The heart icon is a universal love symbol for people of all cultures as a sign of affection and as a powerful connection between two people. It symbolises love of all kinds but, in particular, romantic love.
The heart emoji ❤️ is one of the most used emoticons.
The heart is also one of the most popular shapes used in jewellery.
There is no doubt that the heart symbol in jewellery carries a lot of meaning for us.
But how did this come to be? Why is it a symbol of love and affection? Why do we love gifting “hearts” to those we love?
And why is this shape even called a heart? After all, a real heart isn’t actually that shape (although it’s pretty close).
We found out some fascinating information about the heart sign when we researched this subject … read on to find out what we discovered.
The Heart Shape
The symbol itself is loosely based on the anatomical outline of our heart. Whilst not accurate, it is a close enough depiction and visually looks better in its symmetrical representation.
It is represented by a red or pink heart, drawn by a stylised line or made up of a series of hearts. Originally it was always shown as being red, after the blood it was recognised to pump. But, as associations with love became more apparent, the colour pink has been used.
According to an article by Time Magazine here on the origins of the heart shape, a medical illustrator and cardiologist named Carlos Machada mentioned that a human heart, when cut open does somewhat resemble the heart symbol we know and love today.
He pointed out that the heart icon used today resembles, even more so, a bird or animals heart which has been cut open. Consider that, back in the 14th Century, much of the anatomy and physiology that scholars learnt from was taken from dissecting birds and small animals as, at the time, the Catholic Church frowned upon dissection of human cadavers. Consequently, small animals and birds were used instead.
The Heart Symbols History and Use
The Ancient History of the Heart Symbol
The ancient Egyptians believed that the heart signified the life-essence and that it was the heart that was the seat of our wisdom and not the brain. Indeed it was the first thing to live and the last thing to die. The heart held such significance for Egyptians that, when they mummified the dead they preserved the heart – it was one of the few organs they kept inside the body. They believed the heart would be given back to the deceased in the afterlife.
In Egyptian hieroglyphics the heart, represented by a stylised heart, was used for the word “heart”. It resembled a vase with handles, so the progression of the modern heart-shape can be seen from this.
In Greek mythology, the heart was the seat of the soul and they believed that the Gods could see into a person’s heart to determine their character and actions.
Another theory, which dates back even further to around the 1st Century AD, is around the widespread use of a plant called Silphium which grew around the North African coast. It was used as a cough medicine and, more extensively, as a birth control medication. It was so popular as a contraception and written extensively about at the time, that the price of the plant went up and was over-harvested to the point of extinction.
The seed pods of the Silphium plant resemble the shape of the modern day heart outline – so you can see how the shape was linked to romantic love.
One more theory is that the heart represents the shape of buttocks and breasts of the many works of art depicting love. Many famous artworks have being painted with Cupid, with arrow poised, over some naked lovers. This is illustrated so well in the beautiful paining by Jean-Léon Gérôme in 1890 of the Greek myth of Pygmalion and Gallatea. The sculptor Pygmalion fell in love with the beautiful sculpture he had carved and Cupid granted his wishes for the sculpture to come to life.
The Heart Symbol in Medieval and Renaissance Times
It wasn’t until the medieval times that the heart shape began to take on the meaning of love and devotion, along with the idea of romantic love. Prior to this the heart shape was just used as decoration.
The first depiction of the heart shape being used as a symbol of love was in 1250 in a French manuscript called, Roman de la poire, where the author illustrated the work with a man holding a vaguely heart-shaped symbol up to his love.
According to Eric Jager, author of The Book of the Heart, in medieval times it was believed that your innermost loves, memories and God’s commands were written inside a persons heart. Jager talks about how stories circulated at the time, of the hearts of female saints being cut open after their death to reveal their love for God inscribed inside their heart!
The heart was often illustrated upside down until the 14th Century, when it seemed to be turned to the way we now picture it.
The English poet, Geoffrey Chaucer, wrote about Valentine’s Day being a day of romance in his famous poem, “Parliament of Foules” in 1375.
In the 15th Century the heart symbol was added as a suit in playing cards.
The Heart Symbol Used in Victorian Times
Victorian England was a time of great sentimentality. As craftsmen developed their skills and many wonderful pieces of art, jewellery and ornaments were created, and a symbolic significance was given to many of these creations. Most households had a book on The Language of Flowers – with each flower having a meaning attributed to it. Gifts were given with a lot of meaning.
