The Victorian Era is named after Queen Victoria who ruled England from 1837-1901. The Victorian period in jewelry, named after her, covers from around 1837-1890, concurrent to her reign. The jewelry designs were influenced by historical, cultural and technological changes arising from the Industrial Revolution in Britain. The middle class that emerged during the 19th century here desired elaborate, inexpensive, fashionable jewelry as worn by the Queen herself. The Victorian era is divided into three periods: the Romantic Period from 1837-1861, the Grand Period from 1861-1880, and the Aesthetic Period from 1880-1901.
The Romantic Period reflected the youth, courtship, marriage and coronation of the young Queen Victoria. She was pretty, well respected and emulated by her subjects. Everything she wore became a fashion trend. The jewelry of the time became known as Victorian Jewelry. The Queen was well known to wear multiple rings and Prince Albert had presented Victoria with the first ever 'Victorian engagement ring' designed as a serpent with its tail in its mouth with an emerald-set head, with the snake symbolising eternal love and the emerald being Victoria's birthstone. The Queen's wedding dress was adorned with a sapphire and diamond brooch, presented to her by Albert. As a wedding gift to Prince Albert, Victoria presented two garters that he wore, one over his shoulder and the diamond garter on his left knee. The queen gave each of her bridesmaids a brooch shaped like a bird with a turquoise encrusted body since peacock-blue was her favourite colour, ruby eyes and diamond incrusted beak, resting on a large pearl.
Jewelry motifs were inspired by Medieval, Renaissance and Gothic periods consisting of bouquets of flowers, branches, leaves, grapes, berries, fruits, serpents, hands, hearts, bows, and birds. Most of the jewelry was hand manufactured, but with the onset of the Industrial Revolution inexpensive methods of manufacture like pinchbeck speeded jewelry cutting, setting and production. Many flower heads seem to quiver with the movements of their wearers, due to a technique called 'en tremblant' whence jewelry with a movable part was mounted on a spring that "trembled" or moved slightly. Roll gold and electroplating allowed jewellers to work thin gold sheets and fine wire into light, puffy jewels to create a look of abundance with the least amount of gold as it was scarce in the market. After 1854, The British Government made 9k, 12k and 15k gold legal in order to compete with international markets. The most popular metals incorporated into the jewels of the era were 18k to 22k gold, tri-colour gold, and silver.
Engagement rings made of diamonds or amethysts set in platinum or gold became popular paired with pearls, rubies, emeralds, or sapphires. In some rings, the multiple gemstones spelt the word "dearest," (i.e., diamond, emerald, amethyst, ruby, emerald, sapphire, and topaz). Other rings hid secret, hinged compartments behind the stones. Simple bands of silver and gold from this period with the word "Mizpah" engraved in them were popularly worn by couples and lovers separated by circumstances or travel.
In 1861, Queen Victoria's mother, The Duchess of Kent passed away, followed later in the year by the demise of Prince Albert. The Queen mourned for two decades, wearing black clothing and instructed the court to do likewise. After a year of official mourning that required black jewelry and clothing, colours such as grey, mauve, or purple were allowed into the wardrobe.
213Known as mourning jewelry many ornaments had solemn, sombre designs, Memorial jewelry was popular during this period that consisted of a memento mori - a style combining of photo with jewelry signifying "remember you shall die" with lockets becoming an important fashion accessory of this style. They contained locks of hair or photographs (daguerreotypes), kept in secret compartments. Victorian lockets were often suspended from "book chain" necklaces and adorned with enamel work, with the chain used as a bookmark sometimes.
Mid Victorian era jewelry features highly creative designs using shells, mosaics and gemstones. Popular gemstones and materials included turquoise, seed pearl, black opal, Gutta Percha, Vulcanite (hardened rubber), French Jet (black glass), brown Bog Oak, Whitby Jet (fossilized coal), black onyx, amethyst, silver (plain or oxidised), deep red garnet, gold, black enamel, crystal, emerald, diamond, ruby, jet ivory, sapphire and tortoise shell. It was gold, however, that dominated the Victorian era.
In the late 1880's hand pierced, ornate, gilded brass cock covers, that protect a watch's balance's wheel and staff, and made in the 1600-1700's, were fashioned into earrings, bracelets and pendants. This was appropriately called "Cock Cover Jewelry". Victorian crescent jewelry remained popular till the beginning of the 20th century.
The 1890's were stimulating, comfortable and ground-breaking times in history. Late Victorian jewelry reflected prosperity. Women got involved in trade and workers enjoyed their leisure, making entertainment a prosperous business. Activities for women like bicycling and golf lead to dramatic wardrobe changes and clothing became lighter.
Popular motifs included butterflies, beetles, houseflies, hunting and sporting motifs, animals, stars, crescents, dragons, hearts and flowers. Symbols of good fortune and sentimentality, horseshoe motif as a good luck charm, revival motifs, nature and Japanese motifs, became popular adorning chains, rings, bracelets, pendants, brooches, pins, earrings, hatpins and watches as jewelry became simple, small, bright and more feminine inspired by Etruscan, Egyptian, Darwin's theory and botanical discoveries.
The earliest solitaire diamond rings, set in gold or silver were seen in 1895. Victorian stomachers, large brooches worn on the midriff, became a favourite for eveningwear. To keep the hands free, long chains held coin purses, watches and lorgnettes. Whistle bracelets were fashioned for ladies who took long rides alone as they could be heard within a radius of 2 miles, when used. The easy manufacture of rings and curb-link bracelets, with dangling hearts and keys thrived during this time. Queen Victoria's daughter-in-law, Alexandra popularised the choker style necklaces accentuating the neck throughout Europe and America with pearls her favourite gemstone.
To celebrate the 60th anniversary of Queen Victoria's reign, the public bought pieces of silver Jubilee jewelry consisting of inexpensive brooches and other objects decorated with a "V" and the dates 1837-1897. Expensive Jubilee pieces consisted of gold or precious gems.
Queen Victoria passed away on January 22, 1901 yet her legacy lives on through the Victorian jewelry created during her 64 year reign. Her son, King Edward VII ascended the throne upon her death and reigned until his death in 1910.