Early Victorian

The Victorian era spanned 64 years and is divided into 3 major periods, The Early Victorian Period, or Romantic Period, spanning 1837-1860; the Mid or High Victorian Period, also known as the Grand Period spanning 1860-1885; and the Late Victorian Period, or Aesthetic Period spanning 1885-1901.

Jewelry of the Early Victorian Period 1837-1860

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.

Victorian double headed snake pin.

The world of nature, inspired from styles of the Renaissance and Middle Ages, was still a very popular motif in Victorian Jewelry. Bouquets of flowers, branches, leaves, grapes and berries remained fashionable. There was a symbolism associated with flowers that carried through the first half of the century. Snake and serpent motifs reached their peak in the 1840's. The snake used as a decorative motif symbolizes wisdom and eternity. Victorian jewels were often set with gems that were attributed with magical properties and special meanings. Seed-pearls denoted tears, and pink coral could protect one from evil and disease. Love tokens and souvenirs from travel or events were cherished.

The most popular metals incorporated into the jewels of the era were 18k to 22k gold, tricolor gold, silver, rolled gold and electroplate. Before the process of electroplating was discovered, less expensive jewelry pieces were produced using pinchbeck. Electroplating produced far better results, as it covered the entire surface of an object with a film of gold making it superficially indistinguishable from the real thing. Advancements were also made in the development of imitation stones. Parian, an ivory imitation made from a type of porcelain, was carved and used for Victorian brooches and clasps.

Most of the jewelry in the Early Victorian Period was hand manufactured, but the industrial revolution was introducing methods of manufacture that could greatly speed production. In 1852 a method for cutting and stamping settings was developed. This allowed entire pieces of jewelry to be made quickly and very inexpensively.

In the late 1830's to early 40's, lady's clothing fashionably covered all of the body. High necklines and bonnets covered the ears, therefore, necklaces and earrings were not often worn. Extremely large brooches were in vogue, and worn at the neck during the day, or at the low décolletage, often combined with fresh flowers, for evening wear. Adornment of the hands and wrists became increasingly important, with Victorian rings and large bracelets designed to make the hand look dainty and feminine.

Victorian Scottish agate pin.

Gold and silver Scottish Victorian brooches, often depicting the foot of a grouse or a thistle, began to appear throughout Britain after Victoria and Albert bought Balmoral in Scotland in 1848. Multi-colored agates were common accents. Many were set with Cairngorm's, a variety of golden smoky quartz found only in the Cairngorm Mountains. Cairngorms are no longer mined and today either citrine or smoky quartz is used as a substitute.

The British government did not require jewelers to use any hallmarking system during the 19th Century, so a characteristic of jewelry made during this time was a lack of a maker's mark or quality stampings. Before 1854, most of the jewelry produced was 18k. After 1854, 9k, 12k and 15k were made legal in order to compete with international markets. This information is a great aid in circa dating.

In the 1850's lady's clothing took an elegant turn. Hair was worn, parted in the middle, in an elegant upsweep, which lent itself to diadems becoming popular and we see the reappearance of earrings. Bracelets remained in fashion, worn alone or in pairs. The tours of Egyptian tombs, offered by Thomas Cook, led to a popular Egyptian Jewelry Revival. Fortunato Castellani, was inspired by the ancient world and produced a collection of "archaeological" jewelry that fetched enormous prices throughout Europe.

The most widespread gemstones used in jewelry during the Early Victorian Period were diamonds (rose-cuts and brilliants), amethyst, pink and golden topaz, turquoise, chalcedony, coral, garnet, ruby, seed pearls and cameos. Cameos were fashioned out of many elements, including shell, lava, coral and micro-crystalline, layered quartz varieties.