The Victorian era ushered in a unique period in history. Diverse jewelry remains a hallmark of this era, and this jewelry got its name from Queen Victoria. She became the Queen of England on June 20, 1837, and her reign ended upon her death on January 21, 1901. During Queen Victoria’s time, many fashion and jewelry styles appeared on the scene, with many also going the way of other fashions and disappearing from the public eye.
The Story of Queen Victoria
Queen Victoria lost her father and grandfather shortly after her birth. Her mother and John Conroy, her comptroller, raised her. Before she turned 18, she lost her three uncles, which allowed her to assume the throne at the age of 18. The people of England knew her as someone with a strong moral compass.
In 1840, Queen Victoria married Prince Albert, her first cousin from Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, and their match was one people hope to have today. He was the love of her life, and they had eight children together. Sadly, Albert lost his life in 1861, and his death sent Queen Victoria into an extended period of mourning. She opted to wear black for the rest of her life to commemorate her lost love.
The public’s perception of the Queen changed during her mourning period. At the same time, the country was undergoing a period of great prosperity and transformation. These events influenced fashion and jewelry throughout her reign.
Historians have divided her reign into distinct periods to mark the changes seen throughout her rule. The Romantic period lasted from 1837 to 1860 during her time with Prince Albert. The Grand period took place between 1860 and 1880 and was distinguished by the loss of her beloved husband and her mother. The Aesthetic or late Victorian period began in 1880 and lasted until her death, which ushered in the Belle Epoque.
Queen Victoria wore her heart on her sleeve, literally. Her fashion and her jewelry gave others insight into her emotions. The jewelry seen throughout her reign reflected how she was feeling.
The Romantic Period
Victorian jewelry during the Romantic period reflected the love felt between Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. He gifted the reigning monarch with a serpent ring. A jeweler made the eyes of the serpent from emeralds, Queen Victoria’s birthstone. People saw this serpent as a symbol of eternity and it quickly became popular with individuals across the country. The serpent’s tail was in its mouth to complete a circle that was unbroken, much like their love. Men and women began purchasing jewelry with a sentimental feel and pieces that were laden with symbols. Today, these pieces remain collectible and desired the world over.
Pieces from this period are easily identifiable. They contain flowers, birds, hearts, and bows, and are typically ornate and feminine. Look for pieces with coral, turquoise, and seed pearls as adornments. Many people wore DEAREST and REGARD rings during this period in history, with a unique stone representing each letter in the word. These jewels included rubies, diamonds, emeralds, amethyst and garnets.
In many cases, the designer would create a simple ring and place the stones in a line across the shank. However, this served as only one of several styles seen during the period. Some rings came in a flower shape, and the stones formed the petals of the flowers. Another popular choice featured two hands holding a stone or flower.
Many rings during this period consisted of ivory and coral, and other commonly seen pieces included gold styles with precious and semiprecious stones. Although these rings maintained popularity in other periods of history, they remain closely associated with the Romantic period of the Victorian era. Other pieces popular during this period included cameos, enamel pieces, and lockets containing a loved one’s lock of hair.
The Industrial Revolution occurred around the same time as the early Victorian period. This allowed jewelry to become more affordable for the masses. This revolution also helped grow the middle class, which was soon clamoring for jewelry.
Women would often adorn every part of the body with jewelry, with many pieces coming in low-karat gold or gold plate. Look for pieces containing fine gold wire, as this was often used to add to the piece’s design. This information becomes of great help when searching for pieces from this period in history.
The Grand Period
Following the death of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria changed not only the way she dressed but also the jewelry she wore. The pieces she donned at this time served as an outward symbol of her deep sorrow at his loss. Mourning jewelry became very popular at this time, although it first appeared during the Georgian period. However, people can easily distinguish between mourning jewelry from the Georgian period and those from the Victorian era.
Mourning jewelry seen during the Georgian period focused on the macabre. In contrast, mourning pieces originating in the Victorian era served as romantic pieces. People wore them to honor the memory of their loved ones who passed.
Most jewelry of this time was made using black materials, as black served as a universal sign of grief. Popular jewelry colors included gutta percha, onyx, and jet. However, some people opted for black enamel and dark red garnets on their jewelry pieces. At this time, intricate hair jewelry came into fashion. Some people would take strands from different family members and have them woven into a floral pattern.
In 1867, the South African diamond mine opened, and this led to a change in the way Grand period jewelry looked. Diamonds became more commonplace in these pieces. In addition, silver was found in Nevada in 1860, which led to silver appearing in more jewelry pieces. Nevertheless, low-karat gold remained the most popular material.
Revival jewelry saw a resurgence in popularity during the Grand period. People began wearing Roman, Etruscan, and Egyptian styles, following well-known excavations in various parts of the world. Micro-mosaic pieces made with tiny pieces of glass or tessera were commonly seen during this period in history as well.
The Aesthetic Period
Queen Victoria and her constituents were ready to look to the future by the 1880s. She was coming to terms with the loss of Prince Albert, and this was seen in the fashions of the time. Furthermore, industry saw a major shift. The focus moved from manufacturing to more interest in handmade items. People often referred to this as the late Victorian period. Art was created for art’s sake and this led to the Arts and Crafts movement from the 1880s to the 1920s.
A major change was seen in jewelry at this time. In fact, pieces were in direct contrast to those that came before them. Mourning jewelry was no longer popular, and women wouldn’t be seen in a heavy brooch or large necklace. They started wearing small, delicate pieces. However, they did layer them and would often wear small scatter pins. During the day, they would often leave their jewelry at home. However, it would be seen when they would go out for an evening on the town.
It was during this period that women started to attend sporting events, although they were not permitted to participate. As a result of this interest in sports, they began choosing accessories with athletic motifs. While they replaced their REGARD or DEAREST rings with Mizpah pieces, they held onto their heart pendants and lockets. Mizpah is Hebrew for “the Lord watches over me,” and people would exchange these pieces as a symbol of their close bond.
Diamonds became fashionable during the Aesthetic period of Queen Victoria’s reign, and many women adorned themselves with semiprecious gems. Gemstones, at that time, were treasured for their beauty rather than their value, and this ideology would be seen in Art Nouveau jewelry.
Brits looked to Queen Victoria when it came to fashion trends and followed other monarchs as well. For instance, Alexandra, Queen Victoria’s daughter-in-law, chose to wear a dog collar necklace to hide a scar. Referred to as a collier de chien, this necklace was made up of several strands of pearls.
In 1886, Tiffany & Co. introduced the six-prong diamond setting, which led to a run for solitaire rings, and jewelers started using platinum in their pieces.
Women held a strong influence over jewelry trends. They began taking jobs and fighting for their independence. They wanted their jewelry to be comfortable while serving multiple purposes. The Gibson Girls became famous in American and many young women wanted to emulate their lifestyle, while starlets started being seen as trendsetters.
International expositions brought the world together, and people took notice of jewelry pieces from India and North Africa. They caught the eye of those who loved Revival jewelry. People found they had more choices when it came to accessories for their bodies.
Victorian jewelry pieces remain popular today with many people. If you need a unique gift for a loved one, don’t overlook this option. You may find an item they will love and treasure for years to come before passing it down through the generations.
About The Museum of Jewelry:
The Museum of Jewelry offers handcrafted pieces created by master artisans from historical or history-inspired designs. They are shaped, detailed, and embellished using the same age-old techniques as goldsmiths and lapidaries through the ages. Every stone and setting is unique, and every piece comes with its own formations and variations.