As we continue to meander down the chronological lane from one jewelry era to another, today we’re making a pit stop at the Victorian Era. It’s simple and yet so complex. Simple, in that we owe much of the jewelry fashion trends of the period to one woman (more on that in a few). And complex in that there were LOTS of trends within the period. Lots. We’ll cover few of them here.
Victorian Era Jewels
We’ve talked about her before when we’ve had a quick highlight of each era and when we spoke of the hidden messages in Victorian jewelry. And we also discussed mourning jewelry and how she truly made it very popular (although it was being produced long before her time). We’ve even written a post solely dedicated to a single piece of her jewelry. Who is this woman? Queen Victoria, of course.
Not only was she, up until recently, the longest reigning British Monarch of all time (Queen Elizabeth just took over the title), but that woman loved jewelry. She really loved jewelry. Loved it like it was her job. It’s no surprise then that she was lavished with jewels by Albert (not to mention she was QUEEN, so there’s a little bit of jewelry that goes with the job), influenced jewelry designs and she often gave it as gifts (oh to be one of her friends back in the day). One might say that her passions and love for fine jewels fueled an entire trade in the UK throughout her life. And since she lived to a very ripe old age of 82. She had plenty of time to collect, design, fuel and gift.
The Romantic Period
Let’s walk through how the jewelry of the time progressed during her 82 years. She took the throne in 1837 and was married in 1840 to Albert. This was also a time called the Romantic Period (wow – wonder how they came up with that one) and Albert gifted Victoria with a snake ring embellished with an emerald (her birthstone) eye. Snakes weren’t considered the despicable creatures we think of in today’s time. Instead, it symbolized infinity. And birthstones as engagement rings were quite common. One only has to close their eyes and imagine how many newly betrothed young ladies ended up with snake rings on their ring finger in the years thereafter.
But it wasn’t as if the Georgian period just disappeared the minute the Queen took the throne. Many of the fads of the day blended into the Victorian era and/or were tweaked to reflect the fashions as they changed. The popularity of ferronieres, headpieces of chain or ribbon with a center jewel worn on the forehead, spanned from one period to the next. Layering many pieces of jewelry on at one time also remained popular (at least in the evenings) for many decades to come.
Let’s also remember this was the time of the Industrial Revolution. That opened up all kinds of manufacturing possibilities (mass production, for one), which also made the purchase of “fine” jewelry within reach of the commoners and not just for royalty and the wealthy any longer. But gold was scarce (the California gold rush had yet to take place), so jewelers were known to make much show our of very little – all which was still a handcrafted.
A Time of Mourning
It has been said that Queen Victoria should be credited with popularizing the predecessors to the charm bracelet and charm necklaces that we know today (I’m sure Pandora says thanks). She had a series of charms designed and produced to give as gifts to her extended family and circle of friends every New Year. But alas the happier days weren’t to last. Victoria’s beloved Albert died with the Queen and several of their children at his side. The country and much of the modern world, most notably the Queen herself, was cast into mourning. Again, the Queen’s mood dictated the style of the time. She mourned her husband until her last days and for decades, the jewelry of the time reflected her grief. Mourning rings, brooches and pendants became de rigueur. Many folks of the time would order the pieces prior to their demise, as a part of their estate planning. These pieces had been stylish prior to Albert’s death, but with his departure, they became almost faddish.
Late Victorian Jewelry
As the era came to a close, the country and Victorian were growing weary of the darkness of mourning and were looking for a return to happier times. Using motifs like jeweled animals, insects flower, and stars, crescents and all things celestial (the Victorians were also very taken with all things mystical and that was reflected in their jewelry), jewelry of the day projected good fortune and sentimentality, if not a bit of superstition. The growing middle class was now clamoring for jewels and demand was high. To meet it, semi-precious stones were often used instead of the traditional but more expensive rubies, emeralds, sapphires (the Queen herself had a penchant for opals, it’s said). And in 1867 the diamond mines of South Africa were discovered, making diamond jewelry more attainable for those growing out of the lower classes and reaching for wealth. With the discovery of silver mines in the 1870’s we began to see sliver-topped gold jewelry, often encrusted with those same semi-precious gems or diamonds. The cluster ring is a great example of such. Lots of sparkle for not as much money as a few decades previous.
And finally, convertible jewelry took fashion. It’s a tiara. No. It’s a necklace. No. It’s a brooch. We’d seen such in the Georgian era, but fads come, go and come back again and convertible pieces, offering the owner numerous options for wear took the stage once more.
Next week we’ll cover one of our favorite periods – Art Deco. Until then, if you’d like to do some more reading on the Victorian era, we suggest Jewellery in the Age of Queen Victoria: A Mirror to the World (although, maybe used and in paperback, as it can be a bit pricey) or Victorian Jewelry.