April 24, 2017
Victorian Period and Jewelry
The Victorian era was one full of limitless change. Imagine in one lifetime going from restricted travel opportunity (horse drawn carriages across the continent, not an option) and only knowing candlelight, to seeing cars zoom down the street and bearing witness to electricity start popping up in the US and Europe. And with cultural shifts come varying styles of jewelry, making the Victorian era one of the most dynamic and interesting times for jewelry lovers. Queen Victoria’s reign lasted from 1837 to 1901, and she heavily influenced the fashions of the time. The first couple decades of the era is described as the Romantic Period, and coincides with the time that Victoria showed great adoration for her new hubby, Prince Albert. After Albert proposed to her with a snake ring, snake jewelry was demanded across England. It’s probably the most popular motif of the Romantic period. Acrostic rings, pieces with the word “mizpah” engraved on them, florals, Greek and Roman themes, and pretty much anything that could be described as sentimental were fashionable. 18k and 22k yellow and rose gold, as well as silver were the metal choices until about 1854 where advancements made it possible to manufacture lesser carat golds. Diamonds were still top pick, but amethyst turquoise, and coral were used often and are fun pops of color in the warm golds they were using at the time. Gems were cut in cabochon, old mine or rose cuts in repousse detailed pieces. This was the first time in history where jewelry started to be mass produced and industry was booming. Factories were able to meet mass market demand, and still create gorgeous and unique pieces.
The Victorian Era was one of emotion, and what better way to express yourself than through art. And nothing beats wearable art. The jewelry during the 19th century was a way to say something that you may not be able to say out loud, when fleeting words just didn’t feel like enough. Jewelry was a way of showing affection and it was dripping in symbolism. Part of the Victorian Era, the Grand Period (1861 - 1880), was especially nostalgic. The Industrial Revolution had brought women into the workforce, and while they were fighting for the right to vote, they finally had their own expendable money. The jewelry industry was flourishing, but it was also changing. The death of Prince Albert and the beginning of the US Civil War brought on a cultural mourning period. Jewelry was often dark, made out of jet, enamel, or onyx, and use of brighter stones like coral and turquoise decreased. Diamonds, garnets, and dark sapphires were popular, still set into gold or silver frequently in memento mori or mourning pieces. Pieces were noticeable, heavier, and sometimes had secret compartments or hair work. The Renaissance and even ancient Egypt heavily inspired this time period, and interesting themes like insects, crescents, stars, and horseshoes were common. We love pieces from this time period not only for their rarity, but their unique beauty and endless symbolism.
The latter years of the Victorian Era were important ones. Electricity (!!!) started to become a reality in people’s lives. Previously only made and worn in daytime or candlelight, gemstones and metals looked different in this new source, and you can easily see how jewelry evolved. But the Gibson girl image became a trend, with upswept hair and minimal jewelry, it actually had an impact on the industry. Women started to wear less and less jewelry, and fine pieces were reserved for special occasions like the opera. Pieces were smaller and lighter, and had dainty silhouettes. Natural shapes and soft curves with a focus on inherent beauty. Brooches were replaced by pins, earrings by studs, and rings used less metal with fine lacier settings. In the 1880’s, platinum made its way into the jewelry world. Though platinum pieces from the 19th century are rare, they do exist! Diamonds were still the most popular choice for stones, alongside opals, amethyst, and pearls. Small monogrammed lockets, crosses, and hearts were perfect motifs for the last years of the 19th century. We love the jewels from the Aesthetic period for its perfect balance of whimsy and beauty.