The Victorian Era spans between the years of 1837 and 1901 when Queen Victoria occupied the British throne. Queen Victoria has been the second longest reigning queen in English history and the time at which she occupied the throne was one of great change and development in British history, the Victorian Era is comprised of three distinct periods in jewellery making.
Therefore, the era was too one of the most formative times in the history of jewellery production, which is made evident by simply viewing some of the wealth of Victorian pieces to have survived. To browse for yourself and shop for genuine Victorian jewellery pieces, visit Royal Antique Jewelry. Meanwhile, to explore the fashions, designs, trends and changes in how jewellery was produced within the Victorian period it is important to understand the three major periods in jewellery production which emerged from the era.
The Romantic Period (1837 – 1861)
The Romantic Period was perhaps the most wistful and light-hearted of the three Victorian periods. Jewellery designed and created in the Romantic Period consequently and aesthetically reflected the blooming love story being enjoyed between Queen Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert, upon which the monarch doted.
Common motifs during the Romantic Period included nature-inspired designs, flowers, leaves and animals. By far the most famous and celebrated ‘animal’ motif to surface during the Romantic Period was that of the snake.
In the Romantic Period, the snake motif was hugely popular due to the fact that in 1840 the Prince gifted the Queen with an engagement ring which featured a serpent with an Emerald head. It was to become the first and most famous engagement ring given during the Romantic Period and introduce the motif of the snake holding its tail and so creating an unbroken circle represented undying and unbreakable love to a growing middle class who sought to emulate the Queen’s fashion and style.
Yellow gold was extremely popular and often combined with a colourful array of popular stones at the time to create a wealth of vividly coloured jewellery. Silver, which has historically been a popular metal was too commonly used due in part to the rise in the fashion of Scottish jewellery design at the time.
A newer metal, platinum was also growing massively in popularity. Although examples of platinum jewellery exist that pre-date the Victorian jewellery Era, the extremely complex and difficult techniques involved in creating platinum jewellery pieces meant that until the end o the 19th century, it was a very difficult metal with which to work. All this, of course, began to change in the Victorian Era when technology was advancing at a rapid rate; suddenly new and exciting techniques were emerging along with a new, affluent middle Class who were desirous to assert and show off their wealth and affluence.
You can learn more about the techniques used in creating and the history of platinum jewellery at the Precious Platinum website.
Prince Albert may have gifted an emerald engagement ring to Queen Victoria because emeralds happened to be the Queen’s birthstone, but emeralds were already a very popular engagement ring stone at the time, perhaps because their characteristic green colour mirrored that in nature. Equally popular stones were rubies and turquoise along with diamonds, such as those worn by the Queen and too Prince Albert on their wedding day.
In 1848 when Queen Victoria purchased Balmoral Castle and began embracing aspects of Scottish culture such as dressing her children in tartan, a new fashion emerged in Britain. Consequently, Scottish jewellery and newly designed pieces influenced by Scottish jewellery caused smokey quartz, carnelian, bloodstone and enamel to all become much more popular.
The Grand Period (1861 – 1880)
The 1960s was an extremely sad time for Queen Victoria and would colour her life thereafter, as both her mother, the Duchess of Kent, and her husband, Prince Albert died within the decade. Consequently, the Queen entered a period of mourning which dramatically and heavily influenced jewellery design and production during the period. In fact, with the Civil War raging in America, the sense of mourning felt in British society extended far beyond and permeated throughout the Western World. Meanwhile, in England, the Queen declared that her entire court was banned from wearing any jewellery except that which was set with a black jet as a symbol of the mood at the time.
Despite the Victorian Era being an exciting time industrially, conditions in Britain for its people were not improving. Rather, infant mortality was high and the lives of British people were short. Hence, when and whilst the queen mourned for her own mother and husband, the nation too collectively shared in her grief and this very literally set the tone for much of the jewellery being produced, bought and worn at the time.
Hence, mourning jewellery became supremely fashionable with the most popular mourning pieces being lockets in which locks of hair and portraits of lost loved ones could be kept. Mourning rings engraved with initials and sentiments and brooches containing strands of hair were too very popular items.
In contrast to the vivid emeralds, rubies, diamonds and turquoise popularly worn in the Romantic Period, black stones dominated the Grand Period. Hence, jet, onyx, obsidian and vulcanite, a black rubber, were all widely used to create jewellery during the Grand Period.
The Aesthetic Period (1880 – 1901)
When Queen Victoria died in 1901 she did so leaving behind a country very changed from that which she had first reigned over as a young queen. The Industrial Revolution permanently changed the landscape of the land and to the wider world. England and Britain were now home to huge factories, miles of railroads and busy with influences, people and products from all over the world. Unsurprisingly, this all influenced jewellery design at the time and resulted in what we now refer to as the Aesthetic period.
Motifs and Designs
Cameos, which had been popular throughout the Victorian Era suddenly began to take on a Romanesque influence, the wistful floral motifs of the Romantic Period died back and instead what emerged was metals being intricately made to bear exotic, Egyptian-inspired papyrus leaves and grape vines which took their influence from ancient Greek mythologies of the Gods, and namely Bacchus: the god of wine. Hence, jewellery design during the Aesthetic period really did embrace a new ‘modern world’ and begin to draw its influences in a bigger way than ever before from different cultures and countries.
Whilst coloured stones fell very much from favour during the Grand period, clear diamonds remained a popular choice and contrasted to better offset their black counterparts brilliantly. Diamonds were too worn by the Queen herself along with pearls to commemorate her 50 years occupying the British throne in 1887, which resulted in a rise in popularity of pearl inlaid jewellery throughout Britain and beyond, and began to once again change the fashion of the jewellery being made.