At this time Valentine’s Day really took off as a time to share your love and affection for someone you cared about, often with hand-made gifts decorated with hearts.
The Heart Symbol in Different Cultures
The Catholic church have suggested the idea that the Sacred Heart symbol originated as a sign of Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque’s 1673 vision of Jesus’ Sacred Heart. It is an illustration of Jesus’ red heart, wrapped by a ring of thorns and topped with flames and a cross, often beaming with Divine light. It symbolises Jesus’ Divine love for his Father and for us.
The Heart Symbol in Modern Culture
Modern times has shown the pop-culture slogan of the red heart symbol used in place of the word “love”. This was made famous after the marketing agency Wells, Rich, Green created an advertising campaign to promote tourism in New York by promoting the logo and slogan “I NY” . The logo itself was designed in 1977 in the back of a taxi, drawn with a red crayon, by graphic designer Milton Glaser and it later became a trademarked logo.
The heart emoji is one of the most-used icons in modern culture. What was started by the Victorians, in plentiful illustrations of love notes, cards and poems, has continued with our modern day texts and heart emoticons. It indicates “I hear you”, “I see you”, “I like and agree with you”, as a response to a message or status in social media.
Hearts symbolise lives in many video games. We often use the heart symbol to represent affection and compassion, particularly in social media.
Heart tatoo’s have gained in popularity enormously as people become more expressive in their body art. Heart tattoo’s can take the form of a simple outline, stylised versions of a heart, or realistic depictions.
The Heart Symbol in Celebrity Culture
A popular motif in modern celebrity culture, the heart is often used as a personal expression of what is important to someone.
Often used in jewellery worn by celebrities, such as heart pendants and necklaces, heart-shaped rings or earrings. Some celebrities have introduced their own lines of heart-themed jewellery, such as Victoria Beckham who has a collection of heart-themed jewellery.
Many celebrities have opted for heart tatoo’s as a way of expressing themselves and what their passions and loves are.
Many charities that celebrities endorse use the heart symbol to raise awareness for their cause.
The History of the Heart Symbol in Jewellery
There are, of course, many symbols used in jewellery design. We love our jewellery to mean something to us.
But we can’t think of many icons that are more frequently used, than the love heart symbol in jewellery.
In the 14 and 15th Century, the Witches Heart jewellery became very popular. The Witches Heart was worn as protection as it was felt it warded off evil spirits and kept the witches away from harming babies or stealing their milk.
The Witches Heart had the bottom of the heart curved out to one side, often the right side and they often had an open design. These heart symbols were thought to later develop into amulets which were given to a loved one as a sign that they had “bewitched” the giver.
In 17th Century Scotland these were called Luckenbooth brooches, named after the stalls around Edinburgh Cathedral where they were sold. They were often pinned to a baby’s blanket to protect him or her and on the mother to protect her milk. It was similar to the Evil Eye amulets of the middle eastern traditions.
During Charles I reign (1600-1649) rock crystal hearts were created, initially to honour him but later they became fashionable items of jewellery. After this, heart-shaped lockets were created and often contained a locket of the loved ones hair inside. Other symbols were added to these lockets symbolising extra “qualities” of their undying love. For instance, a crown sat on the top of the heart locket meant loyalty.
The Meaning and Significance of the Heart Symbol
The heart is said to be the seat of the emotions and hold great significance in humans for feelings and what greater emotion is there than love?
The idea that the heart somehow carries, or has within it, what you really love seems to have been carried through the centuries even to today. Isn’t it interesting that we talk of “speaking from the heart”, making decision from our heart rather than our head and, during separation from a loved one, we talk of our heart being “broken”.
The Heart as a Symbol of Love and Romance
So whilst no one is exactly sure why the heart is associated with love and romance, the huge interest in the love -potion Silphium plant already mentioned, with its heart-shaped leaves probably played a huge part.
Ivy-leaves, too, which were used for decorating many pieces of art, were a symbol of infidelity and are very similar in shape to the heart.
The fact that, since the beginning of time, humans have probably all felt a quickening of our pulse, a flutter of excitement or a pang of ‘heartache’ when we are either falling in love, infatuated by someone or pining after a lost love may have signified to the ancient people that the heart was some sort of receptible for our emotions.
The great philosophers of the past believed the heart was the seat of the soul and emotions.
Valentine’s Day has been a celebration of love for many centuries. It is suspected that the meaning of love attributed to Saint Valentine’s was after he secretly married lovers and would
Valentine’s Day gifts and tokens were being exchanged on February 14th since the Middle Ages, but these took some centruries before they became widespread until the explosion of love messages and gifts during the Victorian era.
