiscent of not only their great romance but also the deep influence it imposed upon fashion and jewellery design at the time because of Queen Victoria's reputation for setting trends.
The ring's motif, a coiled snake is set with an emerald, ruby and diamond accents detailing the snakes head, eyes and crown. The serpent’s tail was in its mouth to complete a circle that was unbroken, much like their love It was common practice during the victorian times to set rings with one's birthstone, however the thoughtfully placed emerald could also be representative of wisdom, while the diamond encrusted crown may represent royalty and power.
The time of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert's love is referred to as the Romantic period. Pieces from this period are easily identified and often contain flowers, birds, hearts, bows or other natural creatures. Men and women of this time became avid collectors of sentimental jewellery, laden with symbols. The romantic period, reflective of the happy relationship came to an end upon both the Queen's mother and Prince Albert's death. Queen Victoria was sent into an extended period of mourning. Over come with sadness, she opted to wear black for the rest of her life, to commemorate her lost love. This was this beginning of the more macabre Victorian aesthetic that included mourning jewellery and marked the beginning of the Grand or mid-Victorian period where darker gemstones such as garnet, amethyst, jet and onyx were used in accompaniment with more grisly motifs such as a skeleton, beetle or cross bone. Industrialisation and imperialism also created huge shifts and encouraged more culturally diverse themes and materials to be featured in mid Victorian jewellery.
During the Roman times a continuous and looping snake was seen as a a symbol of eternal or everlasting love. They also have a mythological significance. In Greek and Roman mythology snakes represent rebirth, protection and healing. They are often inscribed on altars and thought to symbolise a guardian spirit. Snakes have long been associated with eternal love and fidelity however the Victorian era was also a period of particularly great fascination with the natural world. Seen as highly exotic and mysterious creatures, the snakes pervasive popularity during both the Victorian era until now is testament to its enduring symbolism and mystique.
Snake or serpent motifs were also highly popular due to their rich versatility. In regards to their design- snakes can be slithering, open-mouthed and biting, coiled gently around ones finger or biting their own tails to signify everlasting life. Modern designers attribute their own unique interpretations to the snake motif, some understated and stripped back to create a minimalist design and other bold and colourful, sometimes set with enamel or striking gemstones.
There are endless design possibilities with snake motifs and so many different ways to work the metal to impart a different feeling or sentiment. This is also a factor in their ever present popularity in the world of jewellery, renowned jewellery houses such as Bulgari and Gucci are avid fans of the snake motif and use it in many of their collections. It seems that artists and craftspeople have long had a fascination with this evasive natural creature, whether because of its longstanding symbolism, or prevalence in royal engagements, we think this strongly allegorical figure is here to stay.