History of Jewelry Part 6: Victorian|
Mid-century, jewelry suddenly underwent a modern revival. During this period, the working of gold and silver became important and fine stones regained an elegant prominence in settings. Religious symbology had been under steady decline in fashions, and it is only in French and German peasant jewelry of the period that one finds crosses and other Christian symbols with real regularity. The fashionable courts of Europe had become far more entranced with naturalistic and then ornate, decorative forms, than with the symbols of their religion.
Queen Victoria came to the English thrown in 1837. Under her rule, one of the most important factors in a well-dressed lady’s attire was jewelry. This was the height of the British Industrial Revolution, and there were remarkable economic and social shifts during the period. Before the Industrial Revolution, the Church and aristocracy had long occupied the highest class of citizens and were born into this place in society; the bourgeoisie was made up of workers who were generally underprivileged; the luckiest of the lower class had work, but very little money. Industrialization enhanced both the economic situation and the social status of the middle class, and though it sunk some of the lower classes deeper into exploitative situations, by the late Nineteenth century, laws were being passed to curb exploitative circumstances in England. Because of all this social change, money was flowing through new hands, and the mid to lower classes showed an interest in and had access to jewelry.
Women’s clothing throughout the Victorian era changed from the fairly straight columnar dresses of the late Empire look through voluminous skirts and sleeves with low necks, then to dainty, tight shouldered dresses with hoop skirts, and finally to tight fitting bodices with more and more exaggerated bustles. Though we tend to think of the Victorian era as a time of prudishness and modesty, the clothing of the wealthy, at least, was extremely sensual and revealing in its way. Every part of the body that was left open to show skin was a possible canvas to be adorned with jewels, and the natural beauty of the Victorian woman was indeed enhanced by pieces for her hat, her hair, her ears, neckline, wrists, chest, waist, and even ankles. If the women could afford it, these pieces were made with silver, gold and platinum set with gemstones. Aluminum was less frequently available, but engravings and cameos of shells and onyx were popular. Less wealthy women wore faux gold products worked with elaborate care to shine as brilliantly and intriguingly as their more expensive counterparts.
Men in Victorian England wore jewelry that had fairly practical connotations: this is the generation in which the stickpin, the ring, the cuff stud and the cravat stud became associated with masculinity. This is in part because men began wearing what we recognize now as suits.