Few periods of history embody as much importance as the Victorian Era, a time that witnessed and proposed exceedingly important and lasting exploration, expansion, and scientific invention. Without a doubt, one of the most important and everlasting products of the Victorian Period was jewelry that spoke to the cultural advances and sophistication of this romantic period. From engagement rings to bracelets to Victorian earrings history, the Victorian era showcased a number of unique jewelry styles and designs that are distinct to this period. At M.S. Rau, we offer a number of pieces of Victorian antique jewelry for sale. Whether you purchase a ring or bracelet, it’s important to know how to store fine jewelry to keep it in great condition. Read on to learn more about Victorian-era characteristics and its jewelry!
First, a little history. The Victorian era encompasses the 63-year reign (1837-1901) of Queen Victoria, Queen of The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. This vast period embodied a diverse age of progressive scientific advances, exploration, geographical expansion, and object invention. It was a time of profound change not only in London and its empire, but all abroad in terms of its influence in nearly every sphere: political, social, and cultural. Indeed, the Victorian Era is characterized by such a long period of peace that history refers to this period as the Pax Britannica.
Undoubtedly, Great Britain was considered the world's most powerful nation during Victorian times. By the 18th century, during Queen Victoria’s reign, Britain had managed to build what many consider to be one of the vastest modern empires that the world had ever seen. In fact, this expansion was so unprecedented that Queen Victoria adopted the additional title of Empress of India, due to England's massive geographical reach.
While the Empire was far-reaching, the Industrial Revolution began in the 1830s and spread throughout continental Europe, reaching its height during the Victorian era. Burgeoning at the beginning of Victoria's reign, the revolution brought with it entirely new markets, an enormous consumer boom, and greater prosperity throughout the nation. New railways were constructed for ease of travel, and the locomotive steam engine was spurring industrial might - factories were opening up at an unprecedented speed.
During these Victorian times, other factors that pushed the United Kingdom to the forefront of the world's stage included the unquestionable supremacy of the Royal Navy, a significant life expectancy increase, and daily life that was now marked by a new onset ideal of leisurely activities.
Jewelry During the Victorian Age
Victorian jewelry style can be divided into three distinct categories. The particular characteristics in jewelry from these periods help classify a work as Victorian and approximate a circa date.
Romantic Period (1837-1860)
Victorian age jewelry from this period was crafted while the Queen's husband, Prince Albert, was still alive. Often, these pieces mirrored the affection between the Queen and King. Pieces in Victorian society include flower motifs, metalwork folded into depictions of foliage, and en Tremblant brooches.
Did you know “En Tremblant” brooches are designed and crafted to move while worn?They are one of the antique brooch pins you’ll want to take a look at.
Craftsmen in Victorian England also utilized and improved upon the repoussé technique, a practice that involved metalworking and hammering malleable metal into intricate designs and patterns to achieve a delicate look that would become a key indicator of Victorian style jewelry.
The precious stone from this period was often cut in the rose cut, old mine cut, or cabochon. Other popular pieces include cameo and intaglio surrounded by small types of white diamonds or seed pearls, and jewelry pieces featuring large gold ornaments intricately decorated with delicate enamel work.
Another popular trend that emerged during the Victorian era was acrostic jewelry. Men courting their intended would use acrostic jewelry to send secret messages that family members and chaperones could not decipher. In all, the prevalent use of gold was one that dominated Victorian jewelry. In 1840, the Industrial Revolution allowed advances to electroplate and stamp gold pieces - allowing not only the material to be used more economically but reducing prices to desiring customers and connoisseurs. While gold was dominant, sterling silver was also prominent among Victorian jewelry pieces with some of the most famous gemstones, such as the diamond.
High Victorian Period (1860-1885)
The best black jewelry pieces were crafted from jet, a form of fossilized coal. This material became so popular and desirable that tourists would travel to Whitby, the source of this material, and take home a piece as a souvenir. Black onyx and enamel were also prolific materials used for jewelry during this period.
In addition to the prevalence of black-colored jewelry items, there was a renewed interest in antiquity. Looking towards the past, bench jewelers took inspiration from the Etruscan, Egyptian, and Classical periods and integrated their key motifs into their jewelry designs.
Late Victorian Period (1885-1901)
While each period displayed varying motifs, utilization of different metals, gemstones, and fabrication techniques, some elements endured and were adopted, and some were transformed. Some of our most coveted pieces -- from estate jewelry to antique rings come from this era.
- Colored Gemstones
- Elaborate Metal Work and Detailing
- Colored Enameling
- Seed Pearls
- Dark Metals
Why was a colored gemstone so prevalent at this time? Increasing global trade meant introducing a new wealth of colored gemstones and jewels that weren't readily available before: topaz, garnet, emerald, rubies, sapphires & turquoise.
Reflective of this great period of change, authentic Victorian jewelry and jewelry care are exceedingly important not only for the history of jewelry design but as a display and documentation of cultural developments. In today's jewelry market, there exists a keen eye on period jewelry pieces as they remain all the more rare and difficult to acquire. Undeniably, it is those Victorian pieces that display remarkable speech to a heavily-colored palette, detailed metalwork, and a signature motif that are particularly exciting. And the influence of Victorian jewelry is also prevalent in other eras, such as retro jewelry, and art nouveau jewelry, and other fine antiques.