If you have been collecting antique jewellery for a while, or even if you have just begun your journey into this sparkling treasure trove of historic heirlooms, it is likely you have come across some items of Mizpah jewellery. But why is this word seen so often embossed across our ancestor’s trinkets and charms?
The word Mizpah literally translates from Hebrew as ‘watchtower’ and is referenced in the Biblical story of Jacob and his father-in-law, Laban. It is in this historic text that Jacob fled in the middle of the night with Laban’s daughters and granddaughters (Jacob’s wife and children), seeking to start a new life. Laban foiled his plot and caught up with Jacob, but when he learnt his daughters and granddaughters had left willingly, he allowed Jacob to leave on the condition he never abused his granddaughters or take on any additional wives. To formalise their agreement the two men made a pile of rocks to symbolise a watchtower, named a Mizpah, which is said to represent the omniscience of God, and made their promise in the eyes of the Lord.
Another potent usage of the word Mizpah can be found in Genesis 31:49, which reads “And [it was called] Mizpah, for he said, The Lord watch between me and thee, when we are absent from one another”.
It is this reference from Genesis that we see reference to in Victorian jewellery. Popular in the mid-late 1800s Mizpah pieces were often given between friends or lovers that were to be separated for a prolonged period. It was the perfect gift as the giver could remain anonymous, with only their lover know who the prayer truly belonged.
Mizpah jewellery saw a decline in the early 1900s; however, there was a resurgence in popularity in Mizpah jewellery with the inception of WWI. As national conscription tore men from their homes across the world and sent them to fight, soldiers wanted to leave a love token to their wives and lovers as they ventured into the unknown dangers of war: Mizpah jewellery was the perfect sentiment (although other varieties of ‘sweetheart jewellery’ would soon emerge).
Mizpah jewellery can be plain in design, some pieces saying only the word and nothing else; or more complex with symbols such as hearts, anchors or ivy leaves denoting everlasting and steady love.
Today Mizpah jewellery isn’t often seen outside of the antique world, but we couldn’t be happier to keep the rich history of this simple, yet powerful, phrase alive.