Unboxing the past: Victorian Era Jewellery

Never has a single moment in history seen such a level of diversity in the design and craftsmanship of jewellery than by pieces from the Victorian era. This style of jewellery is eponymously named after the reigning queen of the time; Victoria ruled as Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 1837-1901, the last British monarch of the House of Hanover.

Historians segment the reign of Victoria, dividing her rule into three key periods; Early Victorian or “Romantic”, Middle Victorian or “Grand” and the Late Victorian or “Aesthetic”. Each of these periods would be characteristic of the specific gems, motifs, construction technique and materials present.

Circa 1837-60 Romantic Period

Jewellery representative of the “Romantic” period was a celebration of young love, or more accurately, a celebration of the engagement of Queen Victoria to Prince Albert. Serpent rings, much like the one gifted to Victoria by Albert upon their engagement became highly coveted. The serpent motif was seen as symbol of eternal love and this trend trickled down to the masses. Serpents in Victorian jewellery were not exclusive to rings, and it was not uncommon to see snakes in bracelets or necklaces. Women became increasingly enamored with jewellery full of sentiment and symbolism.

Romantic period jewellery was highly feminine and included floral, heart and ribbon motifs in the design. Such pieces were highly embellished with materials such as pearls and coral. Amidst the industrial revolution, jewellery was no longer solely crafted by hand and this ready availability to the middle class created steady demand and affordability. Women of this period were not adverse to extreme stacking and layering of pieces; a highly popular trend to display a women’s expansive new collection.

Victorian Garnet Snake Chain

Circa 1860-80 Grand Period

The “Grand” period of the Victorian era was marked by the death of Prince Albert in 1861 and created sympathy for the man where once their had been disdain. Queen Victoria herself was overwhelmed with grief and secluded herself in mourning for the rest of her life. Her taste for jewellery also reflected her immeasurable sorrow, creating a resurgence of mourning jewellery more common with the Georgian period of the previous century.

However, whilst Georgian mourning jewellery had elements of the macabre, Victorian mourning jewellery was still heavily influenced by the romantic ideals common in the preceding decades. Most materials used in such pieces were black or dark in colour; black being universally recognized as the colour associated with grief. Naturally jet, onyx, enamel and dark garnets were often used in pieces designed to honour the memory of the departed. Queen Victoria was known to wear lockets with locks of hair and photographs of her loved ones kept inside. These treasures were worn around her neck and upon her wrist as a way to keep the memory of her family close.

Opening of the South African mines in 1867 created demand for diamonds, with their newfound availability heavily influencing the look of jewellery in the “Grand” period. Revival jewellery also took route towards the end of this period, with stylistic representations of Egyptian, Roman and Etruscan designs common due to the widely publicized excavation of historical sites.

Victorian Etruscan Gold Long Drop Earrings

Circa 1880-1901 Aesthetic Period

Whereas in the beginning of Victoria’s reign industry was predominantly focused on manufacture, towards the end focus had shift back to an appreciation for craftsmanship and a renewed love of the handmade.

Jewellery of the “aesthetic” period did not resemble its earlier counterparts; grand, larger pieces worn to dazzle and delight. Women of the time were changing to smaller, lighter and more elegant designs as an evening statement as opposed to collections worn during the day.  Diamonds and semiprecious stones grew in popularity as a passion for the natural beauty of a stone overtook its inherent material value; an idea that would become equally prevalent during the Art Nouveau era.

Solitaire rings grew in popularity due to the advent of the six-prong diamond setting made famous by Tiffany & Co in 1886 and the waning years of the century saw the introduction of platinum as a material used in jewellery construction due to ever advancing techniques in metal-fabrication. This would see a huge rise in the Edwardian era immediately following the end of Queen Victoria’s rule.

Victorian Old Mine Cut Diamond Drop Necklace

Historical Importance

Queen Victoria was much beloved by her subjects and she reigned during a period of great innovation and advancement in social, economic and technological matters. Victoria’s personal style was highly regarded by her citizenry and she became a trendsetter in both dress and jewel. The style of this period would go on to heavily influence periods of Edwardian and Art Nouveau jewellery, heralding the dawning of a new modern age. Victorian-era jewellery is highly collectible and in the wake of media representations and our fascination with the Royal Family we are all too familiar with this period in history. For the Victorian jewellery aficionado we invite you to explore our own range of stunning turn of the 19th century pieces online or in-store at our Burlington Arcade shopfront in Mayfair, London.

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