The Victorian Era produced an abundance of popular art, books, and styles. It is even making a resurgence now through the steam punk movement. But to understand it fully, it is important to take a look back. Victorian Era refers to the time when Queen Victoria ruled England from 1837 to 1901. During this period, three subsections of style occurred: the Romantic period, the Grand period, and the Aesthetic period. Each produced styles that differed from the other and the concomitant Victorian-style jewellery is no exception.
It is important to note the changes in jewellery-making materials during the Victorian Era. Gemstones and precious metals were extremely popular due to increased availability. Prices of silver had dropped, but gold was the prominent metal following a series of gold discoveries in the mid-1800s. Diamonds were discovered in 1867, making them desirable in the later years of the Victorian period.
The Romantic period, 1837-1861
The Romantic period is the time during Queen Victoria’s reign when her husband, Prince Albert, lived. The Victorian-style jewellery during this time was a reflection of the love between the two royals. Golden enamelled snakes with diamond eyes were a popular feature for jewellery. Queen Victoria’s wedding ring was in the shape of a snake with its tail in its mouth, a symbol of everlasting love.
Acrostic rings used different gemstones to spell out a love message; for example, a ring with diamond, emerald, aquamarine, ruby, emerald, sapphire and turquoise gems would spell out dearest. Some pieces of Victorian-style jewellery even contained secret compartments behind the gems!
Also popular during this time period were brooches and very large bracelets. The most common motifs were flowers, hearts, bows, birds, and cameos.
The Grand period, 1861-1880
This period denotes the time in which Queen Victoria mourned Prince Albert’s death, when dark, melancholy jewellery became popular. Jet, a fossilised coal, became a desirable material in jewellery making. Black gems, such as onyx, and black enamel were trendy as well.
The entire period was not full of sadness and black jewellery, though. Revivalism is another trend of the Grand period. During this time, the popular cameo became Romanesque; ancient mosaic techniques were used to create beautiful pieces, such as peacock brooches and dove earrings; Egyptian motifs were used; and Renaissance art inspired Victorian jewellers. Diamonds and other precious gemstones were common but gold was the dominant theme.
The Aesthetic period, 1880-1901
Although the Queen would remain in mourning until her death, jewellery begins to return to whimsical and romantic designs, as well as becoming simpler and smaller. Common motifs for the Aesthetic period were stars, crescent moons, and mythical creatures like dragons and griffins. Japanese art began influencing worldwide jewellery and art production during this time as well. This means the jewellery began turning to nature-inspired themes.
Queen Victoria was definitely a popular ruler and her influence on jewellery was monumental. In 1897, jewellery celebrating her 60-year reign became popular. This often consisted of silver brooches or pendants featuring a capital V and the inscription ‘1837-1897’. These were simple for the most part, but could be bejeweled with gems for the wealthier classes.