A Glimpse into the Life of Queen Victoria.
In 1837, at the age of 18, Victoria, a descendent of the Georges through her father and of German Saxe Coburg through her mother, became the Queen of England. She was like a fresh breeze over Britain. Victoria was young and pretty and could be admired, respected and emulated by her subjects. Everything she wore became an instant fashion trend. The jewelry of the time became known as "Victorian Jewelry".
The years of her reign were some of the most progressive in our history. Horse-drawn carriages were replaced by automobiles; candles gave way to electricity, and toilets were brought inside! This was a generally an optimistic and prosperous time characterized by rapid changes is industry, science, art and fashion. In 1840, Victoria married her beloved Albert. The engagement ring that he presented to her was a snake with an emerald-set head. This would become the first Victorian Engagement ring ever made. The snake was a symbol of eternal love and emerald was her birthstone. Birthstones were often used in engagement rings of the time.
As a wedding gift to Albert, before they were married, Victoria presented him with two garters. At the wedding, Albert wore the collar of the garter over his shoulder and the diamond garter on his left knee.The queen gave each of her Royal Bridesmaids a brooch depicting a bird, resting on a large pearl. The body of the bird was encrusted in turquoise (peacock-blue was her favorite color) with ruby eyes and a diamond beak.
In 1848 Victoria and Albert purchased Balmoral Castle in the Highlands of Scotland. Victoria was enchanted with Scottish design and shortly after her children began wearing tartan plaids to royal events, Scottish items were recognized as "fashion" pieces. Flexible bracelets, enameled with family tartan colors and brooches and pins were the most popular Scottish items. Although most of these items were silver, some were fashioned in gold. Scottish Victorian Jewelry contained smoky golden quartz from the Cairngorm Mountains (a.k.a Cairngorm), carnelian, bloodstone, jasper, moss agate and enamel.
In 1851 Albert sponsored The Great Exhibition of Industry of All Nations, in London, in the Crystal Palace that was built in Hyde Park. In addition to the wondrous machinery and inventions on display, the Victorian jewelry, watch and precious stone exhibits attracted world wide attention. More than 6 million guests visited the exhibit viewing the 280 carat Koh-i-Noor diamond and the 177 carat diamond belonging to Adrian Hope. More everyday items, like chatelaines and brooches, earrings, crosses, quatrefoils and necklaces were also on display, some reflecting a Gothic revival of medieval design. Enameled architectural elements were incorporated into many of the jewels. Natural motifs, such as gem-embellished flowers, adorned with enamel were also on display. These varied and eclectic designs appealed to the romantic nature of the Victorians and would become identifying motifs of Victorian jewelry. Both Victoria and Albert purchased "keyless" watches made by Patek & Co. at the exhibition, bringing a great deal of celebrity to the firm.
The decade of the 1860's was tragic for the queen. In March of 1861 her mother, the Duchess of Kent died. Later that year, in December, Albert, the love of her life passed away. She was overwhelmed with grief and sorrow. She did not attend his funeral but retreated to Osborne House where for the next 40 years, she had his side of the bed turned down every evening, and his shaving set prepared for him every morning. The entire nation went into mourning. Authors were commissioned to record his biography and several monuments were built in his honor.
Death was a significant part of everyone's life in Victorian times. The infant and child mortality rate was very high and antibiotics had not yet been discovered. Mourning periods were defined by protocol. The customary full mourning time was one year, followed by a half mourning period lasting 6 months. All relatives of the deceased, including wives, daughters, sisters, cousins, aunts, etc., were obligated to wear mourning fashions during this time. Lockets became a common fashion accessory, as they not only served as personal reminders of the loss (holding pictures- daguerreotypes-or locks of hair), but also brightened and freshened the look of the mandatory clothing styles. Several styles of Victorian mourning jewelry were manufactured at this time including, mourning rings, gem-set or painted brooches with compartments for hair, jet pieces carved or fashioned as beads, and finally elaborate pieces incorporating hair-work, either displaying complicated patterns or elaborately woven hair. Pearl and diamond necklace made to commemorate Victoria's 50 Years on the throne
In 1887 Queen Victoria Celebrated 50 Years on the throne with her Golden Jubilee. At that time, the "Women of the British Empire" each gave between a penny and a pound to provide a memorial for Victoria's 50 Years on the Throne. Part of the money raised funded a large equestrian statue of Prince Albert, and the remainder was used on the necklace pictured on the right. The centerpiece can be detached and worn as a pendant, although no one has ever done that. Queen Victoria left the necklace to The Crown in 1901.
Souvenir pendants, brooches and various other examples of Victorian Jewelry were created to commemorate the Golden Jubilee, and are often seen today.
Queen Victoria died on January 22, 1901 in what had become a modern world filled with factories, railroads, instant telegraph communication and steam cars. Her death ended a way of life. Although her death ended a simpler way of life, we have the wonderful legacy of Victorian Jewelry to remind us of a more decorative and sentimental time.