The Victorian age saw Queen Victoria reign for 64 years during which time Edison invented the light bulb, Marconi invented the telegraph and the Lumiere brothers ushered in the cinema. The Czar of Russia abolished serfdom, Freud penetrated secrets of the mind and Felix Hoffmann invented the aspirin.
The Romantic or Early Victorian period between 1837 and 1860 saw a new queen with her vibrant young consort, she was madly in love and reflected her passion in her metallic attire. Mirrored by the court and the nation, gold mounted with enamel and gemstones was the in-thing during the evening. Bold cabochon stones such as garnets, agate and onyx were popular as were jewelry suites or parures. Day wear comprised of coral, ivory, seed-pearls and tortoise shell. Earrings were long and sensual around bare necks while bracelets and bangles were often worn in pairs. Necklaces were short often with a detachable stone that could be worn separately as a pendant or brooch.
An awakening interest in naturalism heightened Victorian England?s cultural climate and there was a renewed fascination with medieval romanticism. Picturesque Scotland encompassed both aided by Sir Walter Scott’s idealization of the Scotsman illustrated in his writings of George IV’s visit in full Highland regalia in 1822 and Queen Victoria’s purchase of Balmoral castle in 1847. Scottish agate and Scottish jewelry.
Sporting jewelry and novelty jewelry was worn by women with their riding habits or golf costumes as women were making their way more independently in the world. As these women became more active, more aggressive and more socially and politically aware, fashion changed to lighter, simpler, more tailored garments. Hearts and flowers gave way to the simplicity of niello and gunmetal.
Preoccupied by a keen interest in novelty and nature, perhaps partly in reaction to John Ruskin’s philosophical ideals of beauty and God, this period was rich in the consumption of carved and polished bog oak, horn, hair, fossils ammonite, petrified wood, granite, opercula, marble and ‘Blue John’. Queen Victoria’s love of Scotland led to the highly fashionable Scottish Jewelry at that time, mounted with citrines and agates. The French expedition in China and the conquest of Peking led to an influx of imperial jade on the market. The French campaign in Mexico was responsible for gem-set humming bird brooches and hair ornaments while by opening up Japan to western trade in the 1850′s and the revolution of 1866, Japanese art first came to Europe, which exerted considerable ornamental and decorative influence. A passion for the Middle Ages produced medieval costume balls and jousting tournaments in which antique armor was worn and jewelry reflected the Gothic Revival.
Between 1860 and 1885, the Victorian era could be described as luxurious, opulent, ornate and lush. Despite the internal conflicts, the Victorians were a nation of conquerors and colonizers, rightly deserving of what was termed ‘the Grand Period’. Victorian jewelry became larger, bolder and less ornate perhaps in response to the rising image of the independent woman fighting for her rights and earning her own pay. Etruscan revival jewelry became increasingly more popular as the technique of granulation received renewed interest. Roman, Ancient Greek, Egyptian and Renaissance cultures influenced the ancient and classical motifs reflected in jewelry designs as a result of great archeological discoveries and architectural influences. Neoclassical motifs such as shells and rosettes were popular as were fringes. Other fashionable figural images of the day were anchors, arrows, stars, horseshoes, bows, leaves, butterflies, seashells and umbrellas.
After the death of Prince Albert in 1861, Queen Victoria exiled herself a lengthy mourning period of 25 years until her Golden Jubilee in 1887. The queen wore only black, followed by the court and society in general. It was at this time that women discovered just how flattering black could be and jet and black onyx became very fashionable. As the mourning code relaxed, the silver industry developed as heavy lockets and chains and wide, hinged bangle bracelets and love brooches became daytime wear that were available to the masses. The majority of Victorian silver jewelry was made in the last decade of the 19th century although earlier Victorian works were manufactured in Birmingham and Devonshire with signatures and hallmarks and beautiful engravings. After the discovery of a diamond mine in South Africa in 1867, diamonds became plentiful and less expensive. Diamonds accompanied opals, moonstones and pearls, all colorless stones and mounted in chokers with perhaps several rows of pearls separated by vertical spacers set with diamonds or pearls suspending several more strands of pearls.
The Late Victorian era, between 1885 and 1901, was termed the Aesthetic Period at which time England became more aware of social injustice after decades of convincing by author Charles Dickens. As the country become more aware of the hideous labor conditions and poverty that surrounded them, national consciousness was raised as the ‘haves’ became more aware of the plight of the ‘have-nots’. Conspicuous consumption became less socially acceptable resulting in decreased demand for ornate and elaborate jewelry. Women wore smaller and less jewelry, stud earrings came in and bar-pins with small motifs were considered tasteful and acceptable. England was undergoing spectacular advances in communication, technology and penetrating scholarship. During this embrace of progress, the country had turned a blind eye to the paradox surrounding them. Overrun with churches and denominations, England’s belief in God was being shaken by Karl Marx’ politics, Charles Darwin’s biology and Thomas Carlyle’s ruminations. As the Industrial Revolution proceeded to dehumanize the common man, reactionary romanticism lashed back. Just as the Luddites destroyed the first machines in 1811, the general public rejected machine-made jewelry in favor of the gifts of nature. As a result, jewelers used more gentle colors such as mauves, yellows, greens, softer forms and spontaneous lines.