The Early Victorian Period of jewelry design began with Queen Victoria’s ascension to the throne in 1837 and ended with her death in 1901. As England’s longest reigning monarch, Victoria’s span as queen saw enormous changes in industry, fashion, and jewelry. It started with horse-drawn carriages and candlelight and ended with automobiles and electricity.
Because the Victorian Period encompasses 64 years, it’s often compartmentalized into three sub-periods known as The Romantic Period, The Grand Period, and The Late (or Aesthetic) Period. Different motifs, gemstones, metals, and fabricating techniques were popular in each sub-period, but often times they carried through to the next one. For example, hair jewelry was worn in The Romantic Period, but reach its zenith of popularity in The Grand Period. Therefore, a dainty locket with repousse metal work containing a lock of hair would pinpoint the locket’s age at The Romantic Period while a large, imposing brooch showcasing a dark gemstone and framed with braided hair would most likely fall into The Grand Period.
Victorian Jewelry – 1837-1860 – The Romantic Period
This time frame was known as the Romantic Period to reflect the love a nation had for its young queen and this young queen’s adoration for her husband.
Romantic Period Notables
During this time, the Industrial Revolution surged ahead and factories opened at an unprecedented rate. Trades and industries flourished. Jewelry began to be mass-produced and was no longer being made strictly by hand.
The jewelry is very sentimental and is reflective of a young couple newly in love.
Early Victorian jewelry was usually fabricated in 18k gold. But, gold was becoming scarce and in the 1850s, lower karats of gold were often used, in addition to various gold plating techniques. Then, in 1848, the California gold rush occurred and alleviated England’s shortage.
Brooches fabricated during The Romantic Period had their pins extended past the body of the brooch and were fastened with a simple “C” design clasp. Also, gemstones were often set in claw-like prongs or collet settings, metal that encircled the outer rim of the gemstone.
Common Metals – 18k to 22k gold in all colors except white, pinchbeck (83% copper and 17% zinc), rolled gold (gold sheets soldered to base metal sheets), gold electroplate (thinner sheets of gold fused to a base metal), aluminum, cut steel
Common Motifs – Grape clusters of seed pearls, eyes, hands, anchors, crosses, arrows, clovers, love knots, serpents, hearts, garters or buckles, vines and leaves, Gothic and medieval designs, enameling
- Repousse was a common metal working technique where malleable metal was hammered into intricate designs and patterns.
- Cannetille was another metal working technique used that involved intricate wire work designs.
- Serpents – Prince Albert’s engagement ring to Queen Victoria is a serpent, the symbol of eternal love.
- France’s colonization of Algeria ushers in the Moorish motifs of knots and tassels to Europe.
- Greek, Roman, and Egyptian designs as the excavations of ancient civilizations commenced.
- Scottish designs are prevalent when Victoria and Albert purchased their Balmoral estate in Scotland.
The Hot items –
- Acrostic jewelry – the first letter of each gemstone used spells out an endearing word.
- Cameos made from coral, shell, and lava. They were initially souvenirs from tourists to the ancient ruins of Italy.
- Chatelaines – before purses or pockets, women and men carried their important tools or accessories dangling from a pin or hook attached to their belt. These accessories could be scissors, watches, writing instruments, notebook, or eyeglasses. They continued to be popular until the 1900s.
- Large brooches
- Slide chains of extensive length that draped the bodice
- Large, matching bracelets
- Girandoles – drop, cluster style earrings with 3 dangling gemstones
- Hair jewelry – lockets, watch fobs, and brooches that contain a loved one’s locks.
- Vulcanized rubber jewelry
- Daguerreotype (early photographs) brooches and watch fobs
Gems used – gutta percha (sap from Malaysian trees), bog oak (Irish wood immersed in bogs and hand carved until the 1850s), tortoiseshell, ivory, diamonds, chrysoberyls, coral (the redder, the more expensive), topaz, amethyst, emeralds, turquoise, seed pearls, amber, lava, chalcedony, malachite, agate, quartz, garnets
Cutting Styles of Gems
- Rose cut – round shape with a domed top and flat bottom
- Old mine cut – rounded square shape with many facets and closely resembles today’s modern round brilliant cut
- Cabochon – rounded top and flat bottom
This acrostic ring contains a ruby, emerald, garnet, amethyst, ruby, and a diamond, which spell “REGARD”, and exemplifies the sentimentality of the early Victorian Period. The gemstones are vibrant in color and in excellent condition, as is the ring. The ring is 15k yellow gold and has engraved shoulders and retails for $1,650 (The Three Graces © Photo courtesy of The Three Graces).
This parure (jewelry suite) of coral cameos is comprised of a necklace, brooch, and bracelet featuring orangey pink coral carved into high relief cameos. The coral is also used as links in the necklace with the 14k yellow gold. The consistency of the color of the coral is excellent and carvings of the cameos are well done with fine detailing. The fact that the parure is still together as a set is remarkable. The coral links in the chain provide an interesting twist and the mountings of the cameos are scalloped. The set is in excellent condition and sells for $8,750 (courtesy of Lang Antiques and photographed by Cole Bybee).
This lava cameo depicts the Roman god, Cupid, in the neo-classical design set in a silver mounting. The detailing of the cameo as well as the lack of cracks are important considerations of the piece (The Three Graces © Photo courtesy of The Three Graces).
This charming and dainty 14k yellow gold locket features an old mine diamond in the center surrounded by cabochon cut turquoise in repousse metal work. The back of the locket is clear and reveals hair arranged in a heart shape. The beautiful 14k metal work, the diamond, and the clever back make this piece a valuable example of the period (The Three Graces © Photo courtesy of The Three Graces).
This 63” slide chain features an enameled shield shaped slide with pearls that enables the finely textured chain to be doubled. The chain is 14k yellow gold filled. The finely detailed slide and the length of the intricately detailed chain are rare and valuable. The chain sells for $4,850 (courtesy of Lang Antiques and photographed by Cole Bybee).
These opulent girandole earrings feature ten cabochon cut opals (5.75 total carats) accented by twelve emeralds (estimated total weight of 1.06 carats) and eight old mine cut diamonds (estimated total weight of 1.05 carats). The earrings are 18k yellow gold and have cannetille wire work. The sheer weight of the gemstones is magnificent and the accompaniment of the 18k, cannetille make the earrings extremely rare (The Three Graces © Photo courtesy of The Three Graces).
This dainty hand design ring features seed pearls accented with a small old mine cut diamond and four garnets. The ring is 15k yellow gold and features fine detailing on the hands and cuffs. The back features a beveled glass locket. The intricate details of the ring and the gold set the price at $1,950 (The Three Graces © Photo courtesy of The Three Graces).
This garnet ring features a center garnet surrounded by old mine cut chrysoberyls in claw style settings. The ring is 9k yellow gold. The garnet and chrysoberyls are in excellent condition and substantial and the intricate metal work all combine in the value of the ring (The Three Graces © Photo courtesy of The Three Graces).
This Scottish agate brooch features banded agate from Scotland set in silver. Notice how the pin extends beyond the body of the brooch. The pin sells for $675 (courtesy of Lang Antiques and photographed by Cole Bybee).
The star-crossed lovers theme of this period was abruptly ended by death and war which herald in the years known as The Grand Period in the reign of Queen Victoria.