The Origins of giving jewelry for Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is fast approaching. This morning I found myself thinking about this hyper-commercialized holiday and wondering about it’s origins. More specifically, wondering about the origins of giving jewelry as Valentine’s Day gifts. So I did some research. Turns out that while Valentine’s Day itself is an extremely old tradition, the practice of giving jewelry is actually a very recent one.

Valentine’s Day has it’s roots in the ancient pagan Roman festival of Lupercalia which took place around February 13-15. Lupercalia was a fertility festival. During Lupercalia, naked men would use dog or goat skin whips to spank the backsides of young women to improve their fertility. They would also participate in a drawing of lots that would pair up young couples for the coming year.

So where does the ‘Valentine’ come in? Apparently, around 197 AD, Emperor Claudius of Rome decided that single men made better soldiers, so he outlawed marriage. A Christian named Valentine of Rome was accused of secretly performing marriages in direct violation of this law and was executed for his crime.

Around 496 AD, the church decided to do what it often did with pagan festivals that inconveniently refused to go away. It absorbed them into the Christian calendar and turned them into Christian holidays. Pope Gelasius I, declared February 14 to be the Feast of St. Valentine.

It was until 1382 that the ‘L’ word entered the picture. Geoffrey Chaucer wrote his poem Parlement of Foules to celebrate the engagement of Richard II of England and Anne of Bohemia. Then, on Valentine’s Day in 1400 the High Court of Love was opened in Paris. This court dealt with matters of love such as: marriage contracts, divorces and infidelity.

The first Valentine love note is attributed to Charles, the Duke of Orleans. He wrote a Valentine’s note to his beloved while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London.

The commercialization of Valentine’s Day began in England in the 1700′s with the exchanging of love notes. In 1847, the first commercially produced Valentine’s Day cards were produced by a woman named Esther Howland in Worchester, Massachusetts. Then, in 1913, Hallmark began producing Valentine’s Day cards and the rest is history.

I was actually really surprised to find that the tradition of giving jewelry as a Valentine’s Day gift was far more recent than I expected. The big push to give jewelry was apparently started in the 1980′s by the Diamond industry. By 2009, the idea had caught fire to the tune of $14.7 billion in retail jewelry sales in the U.S.

Regardless of the origins of the tradition, the fact remains that giving a unique, thoughtfully chosen piece of jewelry as a Valentine’s Day gift is a wonderful gesture. To this day, my most cherished piece of jewelry is a Swiss Blue Topaz pendant given to me by my significant other upon his return from a trip to Alaska. He said he chose it for me because the stone was the same exact shade of blue as the glaciers. Let’s face it – women love jewelry – especially if it is thoughtfully chosen – myself included.

To view a selection of unique, handmade jewelry, click here.

About klvargas

I have had a lifelong passion for gemstones, jewelry & fashion. In 1990, I took a class in introductory jewelry casting at a local community arts center in Philadelphia and I was hooked. I've been designing & making jewelry ever since.
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