Jewelry became very prominent during the
Nineteenth Century Victorian Era (1837-1901) when the young
Queen Victoria of England came to power; so much so, that it
became one of the most important aspects of the well-dressed
ladies attire. Be it small fancy underpins to fix and place the
ladies undergarments, or the elaborate and well-thought out
jewelry pieces for ears, neckline, wrists (bracelets and
bangles), ankles, or bodice pins, the Victorian woman’s jewelry
was truly used to compliment and enhance her natural beauty. The
gentlemen’s jewelry, which included stickpins, rings, cuff and
cravat studs were no less intriguing.
This was a time in history when, not
only the wealthy gentlemen and ladies were influenced by lavish
gems and gold, but also, the lower to middle classed peoples
wanted to let their interest in jewelry “shine.” Men and women
of “means” wore expensive baubles of silver, gold and platinum
sporting precious gemstones like diamonds, rubies, emeralds,
sapphires, or genuine pearls. Likewise, semi-precious gemstones
including garnets, amethysts, opals, etc., set in the noble
precious metals, were extremely popular with the gents and
ladies, as well.
In addition, they often wore carved
images in authentic cameo materials, such as sardonyx, onyx,
real shell, genuine stones of various kinds, all set in precious
metals of platinum, rose, white and yellow gold or silver
bezels. In the 1850’s and 60’s rare jewelry included engraved
aluminum pieces such as brooches, set in gold. It was expensive
because the aluminum was difficult to procure.
Women of “little means” were sometimes
only able to afford lower priced jewelry wearing only the less
expensive gold-filled or man-made metal imitations. However,
because of the elaborate workmanship of filigree, ornate
carving, intricate settings, and the production of man-made
materials of good quality, these “costume” pieces were
nonetheless very beautiful. Oftentimes, they, too, used some of
the semi-precious stones in settings of common materials.
The jewelry of the Victorian Era
reflected the ongoing changing good fortunes of its wearers.
History tells us that there were basically three periods, in
which, the jewelry times were divided. First, the “Romantic,”
from the beginning of Victoria’s reign in 1837 to about 1860.
The jewelry reflected the Queen’s happy and prosperous family
life. Gold was bold, but was enhanced with delicate engraved
materials, subtle seed pearls, carved natural pink coral, and
found natural materials and gems. Carvings of the feminine face
and features, as well, as floral motifs were prevalent. Jewelry
for the hair was most common, in designs of combs, barrettes,
Next, came the “Grand” period from 1861
to 1888. Within this time period, Queen Victoria’s beloved
husband Prince Albert had died. Her jewelry, and consequently,
much of the jewelry of the times was influenced by this time of
despair and mourning. It took on more neutral, darker and more
somber tones, with the deeper colored precious gemstones, much
dark garnet, onyx, jet, and dark shells. The stunning allure of
the fiery bright diamonds and lighter colored gems took a back
seat at this time.
Demure lockets, pendants, smaller, as
well, as very large, gaudy brooches and pins, and less bold
enameled ensembles were more the stylish fashion. There were
“mourning rings,” those especially made of jet, which featured
carved skulls, locks of deceased loved-ones hair, and the
initials of those departed upon them. Fortunately, this
period came to pass, but not without leaving behind many
articles of jewelry that were handed down to future generations.
Following was the “Late” Victorian
Period of 1889 to 1901. It was time to end the doldrums of the
mourning period, and a “wake up” time for jewelry of fashion and
fun. Diamonds were more available from South Africa, and they
were set in an array of sparkling settings, including those of
nature. The luminaries (sun, moon and stars), land and sea
creatures, human faces and forms and floral motifs appeared to
grace the jewelry of the period. Once again, the eye-catching
precious gems made their comeback.
In summary, the Victorian era was most
influential in its materials and design, and is responsible for
much of the excitement that surrounds the “antique” or “estate”
jewelry that we see today. The more ornate and filigreed, the
better many of us like it. Thus, we have the custom of passing
down to our loved ones the genuine or costume jewelry that we
have enjoyed in our lifetimes. May it always continue to be.