Today I decided to talk about some items in the collection that may not stand out to everyone. Within our collection under “Women’s Accessories” we have three beautiful lavaliers. The definition of a lavalier is simply, “a pendant on a chain worn like a necklace.” When hearing this most people may think it is just a necklace. In fact, lavaliers have a deeper history and meaning.
Three lavaliers shown below are from the Hagen History Center Erie County Historical Society collection. All three have gold chains. The one on the left has an amethyst, the middle one has a ruby and a salt water seed pearl, and the last has two rubies in their respective pendants.
Lavalieres first show up around the 17th century. Lavalieres get their name from the Duchesse de La Valliere, the mistress of Louis XIV in the 1660s. In the 1800s this style would become popular and continue on into the Edwardian era. Many believe it continued to be popular due to the French actress Eve Lavalliere. While on stage she could always be seen wearing a lavalier. It was for this reason she took her stage name. This style would even continue on into the 1900s and they are now valuable jewelry pieces. One big name maker of some note is Tiffany & Company.
When it comes to the meaning behind a lavalier, it is much different than its historical beginnings. Like an engagement ring today, lavaliers were given to a woman by a man as a sign of commitment. It was considered the steppingstone between dating and a long-term commitment or engagement.
Today when we hear the term "lavaliering", it refers to an older college Greek Life tradition. Lavalier medallions featured the fraternity’s Greek letters. A fraternity member gave his medallion, or pin, to his girlfriend. This was a representation of their commitment to one another. There was a whole ceremony where the fraternity brothers watched the giving of the pin to the girlfriend. Even the sorority the girl belonged to may have held a ceremony. After such a ceremony, the lavaliered couple was expected to become engaged after the pledge.
Who knew that a piece of jewelry could have such an interesting history and powerful meaning. I always love being able to look at an object within our collection and learn so many new things. I know these are not Erie related, but still a great piece of history.