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Jewelry of the Victorian Era

Victorian bar pin in Classic Revival style with enamel plaque. The Victorian era began in 1837 when a young Victoria ascended the throne of England.   It ended over sixty years later when Queen Victoria died in 1901.   The intervening era, spanning the last two thirds of the 19th century, was a time of epic romance, great tragedies and unprecedented prosperity.   The jewels of the Victorian era reflected these ever changing fortunes and are usually loosely divided into three broad periods: the Romantic, the Grand and the Late Victorian.

The Romantic Period (1837 to 1860)

The Romantic Period was a time of marital bliss and joyous family life for the young Queen.   The jewels of the period reflected a feeling of confident tranquility.   Bold gold ornaments were decorated with intricate engraving, delicate enamel work, and serpentine designs.   The jewels were often accented with seed pearls, turquoise beads and pink coral.   Naturalistic and floral motifs were common.

Victorian brooch with ox blood coral.

Most of the Romantic Period preceded the gold strikes in California and South Africa; thus, gold was in scarce supply.   The jewelers of the day worked the precious metal into thin sheets and fine wires from which they created large, puffy jewels that were light in weight. The goal was to get the most look from the least amount of metal.

Victorian hair bracelet Hair jewelry was de rigueur during the Romantic Period.   Although often associated with mourning jewelry, many pieces of hair jewelry were given as sentimental keepsakes, so that the wearer would always be "close" to a distant friend, relation or loved one.   The beauty and intricacy of many of these fine jewels is astounding.

The Grand Period (1861 to 1888)

In 1861 Queen Victoria's beloved husband, Prince Albert, died.   The Queen sank into an extended period of deep mourning (21 years to be exact) and jewelry naturally took on darker, more somber tones. Whitby jet, dark onyx and deep red garnets were often set in gold jewels with black enamel tracery.   The carefree glitter and ostentation of the jewels of the Romantic Period was no longer appropriate.

Scottish Revival Maltese Cross Pin

Victorian Etruscan Revival gold brooch. During an extended period of mourning it is natural to turn towards the past.   And during the Grand Period archaeological discoveries and ancient jewels became an important source of inspiration for jewelry designers.   The many revival styles - the Etruscan, Egyptian, Classical, Renaissance, etc… - all reflect the mid Victorian
fascination with ancient civilizations and jewelry from the past.

By the 1870's, new discoveries of silver (like the Comstock mine in Nevada in 1859) had reduced the cost of this precious metal and silver jewelry became more affordable.   An infinite variety of beautifully engraved bangle bracelets, intricate monogram and name brooches, sentimental lockets, and other whimsical jewels were created to serve a growing middle market.   Many of these silver baubles express sentimental themes and reflect a sense of whimsy that is common to late Victorian jewels.

Late Victorian Period (1888 to 1901)

In the Late Victorian period people and fashion turned away from the staid somberness and historical focus of the Grand Period.   After 27 years, everyone, including the Queen, was ready to bring the mourning period to an end.   People were ready for some fun and an element of light heartedness returned to jewelry.

Victorian Griffin Pin

Victorian silver pendant watch in <I>Japonaiserie Style</I>. A sense of whimsy and the sparkle of diamonds are defining characteristics of the jewels of this period.   A wonderful menagerie of bejeweled insects, animals, stars and crescent moons, griffins, dragons and beautifully enameled flowers could be found in a late Victorian lady's jewelry chest.   Sporting events, leisure activities, foreign cultures (most notably Japan) and sentimental symbols of love and good fortune were all common themes embraced by jewelry designers of the day.

With discovery of diamonds in South Africa in 1867, the supply of diamonds greatly increased.   Late Victorian jewelers took advantage of this abundance by bedecking their creations with a sparkling array of rose cut and Old European cut diamonds.   Diamond studded creatures, glittering star brooches, and flowers graced by diamond dew drops are characteristic of the period. Victorian shamrock brooch with aventurine petals and diamonds.

With the death of Queen Victoria in 1901, the Victorian era sadly came to an end.

To see some wonderful examples of antique and Victorian jewelry, please visit our Victorian Jewelry and Estate & Antique Jewelry Galleries.

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