History of Jewelry Part 6: Victorian|
There are definitely distinct periods to the Victorian era. The first 23 years of Victoria’s reign were happy and prosperous, both for the Queen and the country. The period is termed “Romantic”, and the jewelry of the time was primarily fashioned in yellow gold, enhanced with naturalistic gems such as seed pearls and pink coral, and modeled in delicate openwork. Women wore quite a bit of fanciful ornamentation in their hair. When Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, died in 1861, the Queen’s whole palette changed, and the country followed her darker, more serious tone. For the first few months after his death, she wore no jewelry, but then began to adopt all sorts of black decorations, especially jewelry set with jet mined from the north of England. Jewelry during this period also employed dark garnet, onyx, and dark shells, sometimes carved into skulls; diamonds and lighter colored stones were not much in use. In 1867, diamonds were discovered in South Africa, and at the same time Japanese art was exhibited in Paris. As precious gems flooded the late Victorian market, craftsmen unleashed a whole new set of naturalistic designs, much of which was influenced by the Western conception of Eastern design methodologies.
Industrialization affected all of these periods in many ways. Although it freed up money for the purchasing of jewelry and loosened social bonds as to who deserved to wear it, it also adjusted the standards with which jewelry was made. Machines could surely make increasingly complicated designs quite easily, and mass production became a possibility – which also lowered prices. But many women in the Victorian period were somewhat indignant at the decrease in quality of mass produced goods – from clothing to their precious gems. The rebelled in such a way that a whole new movement was influenced by their taste for careful craftsmanship: the late Nineteenth century saw the birth of the Arts and Crafts movement, as well as the generation of high end retail stores like Tiffany.
Arts and Crafts jewelry emerged around 1870. Designs promoted within this movement were based on floral or Celtic forms or patterns borrowed from African or Asian cultures with whose artwork and religious symbology Europeans and British were becoming familiar. Stones set into these pieces tended to be cabochon – polished and rounded, but not faceted or fancy, even when the gems themselves were precious. Individuals again became famous for their skills, if only for this short period before the turn of the century and the onset of Art Nouveau.