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Victorian Jewelry (1840 - 1890)

The Victorian period roughly spans from 1840 - 1890 and, of course, is named after the British ruler Queen Victoria. Her influence, much like that of Princess Diana in recent years, spawned a vast array of styles in fashion and personal adornment. The nuances of fashion and jewelry sway greatly depending on the trend setters, as the fashionista of today.

Victorian jewelry is usually divided into three stylistic periods: the Romantic Period, the Grand Period and the Late or Aesthetic Period. Although considered to be one broad era of jewelry history, in actuality the Victorian period embodies a considerable range of styles, forms and utilized a vast array of materials. Yet looking closely, the inevitable ties to what has come before, to revivals, and to inspirations rooted in the past is clear. However, innovation is ever present in all the eras of the history of design.

In addition, the phrase “Victorian Jewelry” has come to encompass jewelry styles of other countries such as the United States and France. To be precise, it actually refers to only jewelry of British origin. Modern convention however gives us leave to have that designation apply to any antique jewelry produced during that period of time, not matter the country of origin.

The Romantic Period

As a holdover from the end of the Georgian period, sentiment, meaning, symbolism and femininity reigned supreme. With the marriage of Queen Victoria, all thoughts turned to love and union. Jewelry was far more than a mere pretty bauble. Exchanged between family, friends, lovers and spouses, often there was an intimate message or meaning imbued with the design and giving of jewels. Forms and motifs such as hearts, anchors (hope), snakes (eternity and everlasting love), and crosses (faith) all alluded to emotions imbued in these keepsakes. Gold was ever popular as were many semi-precious gems. Open backed gemstones were now the rule, not the exception.

The Grand Period

Characterizes by motifs and themes rooted in the past, this era borrowed from many glorious past eras including ancient and Renaissance, Gothic and other patterns, textures, color and jewelry making techniques to create a grand and eloquent statement. Terms such as Greek, Etruscan or Egyptian revival along with that of Roman, Renaissance, Gothic and Celtic revivals were key all were used as a springboard for jewelry design. Many of these earlier periods of design, styles and jewelry were translated and reinterpreted during the Victorian period. Exceptional master jewelers, such as Carlo Guiliano and Castellani, made an extraordinary impact on jewelry history. Taking actual archaeological discoveries of jewelry, they sometimes cast new jewelry in their likeness. Yet, they also brought great creativity and individual interpretation to these relics of the past. Casting, an ancient technique, was once again revived.

Gold is found quite frequently and used during this period along with enamels and colored gems. Classical themes and geometrics dominated the scene. Sometimes heavy and ornate, the jewelry was most often dramatic and large in overall scale.

The Aesthetic Period

The later decades of the 19th century from around 1880 to 1901 were referred to as The Aesthetic Period. This period of time actually witnesses many other jewelry movements as well. Art Nouveau, Beaux Arts, Arts & Crafts, and Jugenstil, and even the beginning of the Edwardian period. It can be confusing as to exactly what era "box" to put an item of jewelry into. Influences and touches of design came from many quarters.

In general, the last phase of the Victorian period is seen as a return to some romanticism with a lightening of the scale of jewelry. Smaller, more delicate, whimsical and less formal were shifts in the production of jewelry. Some motifs prevalent include stars, clusters, crescent moons and insect and reptiles. Diamonds discovered in South Africa naturally led to a great deal of jewelry set with this ever popular gem. Old mine cuts, cushion cuts and rose cut stones were most often used.

The end of the century then divided into tributaries of jewelry design from many countries and influences.

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