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Highlight: The Fascinating Victorian Jewelry Era History

Tanzy Ward


The Victorian jewelry era (1837-1901), was named after Queen Victoria, whose reigned lasted from 1837-1901. Queen Victoria is the second longest ruling monarch, and there were three periods within the Victorian Jewelry era that were greatly inspired by her. 

The Romantic Era (1837-60), celebrated the monarch's love with the love of her life, Prince Albert. This era of Victorian jewelry was full of sentimental and symbolic jewelry, such as the engagement ring Prince Albert gave his new bride. The serpent engagement ring symbolized eternity, and the simple yet romantic allure of this gesture greatly influenced the first period of the Victorian era. Common designs on Romantic era Victorian jewelry included flowers, hearts, and birds. One could express their devotion with jewelry, which included cameos depicting cupid or enameled pieces. 

The second period of Victorian Jewelry was the Grand Era (1860-80). When Queen Victoria's beloved Prince Albert died, she was heartbroken and began to wear mostly all black clothing that correlated with her going into mourning. The Grand Era of Victorian jewelry is often most associated with 'mourning jewelry', and the focus was to honor the memory of the departed with Romantic Era designs. The 'mourning jewelry' of the Grand Era was mostly black and gold, and also included onyx, red garnet, and enamel designs. Revival jewelry styles were common, such as Egyptian, Roman, & Etruscan. Black choker necklaces were popular, and intricately designed brooches were common as well (example pictured above, available at Zanathia).  

The third and last period of the Victorian jewelry era was the Aesthetic Period (1880-1901). During this period, Queen Victoria was more optimistic and looking forward to a brighter future after the grieving period of Prince Albert. The new era was less focused on manufacturing, and more on hand-made quality items. The last period of the Victorian Jewelry era emphasized aesthetically appealing  jewelry that was different from the heavier adornments and mourning mementos that were common previously. Jewelry became more smaller and wearing your favorite accessories were more popular for the evening time of day. Diamonds became more prominent in designs, and gemstones were a favorite due to it's natural beauty rather than the monetary worth. Common gems in the Aesthetic period include amethysts, opals, and garnet. The Art Nouveau jewelry era would also later emphasize the natural beauty of semiprecious stones as well. Other popular trends in the Aesthetic Period also include the dog collar necklace, or collier de chien, which was popularized by Queen Victoria's daughter-in-law Alexandra when she wore a multi-strand pearl adornment to cover a scar on her neck. The solitaire ring also became prominent after Tiffany's advertised the 6 prong gemstone setting in 1886.

The Victorian jewelry era consisted of three symbolic periods that were inspired by the life happenings of Queen Victoria and emphasized sentimental values of adornments. The Victorian jewelry era has been a steady inspiration to many 'revival' enthusiasts for the 20th and 21st century. Not to mention, the famous dog collar necklace (collier de chien) is still a statement piece loved by many. 

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