Several key factors influenced Victorian period jewelry. Prominently, those factors include Queen Victoria’s reign, alongside fashion and hair trends of the time.
1840-1860: Victoria & Albert
Queen Victoria was crowned in 1838 and went on to marry Prince Albert – they were very much in love. Albert was known to be sentimental, and he gave Victoria an engagement ring in the form of a serpent (an ancient symbol of eternal love).
For their sixth anniversary, he presented her with a hair wreath made from porcelain and enameled gold, which he designed himself. The design consisted of orange blossoms and four enameled oranges each representing one of their children.
In Victorian times you would find:
- Ears were covered with bonnets during the day and with curls and buns during the evening. Since ears remained covered, jewelry was often limited to hair ornaments, brooches, and bracelets with the latter being the most popular.
- Women took advantage of this by wearing upwards of five bracelets at a time.
- During this time a school in Rome was opened by Pope Leo XII to study cameo engraving. Stone cameos were cut from onyx, agate, sardonyx, carnelian, coral, lava and jet.
- Popular shell cameos were cut from Black Helmet and pink and white Queen’s Conch shells, which were abundant in Italy. After a short period, Italian cameo shops popped up in England, France, and America.
- Amethyst was a popular stone. Much like today, the stone was plentiful and affordable. It was believed to possess the power to protect the wearer and bring good luck.
- Victorians also loved turquoise. It was the favorite amongst young girls, considered beautiful and elegant to wear (diamonds were considered too matronly) the preferred color was sky blue, which is usually associated with Persian material.
1861-1887: Victoria in Mourning
In England 1861, Queen Victoria’s mother passed away and later that year her beloved Prince Albert also died which left her grief-stricken. Victoria’s mourning lasted years and was reflected in the jewelry trends of that period.
In 1863 her son, King Edward married Princess Alexandra of Denmark. Princess Alexandra was young and attractive and often wore a “dog-collar” style necklace that contained seven strands worn snugly around her neck. It became so popular that soon all the young English women were wearing them.
In 1877 Victoria was proclaimed as the “Empress of India”. In 1887, the English celebrated their “Jubilee Year” because Victoria had reigned for 50 consecutive years, and in celebration of Victoria’s reign, many items had “Jubilee” added to them, including pins, brooches, and rings.
- With loved ones off to war, the lockets and medallion keepsakes became an important fashion accessory typically hung from black ribbon and worn with a low- neck dress.
- Hairstyles became less complicated often pulled back allowing earrings to increase in popularity.
- The historical findings of archeological digs are reflected in the Egyptian, Etruscan, Greek and Roman jewelry motifs.
- One of the most familiar design is Castellani, inspired by the Etruscan art of granulation seen throughout 1862- 1887.
- The most popular stones and materials consisted of diamonds, opals, garnets, jet, plique-a-jour and tortoiseshell and both Roman and Venetian mosaics.
- Pyrope garnets were popular during 1860-1889, nicknamed “Bohemian” garnets, they were prized for their deep rich color and transparency.
The Victorian Period was filled with moments of mourning and celebration- both of which influenced the style of the time. In addition, advances in machinery and historical findings shaped the jeweler’s imagination and creations. Next week we’ll examine key aspects of the Edwardian Period, and preview some of the beautiful pieces from that time.