written by JC Blackburn
The reign of Queen Victoria, from 1837 to 1901, sparked a significant shift in the world of jewelry design and fashion. Major shifts in the social fabric as well as technological advances would impact what women wore to adorn and express themselves while alluding to their social status.
There were 3 sub eras within the Victorian age, The Romantic period (1837-1861), The Grand period (1861- 1885) and The Aesthetic period (1885-1901).
While each era had it’s own style, there was also a common thread among most Victorian jewelry. Delicately hammered, thin gold metalwork, Etruscan style bead work, light, lacey filigree in a twisted rope style, tassels, enamel, cameos and hand engraving are just a few of the elements consistent throughout the era. Additionally, you can expect to see large, bold stones used in a variety of mineral elements. Amethyst, diamond, Carnelian, Agate, Bloodstone, Jet, amber, quartz, emerald, ruby, sapphire and many others were frequently used.
The Romantic Period was at the beginning of Queen Victoria’s reign (1837 to 1861). A young, vibrant queen with her handsome husband, Prince Albert were a worldwide sensation. The first ruling monarch family to live at the majestic Buckingham palace, all eyes were on them. Just about every piece of jewelry that the Queen wore in public was remade in 18 to 22k gold and natural gemstones by astute jewelers of the day.
A common theme in Victorian jewelry during the Romantic period was young love. It reflected the romance between Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Jewelers were busy crafting designs with shapes like hearts, love knots, garters, buckles, vines, hands and eyes. When Prince Albert gave Queen Victoria a snake ring, symbolizing eternal love, as an engagement ring, snakes became hugely popular in jewelry pieces.
Because the Industrial Revolution was in full swing, mass produced, lower priced versions of the queens’ designs were also cranked out by the newly sprung jewelry factories in materials like rolled gold (razor thin gold sheets soldered to base metal), electroplate, pinchbeck (83% copper, 17% Zinc), aluminum and steel. This made it possible women of all social classes to enjoy wearing the fashionable jewelry of the day.
The advent of photography in 1826 and ensuing media boom in the mid 1800’s allowed people from all corners of the globe and walks of life to read magazines and newspapers which further promoted the queens fashion trends in both clothing and jewelry.
The Grand Period (1861-1885) was a time of significant change for women and the jewelry of the period reflected that transition. Large, bold designs were the order of the day. With women making strives in business, politics, education and gaining the right to vote, small and delicate was out and bold was in. Women wanted to make a statement socially, professionally and in fashion.
When the royal couple purchased a home in the Highlands of Scotland, they were so impressed with locally made Scottish jewelry that they started building a collection of Scottish pieces and in turn, made them popular. The collection included flexible bracelets, enameled brooches and colorful pendants with earthy-looking stones like moss agate, bloodstone, carnelian and others that were found in the nearby Highlands.