Sweet French high carat gold love token ring, circa 1780 – 1800, the chased and engraved shank supporting a compartment containing a tied bouquet of Spring flowers in three colours of gold and silver on a cobalt blue ground, under crystal and within a chased gold border. The flowers are a rose, symbolising I love you, a daisy symbolising hope, irises symbolising this is a message and forget-me-nots, symbolising – just that.
Floriography was the art of ‘speaking’ through flowers and specific flowers or floral arrangements were used to send coded messages, usually a declaration of love, to the recipient. The ring is size L [US 5 and 1/2] and can be sized and the head of the ring measures one inch by 2/3 of an inch. Very fine quality and immaculate.
The fashion for floriography was attributed to Lady Mary Worley Montagu, a feminist poet married to the English ambassador to Turkey. Letters she wrote from Constantinople in 1717 and 1718 included an enthusiastic description of the Turkish selam [hello], a secret flower language used by women in the harem to communicate without the knowledge of their guards. When Montagu’s letters were published in 1763, the idea of a flower code quickly caught on with fashionable, educated readers. The exotic East, full of strange customs and decadence, was a powerful subject for upper class fantasy, all the more so if it might be a source of forbidden knowledge. Whether Montagu had misunderstood the concept of selam was beside the point. Harems were alluring, flowers were alluring, secret messages between lovers were alluring. The public was captivated.