A Guide to Late Victorian Aesthetic Period Jewelry


Double Heart Brooch - Aesthetic Period jewelry
This double heart brooch with a love knot at the top features pavé set seed pearls in 15k yellow gold. The seed pearls are well matched, graduated, and in good condition. This Aesthetic Period jewelry piece is expertly crafted. Photograph by Cole Bybee. Image courtesy of Lang Antique and Estate Jewelry.

What was the Aesthetic Period?

Queen Victoria of England mourned the death of her husband, Prince Albert, from 1861 until her death in 1901. However, her subjects tired of the stiff and brooding decorum of those Middle Victorian Grand Period years before that point. By 1885, they kicked off its heavy trappings and ushered in the Late Victorian Aesthetic Period (1885-1901).

During this time period, electricity became a feature of newly constructed buildings. Thriving industries created a growing middle class with free time on its hands. As a result, the entertainment industry boomed. Actors and actresses became fashion trendsetters. Women formed an integral part of the workforce. They also enjoyed new found freedoms in leisure activities, such as tennis and bicycling.

The Aesthetic Period, and the Victorian Era, closed with the death of Queen Victoria in 1901.

Ring - Aesthetic Period jewelry
This ring shows the open airiness of late Victorian jewelry, as opposed to the heavy ornateness of Grand Period pieces. The navette design features rubies at each point and old mine-cut diamonds aligned in the center and bordering the edges. The center fancy yellow diamond weighs 0.20 carats. The accent diamonds total 0.45 carats. The 14k rose gold ring has intricate metal scallops on each side along with engravings. This ring, in excellent condition, shows excellent craftsmanship. Photo © and courtesy of The Three Graces.

Notable Characteristics of Aesthetic Period Jewelry

Jewelry pieces in the varied styles of this period fill antique stores across the country. Whether whimsical or imposing, this jewelry design period has a style for everyone.

Most Aesthetic Period jewelry was machine produced. Manufacturers stamped their marks on these pieces. However, many jewelers resented the onslaught of mass production and returned to hand fabrication.

The heavy jewelry of the Grand Period didn’t fit well with women’s new active lifestyles. Therefore, women’s jewelry became lighter and smaller. Delicate rings, bracelets, and pins replaced the heavy opulence of previous years.

Late Victorian Period brooches had two-pronged lever clasps or hinged tube catches. Many featured attached safety pins.

Starburst Brooch - Aesthetic Period jewelry
This starburst brooch features a 0.82 carat fancy yellow diamond. Old mine and rose-cut diamonds, totaling 1.40 carats, in an 18k yellow gold mounting surround it. The diamonds’ total weight sets the price of this fine example of the star motif, so popular during the Aesthetic Period. Photo © and courtesy of The Three Graces.

Aesthetic Period Jewelry Metal Work

Metals commonly used during this period include: gold, rolled gold, silver, oxidized silver, and platinum.

Motifs in Aesthetic Period Jewelry

Etruscan and Egyptian revival themes continued to fascinate jewelry enthusiasts. Aesthetic Period pieces also featured Oriental and sporting themes.

Popular motifs included: animal heads, barrels, bows, clovers, crescents, horseshoes, knots, oak leaves, owls, quatrefoils, stars, trefoils, and wishbones. Designers often combined double hearts with crowns or knots.

Locket with Oriental motif - Aesthetic Period jewelry
This locket sports Oriental themes popular during this period. The geometric, checkerboard pattern and the fan with reed and butterfly engravings evoke Japanese designs. The locket, in good condition, is silver with yellow and rose gold overlays. Photo © and courtesy of The Three Graces.

Popular Gemstones and Cutting Styles in Aesthetic Period Jewelry

The jewelry of this period frequently featured the following gemstones: amethyst, aquamarine, chrysoberyl, chrysoprase, diamond, emerald, black glass, horn, moonstone, opal, pearl, peridot, quartz, ruby, sapphire, and turquoise.

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.
  • Old European Cut: round faceted shape. Although a precursor to today’s modern round brilliant cut, it’s clunkier. You’ll frequently find this cut used in rings dated through the 1900s.
  • Cabochon: rounded top and flat bottom.
Crescent and Star Earrings - Aesthetic Period jewelry
Typical of Late Victorian jewelry, these 14k yellow gold crescent and star earrings feature eight old mine-cut diamonds, totaling 0.42 carats. The diamonds, well-matched and proportionally graduated, serve as the main attraction of the earrings. Photo © and courtesy of The Three Graces.

What Were the Hot Items in Aesthetic Period Jewelry?

Tiffany and Co. kick started the diamond solitaire engagement ring trend during this time period.

Popular pieces included small stud earrings, stick pins, and class rings. People often wore heart-shaped lockets on bracelets.

Small brooches were often worn in en masse, scattered across necklines.

Vinaigrettes, small metal containers for scented sponges or spices, enjoyed widespread use.

Mizpah Jewelry

These pieces were emblazoned with the Hebrew word mizpah. This means “the Lord watch between me and thee while we are absent one from another.” They became quite popular during the Aesthetic Period.

This ring, in excellent condition, features the word mizpah in 18k yellow and rose gold. The raised letters in alternating gold colors is unusual.

Mizpah Ring - Aesthetic Period jewelry
Mizpah Ring. Photo © and courtesy of The Three Graces.

Chokers or Dog Collar-Style Necklaces

Collar-style necklaces like this were popular during the Aesthetic Period. Its seventeen inches of silver fit snugly around the throat. The links in this awesome find are hand engraved rather than machine stamped.

Silver Collar Necklace - Aesthetic Period jewelry
Silver Collar Necklace. Photograph by Cole Bybee. Image courtesy of Lang Antique and Estate Jewelry.