While rooting through my jewelry box, I came across several pieces that just wouldn’t fit into any particular category. All I knew about them was that my father had given them to my mother sometime during or after World War II, where he’d served in the Navy.
The engraved filigree brooch below wasn’t coming up on searches for Victorian or Edwardian jewelry. Neither was the anchor pin. They just didn’t seem to fit into any category at all.
Then I discovered why!
I’m almost positive that these pins are all part of a relatively unknown category called “sweetheart jewelry.”
Sweetheart jewelry began during World War I.
Lonely servicemen wanted to send home something special to their wives, girlfriends or other family members. Jewelry manufacturers such as Trifari and Walter Lampl responded, by creating inexpensive brooches, necklaces, bracelets and other items that carried a military or patriotic theme.
In some cases, the soldiers actually made the jewelry themselves – resulting in the alternate name “trench jewelry.”
Proud to be American.
By the time World War II came along, sweetheart jewelry was more popular than ever. Americans proudly wore the symbolic pieces sent home by loved ones. Naval anchors, Air Force wings and Army ranking symbols appeared on lapels and wrists everywhere.
Sweetheart jewelry is growing in popularity.
Most sweetheart jewelry is sold at military collecting shows, but interest in it is expanding to jewelry lovers in general, as well as collectors of historical symbols. Americans like to wear grouped pieces during national holidays or any other patriotic occasion.
Because this category is just becoming collectible, you can start your own collection easily and affordably.
Reproductions are rare…so far.
But as with all things, once a category becomes popular, someone tries to cash in.
Beware of pieces that appear too new-looking – after all, sweetheart jewelry wasn’t made from solid gold, so it could have significant wear. And it traveled around the world – during wartime — before it was lovingly worn for at least the duration.
What to look for.
Because many materials were dedicated to the war effort, sweetheart jewelry was generally made with whatever was easy to find.
- Inexpensive wire
- Mother of pearl
- Sterling silver (sometimes taken from the silverware on a ship): Most likely made outside of the United States
- Sometimes, jewelry was made from pieces of artillery shells or shrapnel!
- Jewelry containing glass is harder to find, because glass was scarce during WWI.
Types of jewelry:
- Pins are most common. Expansion bracelets and lockets were also made, but complete sets are rare.
- Service pins often feature stars for the number of years served. A pin with four stars would be a rare find!
- Handcrafted pieces may appear more crude, but they’re also more unique.
As you can expect, the most common motifs are military. If you see any of these, you’ll want to explore the piece further to see if it’s genuine sweetheart:
- Engravings such as “mother,” a loved one’s name, or, naturally, “sweetheart” are also common, mostly on professionally manufactured items.
Sweetheart jewelry has become highly collectible only the past decade or so, and several books have been written about it, with Nicholas Snider’s version gaining a lot of attention. It’s worth reading one or two books about it before beginning or adding to a collection.
Sweetheart jewelry is more than a symbol of the tragedy of war. It’s also a symbol of a soldier or sailor’s longing to be home with loved ones once again.