A Guide to Mid-Victorian Grand Period Jewelry


Mesh Bracelet - Grand Period jewelry
This mesh bracelet with foxtail embellishments and an enameled, engraved slide exemplifies the opulence of Grand Period jewelry. The excellent condition of both the 15k yellow gold mesh and the enameling is remarkable. $3,450. Photograph by Cole Bybee. Image courtesy of Lang Antique and Estate Jewelry.

What was the Grand Period?

In 1861, Prince Albert of the United Kingdom passed away, and the American Civil War started. Both incidents brought an abrupt halt to the whimsical romance of the Early Victorian Period. So began the Grand Period (1861-1885) of the Victorian Era.

Although death and war perpetuated the Victorian desire for remembrance jewelry, new developments and ideas influenced Grand Period jewelry, too. In 1879, the incandescent bulb placed jewelry in a whole different light, literally. Diamonds dazzled under electricity. The discovery of a diamond mine in South Africa in 1867 had created a great demand for the gems. The Grand Period also opened doors socially for women. As men were called to war, women filled the jobs they vacated.

Queen Victoria mourned her husband until her death in 1901. This set the tone for Grand Period jewelry manufacturing. However, her subjects buckled under the heavy gloom. By 1885, they eventually turned to the lighter jewelry and clothing styles of the Late Victorian Aesthetic Period.

Notable Characteristics of Grand Period Jewelry

Heavy, massive jewelry reflected the opulence of the time, as industry boomed and created millionaires overnight.

Jewelry makers used silver enthusiastically after its discovery in Nevada in 1860.

Grand Period jewelry often featured gemstones in hammer or so-called “gypsy” style settings. The gems were almost embedded into the pieces, with minute prongs holding them in place. Pavé settings, also popular, featured stones set with almost invisible prongs, creating pieces “paved” with gems.

Brooches now contained a lever catch in the “C” design clasp for improved security.

Etruscan Revival Bangle - Grand Period jewelry
This Etruscan revival bangle showcases the fine granulation technique prevalent during this period, as well as the bold opulence theme. Well-matched, cabochon-cut turquoises in pavé settings decorate the 18k yellow gold bracelet. The weight and craftsmanship of this piece are standout attributes. Photo © and courtesy of The Three Graces.

Grand Period Jewelry Metal Work

Metals commonly used during this period include: low karat gold (9k, 12k, and 15k); rolled gold; silver; and steel.

Motifs in Grand Period Jewelry

Popular motifs included: acorns, bees, bells, birds, crescents, crosses, daisies, hearts, monograms, stars, and shield shapes. Geometric patterns were common. Enameling remained popular.

Archeological digs continued during this period, generating great public curiosity. Thus, Ancient Greek, Roman, and Egyptian designs remained popular and inspired cameo use. Excavations of Ancient Etruscan cities in Italy brought about a revival of Etruscan designs in jewelry. In particular, an ancient metal technique featuring fine, beaded granulation was resurrected.

Popular Gemstones and Cutting Styles in Grand Period Jewelry

Popular stones included: amethyst, diamond, garnet, jet, onyx, opal, pearl, ruby, sapphire, and turquoise. “Carbuncles,” or cabochon-cut garnets, commonly appeared in pendants, brooches, and necklaces.

Materials such as bog oak, coral, ivory, and tortoiseshell were also used as gems.

Goldstone, a glass gem simulant, was widely used.

Notable gem cutting styles included:

  • Rose Cut: round shape with a domed top and flat bottom.
  • Old Mine Cut: rounded square shape with many facets. Closely resembles today’s modern round brilliant cut.
  • Cabochon: rounded top and flat bottom.
Whitby Jet Ring - Grand Period jewelry
This bold, dark ring, typical of Grand Period jewelry, is made entirely of jet or fossilized wood (coal) from Whitby, England. Due to its black color, jet commonly appeared in mourning jewelry. This ring features a 0.65-ct old mine-cut diamond in a rose gold collet setting. The large diamond and the detailing of the jet make this quite a find. Photo © and courtesy of The Three Graces.

What Were the Hot Items in Grand Period Jewelry?

Earring of all sizes were popular. Post earrings were introduced during this time period.

Other popular items included:

  • Hair jewelry.
  • Large necklaces with large pendants.
  • Long, rectangular bar pins.
  • Tiaras and tortoiseshell combs.

Cabochons with Embedded Gems

Jewelers would sometimes embed smaller gem designs in the center of cabochons.

For example, this locket features a 0.25-ct cabochon-cut amethyst with an embedded starburst of eighteen rose-cut diamonds surrounding a centered, old mine-cut diamond, 0.37-ct total weight. The blue beads reflect the Etruscan revival. This piece boasts a substantial amount of gems and exquisite craftsmanship. The combination makes this locket a rare find.

Locket with Cab and Embedded Gems - Grand Period jewelry
Locket with Cabochon and Embedded Gems. Photo © and courtesy of The Three Graces.

Memorial Jewelry

This locket features two round and clear rock quartz discs hinged at the top in 15k yellow gold. With the name of a loved one and the date of death engraved on the front, this piece exemplifies the memorial jewelry popular during this period. The locket’s excellent condition and engraving make it valuable.

Memorial Locket - Grand Period jewelry
Memorial Locket. Photo © and courtesy of The Three Graces.

Micro-mosaic Jewelry

Fabricated in Florence, Rome, and Venice, these pieces assembled tiny tiles of gemstones and glass (tesserae) into artistic designs.

For example, this micro-mosaic brooch features an Egyptian scarab beetle fashioned entirely out of tiny glass tiles. A 15k yellow gold mounting houses the micro-mosaic. How closely the tiles fit together and whether they’re free from chips or cracks set the value of micro-mosaics.

Micro Mosaic Brooch - Grand Period jewelry
Micro-mosaic Brooch. Photo © and courtesy of The Three Graces.

Bracelets

Popular styles included: bracelets with buckles; wide mesh bracelets with enameling and foxtails; and wide bangle bracelets.

For example, the wide bangle bracelet below serves as an excellent example of Grand Period jewelry style. Silver with gold overlay, the bangle features acorns and leaves as motifs. This substantial piece is in excellent condition.

Wide Bangle Bracelet - Grand Period jewelry
Wide Bangle Bracelet. Photo © and courtesy of The Three Graces.

Lockets

This locket features “carbuncles,” or cabbed garnets, surrounding a star of nine old mine-cut diamonds. These gems are set in a 15k yellow gold mounting with scalloped edges. The locket also has a hinged, garnet drop. The perfectly matched and cut garnets, along with the number of diamonds, make this piece valuable.

Carbuncle garnet locket - Grand Period jewelry
Carbuncle Garnet locket. Photo © and courtesy of The Three Graces.

About the author
Megan Coward, Graduate Jeweler Gemologist, GIA, Graduate Gemologist
Megan Coward is a graduate of the GIA with Graduate Jeweler Gemologist and Graduate Gemologist accreditations. She has 20+ years in the retail jewelry industry in various roles including as a diamond buyer and gemstone appraiser.
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