The Victorian Era 1837-1901
The coronation of Queen Victoria of England in 1837 ushered in what became known as the Victorian era. Named for her, it was a remarkable time owing not only to the length of her reign, but also to her universal popularity, which lasted until her death in 1901.
The Early or Romantic Period
The early or Romantic Victorian era (1837-1861) was a direct backlash from the previous Neo-classical era in jewelry design. Employing rococo revival scrolls, curlicues and flounces, generally adding bulk and heaviness to the delicate mountings of the turn of the century, the early Victorian look tended to be florid and robust. Stamped gold mountings set with garnets, coral, or shell cameos became popular in England in the 1830s, and cannetille (can-a-tea) work was prevalent until the 1850s. Bracelets were worn several to the wrist and, in the same vein, several rings would be stacked upon a single finger. Hair fashions from approximately 1830-1850 were styled to hide the ears, so earrings are very rare from this period. Seed pearl parures (sets) were still in vogue for weddings, and woven or pictorial hair jewelry, in the form of rings or brooches, was often used for sentimental or mourning jewelry. The popular serpent theme often consisted of a necklace of articulated gold chain accented with turquoise cabochons.
The mid-century witnessed a dramatic change in brooch styles. Before 1850, brooches were composed essentially along a horizontal axis, but after 1850 brooches based on the vertical axis began to take precedence. This period found tassels and fringes to be favored design elements, appearing on brooches, necklaces, and earrings that were once again fashionable with the changing hairstyles. Scottish or Celtic themes prevailed, and Scottish agate and jasper pebble jewelry, as well as engraved Celtic annular or ring brooches, were often used for daytime wear.
The Grand or Mid-Victorian Period
In 1861, Queen Victoria’s consort, Prince Albert, died suddenly and Great Britain was thrown into mourning from which Queen Victoria never fully recovered. The Mid or Grand Victorian period (1861 - 1880) had begun. Setting precedent as usual, Queen Victoria made bereavement fashionable and black clothing and jewelry to match soon followed suit. Black onyx, jet and black enamel were materials in jewelry that could be worn to court or as daytime wear. But even within this funereal atmosphere, color was still coveted by those not in mourning.
A resurgence of interest in Italian Renaissance art and design culminated in the 1860s, with the neo-Renaissance jewelry artwork of Carlo Giuliano, whose intricately jeweled and enameled Holbeinesque medallions were always finished as finely on the back as on the front. These medallions often had a matching enameled chain in Giuliano’s favorite combination of black and white enamel. His contemporary, Fortunato Pio Castellani, was as adept and admired for his interpretation of Greek and Etruscan inspired archaeological jewels. Near the end of the 1850s, archaeological jewels with Etruscan style features, such as granulation, became the new fashion. The 1830s through the 1840s saw a lot of chased or engraved surfaces; however, with this new archaeological style jewelry, the finish either came in matte or a combination of subtly textured finishes, creating a more 3-dimensional feeling.
A trademark of the 1860s was a stone inset into another stone (e.g., a small diamond inset into an amethyst or garnet cabochon), often in brooches or earrings of circular design. The late 1860s and 1870s also saw the beginning of whimsical or novelty jewels, brooches and earrings depicting everyday objects, such as ladders, hammers, or windmills, or animals, such as lizards or spiders. This fad quickly faded, but led to a longer lasting regard for sporting jewels depicting fox masks, sailboats, stirrups, and golf clubs. These sporting jewels sometimes took the form of reverse cameos, where an intaglio (in-tal-yo) is deeply carved on the back of a rock crystal cabochon and then painted with enamels and backed with a piece of mother-of-pearl. The resulting jewel face- up displayed an image of remarkable depth. Horses, dogs and monograms were popular themes suitable for gentlemen’s tie-tacks and cuff-links, and floral themes suited women’s pendants and earrings.
The discovery of the South African diamond fields in 1867 soon made diamonds more readily available to a wider audience. The 1870s observed an abundance of opulent diamond brooches and necklaces, often set “en tremblant” (on trem-blont) on small springs as little star or flower head motifs that would show off the sparkle of the diamonds through the movement of the person wearing the piece. Diamond jewelry was so prevalent in this period that a fad of colorless, or all white-look, jewelry began, lasting until well after the turn of the century.
The favorite bracelet of the 1870s was the bangle. All the surface treatments developed for archaeological jewels in the 1860s were applied to this design of bracelet. Heavily engraved and often sporting removable centers for use as brooches, these bangles would at first be quite wide, but became thinner into the 1890s. Also favored in the 1870s was the new gypsy ring mounting, where the stone would be set with its girdle (the largest diameter of a stone) below the surface of the ring, protecting the stone as well as possibly concealing evidence of doublets if those were to be used.
The Aesthetic or Late Victorian Period
Beginning around 1870, an attention to detailed naturalism became much more prominent and reached its height at the start of the Late or Aesthetic Victorian period (1885-1901). Much of this attention to naturalism morphed into the stylized designs of Art Nouveau in France, the Arts and Crafts movement in England, and Jugendstil in Germany.
In the last two decades of the 19th century, necklaces were often designed to convert into tiaras, and were accompanied by a stiff metal armature for adaptation as such. Fashions of the 1890s called for much lighter materials such as tulle (tool) and lace, so brooches became much smaller and lighter in weight, and more focus was given to hair ornaments such as tiaras and combs. Common themes for these smaller brooches were crescents, stars or gem-set bugs, such as spiders or butterflies. Necklaces shortened towards the end of the century and, by the 1890s, the necklace that speaks most of the period is the dog-collar necklace, close-fitting to the neck and often formed of lace or velvet ribbons attached to a central diamond or pearl set plaque. The end of the century saw smaller enameled pendant watches for women attached to matching enameled long chains.
All Images by Ernst Faerber