The early years of the Victorian era were described as romantic or sentimental and reflected the youth, courtship and marriage of the young queen, Victoria. Britain was in a state of industrial euphoria, obsessed by mechanical gadgets.
The 1890's were exciting, prosperous and ground-breaking times in our history. Women were increasingly involved in the business world and the stock market. Workers generally enjoyed much more leisure time, making entertainment a thriving business. Darwin's controversial theories on evolution were widely publicized. The automobile was revolutionizing transportation!
Throughout the 19th Century exhibitions played a major role in introducing the public to innovations in art and industry. To celebrate the 400th Anniversary of the discovery of the United States, Chicago hosted the 1893 Colombian Exposition. The highlight of the show was electricity! Visitors to the show were awestruck by fabulous, illuminated displays by some of America's top designers like Tiffany and Gorham. Case after case of Victorian chains, rings, bracelets, earrings, and watches were met with great enthusiasm. The jewelry was lighter and on a smaller scale than in previous years. Clothing was getting lighter as well. Heavy Victorian brooches were replaced by smaller pins scattered on the bodice of a dress. Diamond pins were often worn in the hair for evening. Small stud earrings were desirable as latest Victorian hairstyles were exposing the ears.
The manufacturing of Victorian jewelry had shifted from hand-crafting to mass production by machine. This suited the growing demand of consumerism by an emerging middle class. Machine-made curb-link bracelets, often with dangling hearts and keys were first introduced at this time. The revival motifs were still wildly popular. Crescents and Etruscan and Egyptian inspired jewels were being extensively produced. The Darwinian controversy and numerous botanical discoveries led to Victorian jewelry designs that reflected the natural world. Insects, like gem-set butterflies, enameled beetles and gold houseflies were in great demand. Hunting and sporting motifs were also well-liked.
Activities for women such as bicycling and golf lead to dramatic wardrobe changes. To keep the hands free, long chains held Victorian coin purses, watches and lorgnettes. Whistle bracelets were a must for ladies who took long rides by themselves. If help was needed, they could be heard within a radius of 2 miles!
The Royal Family still had an influence on fashion. Victoria's daughter-in-law, Alexandra was responsible for trends long before she became queen. The choker style necklaces she wore became popular throughout Europe and America. Pearls were another of her passions, which made them even more desirable to the general public. Prince Edward's love for horse racing popularized the horseshoe motif as a good luck charm.
In 1890, Charles Dan Gibson introduced "The Gibson Girl". His drawings portrayed Victorian women in a new light, which reflected their changing role in society. The "Gibson Girl" was independent, fun-loving, self aware and self assured! The photograph on the left depicts Alice Roosevelt, daughter of President Roosevelt, reflecting the Gibson attitude. Victorian hair combs were essential accessories for the hair styles the "Gibson Girl" inspired. They were often made of tortoise-shell embellished with precious metals, pearls and gems.
The earliest examples of Victorian solitaire diamond rings, set in both gold and silver were seen in 1895. Discoveries of diamonds and gold in South Africa helped supply the trend. Victorian stomachers (large brooches worn on the midriff) became a favorite for evening attire. The manufacture of class rings became a thriving business.
The most popular gemstones in the late Victorian period were amethyst, aquamarine, chrysoprase, chrysoberyl, opals, moonstones, sapphires, turquoise, peridot and rubies. Demantoid garnets from the Ural Mountains are occasionally seen. They were often mis-identified as olivine. Silver and oxidized silver continued to be popular metals for Victorian jewelry pieces, as well as gold and rolled gold. In the late 1880's, advancements in jewelry manufacturing made platinum easier to work. It was a favorite for diamond mountings.
Queen Victoria passed away on January 22, 1901. Although there were dramatic changes in the world, socially and industrially, her legacy lives on through the numerous examples of Victorian jewelry created during her 64 year reign.
Her son, Prince Edward, became Edward VII upon her death and reigned until his death in 1910.