A Brief History of Estate Jewelry
Estate jewelry is a term applied to antique and period jewelry from a former design era and/or jewelry that has been previously used or owned by another individual.  This jewelry tends to appeal to people with an eye for quality workmanship who look to estate jewelry for a degree of technical expertise now available only to the higher-end jewelry buyer.  Estate jewelry can be a source for stones that are rare and hard to find.  Kashmir sapphires, for example, are, essentially, mined out at the original source locality, and the best way to obtain this rarest of the rare is from late Victorian jewelry.   The Kashmir sapphire mine was a single locality discovered during the 1880s and quickly mined out within a decade of its discovery.  If you have ever looked into the magical depths of a fine blue sapphire of Kashmir origin, you understand the thrill of discovering this quality of sapphire in an older piece of jewelry.  Estate jewelry comprises several different periods, and it is important to realize that the periods detailed below are fluid and tend to overlap.    

Georgian Period (1714-1830)
This period encompassed the reigns of George I-IV of England.  Early Georgian jewelry fashion featured heavily scrolled rococo mounts.  Much early Georgian fashion called for the use of diamonds almost to the exclusion of other stones, and popular themes included baskets of flowers, sprays of naturalistic foliage and/or flowers and feathery plumes.  Diamonds were generally rose cut (three roughly triangular facets on top and a flat base with a round outline).  In this period of discovery and scientific research, paste (glass with a high lead content), marcasite, rock crystal, and cut steel quickly gained favor as cheap substitutes, but were set in quality handmade mountings equal to those used for precious gemstones.  Around 1750, colored stones came back into vogue and popular stones included garnets, turquoise, amethyst, and natural pearl.  The late 1790s through the Victorian period found hardstone and shell cameos, as well as intaglios, popular for day wear, along with memorial-inspired jewelry.  All jewelry produced during the Georgian period was hand fabricated.    
The Victorian period (1835-1901)
This period follows the ascension of Victoria Regina to the British
Crown up until her death at the turn of the 20th century, a remarkable span for one monarch.  This era generally is divided into three distinct sub-periods:
The Romantic Period (1837-1860)
The Grand Period (1860-1885)      
The Aesthetic Period (1885-1901)
Jewelry can be dated to these periods with some certainty, as there are strong design and manufacturing differences as a result of innovations in both.  This was due to the rise in new materials and production techniques.
The onset of the Industrial Revolution created new ways to mass-produce jewelry for an emerging middle class of people with discretionary income to spend.  
The Art Nouveau Period (1885-1915)
This was a brief highly creative era where the jewelry designer was deemed artist and design was of importance over the intrinsic value of the materials used.  The movement is characterized by sinuous free-flowing lines depicting long haired women and Japanese inspired landscaped scenes.  Natural themes included dragonflies, snakes, poppies, irises and orchids, often depicted with phenomenal gemstones such as opals and moonstones.  Noted jewelry artists of the time included Renee Lalique, Henri Vever, Louis Aucoc and Lucien Gaillard among others. 
The Edwardian Period (1901-1910)
Named after King Edward VII of England, elegant lacy designs encrusted with diamonds in platinum are the hallmarks of the Edwardian era.  Intricate stars, bows and ribbons were created in platinum almost exclusively due to the strength of the metal and its ability to be fabricated into very delicate designs.  The house of Cartier was instrumental in making this look popular.  Paulding Farnham of Tiffany and Company was also an important jewelry designer of the time.  
The Art Deco Period (1920-1940)
Bold geometric form is the dominant design theme during this period.  In the early 1920s, the Art Deco style involved a good deal of color, along with diamonds as accents; however, with the beginning of the 1930s,  the look became more black and white.  Platinum was still the predominant metal, a holdover from the Edwardian era.  Gemstone cuts were more varied than in years past due to newer lapidary techniques.  Larger jewelry houses making innovative use of these styles included Chaumet, Mauboussin, La Cloche, Boucheron, Cartier and Van Cleef and Arpels. 
The Retro or Art Modern Period (1941-1955)
Gold metal came back into favor during this period, as platinum demand soared for military use in World War II.  Large bold ribbons and bows – set with large colored stones and sometimes trimmed with smaller colored stones – were popular during the late 1940s.  Design in the 1950s concentrated on gemstones being held with as little metal as possible, providing a rich look for the formal wear common at that time.   Van Cleef and Arpels was a signature jewelry house of this period, popularizing the ballerina brooch and zipper necklace styles prevalent at the time.
During the 1960s and 1970s, jewelry either was very traditional or very abstract and artsy.  Andrew Grima of London promoted a new sort of naturalistic look using small mineral specimens incorporated into bold necklaces.  Gold nugget jewelry incorporated natural or cast gold nuggets and was used for a bold yellow gold look.  Yellow gold was the metal of choice, reflecting new respect for the metal, as the U.S. departed the use of the Gold Standard as a currency base.   
 In the 1980s and 1990s,  the use of colored stones in jewelry predominated.  Unusual stones, such as tsavorite garnets or tanzanite, became better known and accepted for use in fine jewelry.  Rainbow suites of a single species of jewelry, such as sapphire or garnet, or a combination of less expensive stones creating a rainbow effect, were often seen in straight-line bracelets and necklaces.  The Munsteiner – or fantasy cut – became very popular and initiated a creative Renaissance among lapidaries, which continues until today.

All Images by Ernst Faerber.
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