Sweetheart badges of WWI
Graham Caldwell looks at the phenomenon of servicemen gifting sweetheart mementos in the form of miniature regimental badges
More commonly described as sweetheart brooches, a misleading term because they were gifted equally to mother’s and wives, these types of jewellery were often miniature replicas of the badges of regiments, corps, naval and aviation insignia. Separation from loved ones during wartime, with no guarantee of return, was always hard to bear. The popularity of military jewellery grew out of the appeal of wearing a sentimental token that had been gifted by a soldier, sailor or airman serving at the front who was in danger of being killed. Consequently, sweetheart brooches soon took on the added status of lucky charms, some with the addition of a horseshoe for good luck.
By the start of 1915, hundreds of different designs soon appeared that were made of materials such as gold, silver (both suitably hallmarked), enamel, mother of pearl, brass and even fine examples in diamond-studded platinum. Prices therefore varied widely, so that not only a well-off officer could afford to buy these loving tokens, but also the humble private soldier.
The manufacturers of this form of jewellery soon recognised a commercial opportunity and began mass-producing miniature versions of regimental badges to be sold by jewellery shops and enterprising pop-up stores in military camps, where last minute gifts could be purchased before embarkation. As the war progressed mothers and widows valued these keepsakes as reminders of their menfolk who were never to return and many sweetheart brooches have been handed down through families who still possess them today. German WWI unit examples can also be found, but these are much rarer. To sum up, WWI sweetheart badges can be an inexpensive, yet emotive and interesting alternative to regimental cap badge collecting.