Georgian jewelry was balanced, symmetrical, regal and elegant. Closed settings covered the backs of stones and most pieces were routinely remounted to keep abreast of current fashions.


Click Here

Chatelaine's Antiques & Appraisals Magazine > Jewelry > Jewelry History > Victorian Jewelry


Jewelry at Auction - glossary of terms & catalog words

Cleaning Pearls

Condition statements used for watches

Cuff Link Collectors:
The New Craze

Buying Antique Native American Jewelry

Mourning Ring for Charles?




Jewelry History - Victorian Jewelry


 Victorian Jewelry 1837-1901

 The 64-year reign of Queen Victoria saw the telegraph, the telephone, and the massacre of General Custer at the Little Big Horn. It witnessed the unification of Italy under Garibaldi and the temporary collapse of Lincoln's Union during the American Civil War. The Czar of Russia abolishes serfdom, which doesn't prevent his ruling house and descendents from being wiped out by the Bolsheviks fifty-five years later. Germany becomes unified, leading to the mayhem of WWI in less than two generations. Edison introduces the light bulb, the Lumiere brothers usher in the Cinema, and Marconi makes the world a little smaller with his wireless cable. 

The secrets of the atom are observed by scientists and the secrets of the mind are penetrated by Freud. Just in time to relieve all this burgeoning pressure, Felix Hoffmann invents the aspirin. 
Early Victorian 1837-1860 
The Early Victorian period is also referred to as the Romantic Period, and with good reason. The new queen was young, vibrant, full of life and madly in love with her consort, Albert. Victoria adored jewelry and wore lots of it. Naturally the court and the nation mirrored their queen's taste. Gold in every form, sometimes set with enamel and gemstones, was the rage. Fashionably bold cabochons and matching suites of four or more pieces of jewelry enjoyed popularity. For evening wear gold and jewels reigned, but during the day less expensive ivory, tortoise shell, seed pearl, and coral were the appropriate choices. Earrings were long and dangling and bracelets were either flexible or rigid, and often worn in pairs. The belt buckle-style bracelet, in particular, had a great vogue. Necklaces were worn short, with a stone in the center that could be detached and displayed separately as either a brooch or a pendant. 

The Victorians had romantic notions about the natural world, no doubt spurred by John Ruskin's philosophical ideals of beauty and God. Because of it, they adored flora and fauna images depicted in their jewelry. Victoria herself loved the serpent motif, seeing it as a symbol of fidelity and love. Jewelry designs of this period often expressed sentiment. Rings, bracelets, and lockets often contained a link of a loved one's hair. Pictures and engraved messages personalized jewelry design. 

Middle Victorian Period 1860-1885 
This is the Grand Period. Lush, ornate, opulent and luxurious, this period typified the look that most of us today imagine when we visualize the Victorian era. The Victorians belonged to a conquering, colonizing nation and were vastly satisfied with themselves despite the internal social conflicts fermenting under their eyes. Jewelry became bolder and less ornate, reflecting the rising image of the assertive and independent woman fighting for her rights and earning her own pay. The technique of granulating gems with grains of gold, once done by the ancient Etruscans, became extremely popular and revived interest in the Etruscan period. Nor was this a singular phenomenon. The great archeological discoveries of the era also spurred new and avid interest in the Ancient Greek, Roman, Egyptian and Renaissance cultures, which in turn greatly influenced the ancient and classical motifs reflected in the jewelry designs.

Unfortunately, this time also saw the death of Alfred, and Queen Victoria's subsequent retirement into an extraordinary term of grief. The queen exiled herself to permanent mourning, wearing black at all times. The court followed her lead, then society in general. Women suddenly discovered that they looked perfectly splendid in black. Jet and black onyx became extremely fashionable, and not just for mourning. The darker nature of the Victorians, mirrored so well in the brooding romances of the Brontė Sisters, the perverse fantasies of Lewis Carroll, and the twisted schizophrenia of Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll, emerged during this period. 

Late Victorian Period 1885-1901 
This is known as the Aesthetic Period, possibly because the country was considering more than its own smug and satisfied reflection in the mirror. After decades of being bludgeoned by Charles Dickens about society's evils and ills, the British were finally paying attention. Awareness of social injustice, hideous labor conditions and poverty raised national consciousness and sensitivity to the plight of others. Conspicuous consumption in the form of elaborate and ornate jewelry fell out of favor. Women wore less jewelry, and smaller versions of it. Stud earrings were invented. Bar pins with a small motif in the center were considered tasteful.

However, the grandiose impulse didn't entirely die out. After the discovery of a diamond mine in South Africa in 1867, diamonds became plentiful and less expensive. Their popularity hit the heights. Diamonds were paired with colorless gems like opals, moonstones, and the ever-beloved pearl. Dog collar necklaces were worn high on the throat, composed of several rows of pearls held together with vertical bars of diamonds or other pearls, while separate ropes of pearls hung under them.

Meanwhile, the country was undergoing spectacular advances in technology, communication, and penetrating scholarship. While these were embraced joyfully in the name of progress, their influence was galloping apace and extracting a deep psychological toll on the people. In a country rife with churches and denominations, the English found their belief in God shaken by the politics of Karl Marx, the biology of Charles Darwin, and the ruminations of Thomas Carlyle. Also, let us not forget the dehumanizing effects of the Industrial Revolution on the common man. A reactionary romanticism lashed back. In jewelry, that meant a rejection of the machine-made over the gifts of nature. The results were softer forms, spontaneous lines, and gentle colors like mauves, yellows and tender greens. 

Related Stories:
Georgian, Edwardian design, Art Nouveau, Art Deco design, Retro design, The Fifties, The Sixties, The Seventies


Art Nouveau Jewelry

Art Nouveau Jewelry
Buy This Art Print At

Jewelry & Gems: The Buying Guide, 4th Edition:
How to Buy Diamonds, Pearls, Colored Gemstones, Gold & Jewelry with Confidence and Knowledge

by Antoinette Matlins, Antonio Bonanno

Object ID Checklist Discussions between the Getty Information Institute and leading national and international umbrella agencies and government bodies in 1993 established that there was a consensus on the need to collectively address issues relating to documentation practices and the implementation of international standards.

by Fred Ward

The Pearl Book, 2nd Edition:
The Definitive Buying Guide to How to Select, Buy, Care for & Enjoy Pearls
by Antoinette Matlins

Gem & Jewelry Pocket Guide:
A Traveler's Guide to Buying Diamonds, Colored Gems, Pearls, Gold and Platinum Jewelry

by Renee Newman