The Heart as a Symbol of Good Health and Well-Being
Whilst the heart imagery is mainly associated with love, it has also been loosely associated with good health and well-being. This could originate from the knowledge we now how of how important good food, excercise and healthy relationships, including feeling loved, is for our overall health and well-being.
The Heart as a Symbol of Friendship and Loyalty
Heart over the centuries were not only given to romantic partners – they were given as a sign of affection and loyalty between friends and family. The Claddaugh ring with its heart, hand and crown symbolised love, friendship and loyalty. It is a way of connecting.
The Heart Symbol in Modern Jewellery
The heart symbol can be incorporated into the design of jewellery in a variety of ways, such as being carved or etched into the metal, set with gemstones, or made out of material such as gold or silver.
Heart-shaped jewellery is a popular choice for gifts on Valentine’s Day and other romantic occasions, such as for anniversaries. It can be worn as a symbol of love and affection for oneself or a gift to someone special. Some popular types of heart-shaped jewellery include heart-shaped pendants, heart-shaped earrings, and heart-shaped rings. The heart symbol can also be incorporated into other types of jewellery such as charms for charm bracelets or as design elements on a watch.
Heart-shaped engagement rings are a popular choice with the central gemstone cut into a heart shape.
Double Hearts Jewellery
A double heart symbol usually signifies the concept of two hearts becoming one, symbolising the love, a bond, unity, and partnership between two people.
It represents the idea of two individuals joining together as a couple and becoming one entity, symbolising the bond of love and commitment between them.
Additionally, the double heart symbol can also represent the idea of two people coming together to create a new family unit, symbolising the love and support that is shared between them in the creation of their family.
The double heart can be used in various forms of jewellery, such as necklaces, rings, or earrings, and is often given as a gift to represent a strong and lasting relationship.
A Heart with a Crown
A heart with a crown on top signified “ruler of my heart”.
A heart with a crown symbol usually signifies love and royalty. The combination of the heart symbol, which represents love and affection, and the crown, which represents power and authority, loyalty and sovereignty creates a motif that represents a powerful and regal love.
This symbol can be found in jewellery and other decorative items, and is often given as a gift to express love and admiration for someone special.
The heart with a crown symbol can also be seen as a representation of a self-love and self-respect, and a recognition of our sovereignty, and can be used as a symbol of strength, courage, and empowerment.
In some cultures, the heart with a crown is seen as a symbol of the connection between the physical and spiritual realms, representing the idea that love and the divine are intertwined.
The famous and beautiful Irish design of the Claddagh symbol used in jewellery features a pair of hands, a heart and a crown. It signifies love, friendship and sovereignty. or loyalty – with a huge love of Ireland as well We talk in depth about Claddagh jewellery here.
A Heart with an Arrow
The “wounded” heart, is an depiction of someone who is lovesick or heartbroken, features an arrow piercing a heart shape. According to ancient mythology, the arrow is that of Cupid and anyone shot by Cupid’s arrow is filled with an uncontrollable yearning for whoever they are looking at when the arrow strikes.
The famous Cupid’s arrow-through-the-heart sign indicates that cupid has succeeded to aim and hit his arrow from his bow into the heart of the recipient so that they must now fall in love with the sender.
Hearts with Flames
Hearts depicted with flames indicated passion, a “burning passion” and a “flaming heart”. A heart with flames symbol usually signifies passion, love, and intensity. The obvious heart symbology, for love and affection, with the flames, which represent heat, energy, and intensity, creates a motif that represents a fiery and passionate love.
The heart with flames symbol can also represent a powerful and transformative love, symbolising the idea that love can change and transform one’s life.
The flames on the Sacred Heart, used in the Catholic church that we mentioned earlier, represented a furnace of ardent love. Oswald Chambers, a preacher in Scotland said, “we need to learn this secret of the burning heart. Suddenly Jesus appears to us, fires are set ablaze, and we are given wonderful visions; but then we must learn to maintain the secret of the burning heart— a heart that can go through anything”.
To Sum Up …
As you can see, the heart symbol has a rich history that spans many centuries. As time has passed how it is used changes, looking at modern-day emoticons and tatoo’s compared to hand-drawn works of art, but the meaning has remained true.
It is probably the most universally well-known symbols for love and affection and is sure to stay around for many centuries more