The History of Victorian Jewelry in four paragraphs? Impossible!
Here's the challenge the era officially starts in 1837 with the
coronation of a very young Queen Victoria. It ends with her death at
the age of 82, in 1901. This woman LOVED jewelry. She designed it, wore
it, and gave it as gifts through the rise of the British Global Empire,
the inception of the industrial revolution, and the reaction to mass
production that gave birth to the Arts and Crafts Movement (1870-1914).
Her passion and preferences fueled the talents of the jewelry trade
of London her whole life, most markedly upon the death of her beloved
husband, Albert. But before we delve into Mourning Jewelry, lets
look at a couple other themes that flourished during the Victorian Age.
the beginning of the 1800s a single hand carved semi precious gem Intaglio
or Cameo was an extremely rare and treasured possession. It was about
then, 1807 or so, that shell cameos experienced a resurgence. Conch shell
cameos were still carved by hand, mostly by artisans along the Italian
coast. They grew in popularity partially because the relative ease of
carving shell over stone opened up a whole new level of artistry. It also
allowed for production carving, which was faster, more formulaic. The
end result was a cameo that was both affordable and beautiful. It became
the perfect token of that Victorian tradition of the "Grand Tour"
a trip often taken by the upper classes of the Northern climes
of Europe to experience the art and culture and mild climate of Italy
and Greece. They would return from their journey with Italian carved shell
cameo necklaces, rings, and earrings, or the even more highly coveted
lava stone cameos, carved out of the earthy colored lava from the base
of Mt. Vesuvius.
Extasia lava cameo bracelet (NB4)
industrial revolution began to gain steam and with it came more affordable
manufacturing techniques, pressed glass for glass intaglios, stamped or
cast metal for settings, and chain making machines. Nobility and the wealthiest
merchants were no longer the only people who could afford a selection
of jewelry to accent their wardrobe.
Queen Victoria may also get the lions share of credit for popularizing
the charm bracelet and charm necklace, as we know it. She had a series
of charms designed and produced to give as gifts to her extended family
and circle of friends every New Year.
Du Jour" bracelet (RB5)
In 1861, Prince Albert died, and again Queen Victoria influenced the direction of jewelry design and production. She went into permanent mourning--only wearing black clothing and black jewelry for the rest of her life. for several years all of England followed her example. Jet, a fossilized driftwood, suddenly became the material of choice for jewelery. And what a stroke of luck that was for the good people of Whitby, on the coast of Yorkshire. They were sitting on the finest Jet deposits of the world. Carved Jet chains, Jet Crosses, Jet pins and earrings--indeed every style heretofore offered in colorful gems, glass and metal, were now produced in Jet.
Victorian Jewelry is the subject of hundreds of books, and we're only
skimming the surface in these few paragraphs, but here are three key components
to look for in determining jewelry from this era:
- Spans the time period between approximately 1840-1900
- Has a strong focus on figurative motifs and sentimental subject matter
- Commonly uses unusual materials, techniques, non-precious stones,
and production manufactured metal work.
Strand Cameo Necklace (NN61)
Extasia is a company of American artisans, committed to re-inventing
Victorian Jewelry for Contemporary Fashion. We use hand-carved Italian
shell cameos, hand-pressed German glass intaglios, jet, vintage glass,
and semi-precious gem materials, combined with the gold plated, bronze
and sterling silver settings we design and manufacture, here in northern
*Images used in this essay incorporated Extasia products.