The Victorian jewellery period spans the reign of Queen Victoria in Great Britain from 1836 to 1901. Throughout the years, the design and style of jewellery changed significantly. The Victorian Jewellery period is commonly divided into three sub-periods; Early Victorian or “Romantic”, the Middle Victorian or “Grand” and the Late Victorian or Aesthetic periods. Each sub-period has its own specific gems, styles, motifs, metals, and fabrication techniques.
Much like the Georgian era, early Victorian jewellery features nature-inspired designs which were delicately & intricately crafted into gold. During this period gold was the preferred metal. Lockets & brooches and gemstones including pearls, citrines, amethyst and garnets were also popular. One of the most famous styles of jewellery from the Victorian Romantic Period is the cameo.
As a result of the death of Albert, Prince Consort, the design of jewellery and the type of gemstones used changed significantly. Jewellery became much more solemn with an increased use of black gemstones such as jet, onyx, and black pearls. Amethyst, white pearls, and black enamel were also popular, since they were all considered to be mourning colours. During this period, the aesthetic movement, ‘Revivalism;’ came to light. This saw a resurrection of interest in Classical, Gothic and Renaissance designs, where Greek and Roman motifs such as peacocks, doves, and geometric patterns, had become popular.
During the Late Victorian or Aesthetic period, jewellers once again started using diamonds and brighter gemstones such as sapphire, peridot, and spinel. Star and crescent designs and elaborate hat pins had become very common. Additionally, jewellers had started to design pieces that were based on Egyptian hieroglyphics.
In the Late Victoria period several more gold mines and diamonds were found in America and South Africa, respectively. As a result of this, new streams of gold and diamonds came into the U.K which helped reduce the cost of jewellery. This allowed the rest of the population to purchase and enjoy jewellery, whereas before it was mainly royalty and the wealthy who purchased and wore jewellery.
In 1897, diamond jewellery became increasingly popular as the gemstone was made to celebrate the queen’s 60th anniversary as monarch. Later in the century, once again silver jewellery took its place as diamonds and pearl set jewellery were once more in fashion. Opals were Queen Victoria’s favourite gemstone and because of this, opals became highly desired and sought-after.
In 1840, when the Queen married Albert, Prince Consort, she wore a stunning snake designed ring as a symbol of eternal love and set with a stunning emerald, which was Queen Victoria’s birthstone. In the Victorian era, it was actually very popular for birthstones to be used for engagement rings. Towards the end of the era however, diamonds became increasing desired and highly sought-after once again. Interestingly, the first diamond solitaire engagement ring originated during this period.