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Age of The Machine: How The Industrial Revolution Inspired Innovative Jewelry Trends

Tanzy Ward

The first Industrial Revolution (c.1760-c.1840) ushered in a new way to create items and changed societies forever. No longer relying on everything being made from hand, factories began to produce mass quantities of goods at rapid rates. New social and economic conditions emerged, including an increase of middle-class families in Europe and America. The California Gold Rush (1848-1855) and the success of the railroad system created new opportunities that left a permanent impact on various industries, including expansion in the jewelry market. 

(Claude Monet's 'Gare Saint-Lazare' Landscape Portrait  Inspired By The Industrial Revolution, 1877)

The Industrial Age paved the way for a variety of accessory trends to become more accessible to a broader group of people. With the birth of the machine, innovative techniques in jewelry arose. Electroplating allowed for thin layers of gold and silver to be combined on a sheet of metal base. This technique introduced a new collection of jewelry choices that were more lightweight and affordable compared to the pricier & heavier pieces created with precious metals. Engraved gold-filled bangles, with intricate etched designs were highly sought after, many of which were inexpensive and available to the average citizen. Mass quantities of gold-filled bangles, lockets, and large brooches were being produced by machines, displayed in jewelry catalogues, featuring a variety of styles for buyers to choose from. High quality and fashionable choices were now available to people from various economic backgrounds, forever changing the jewelry industry. 

(Antique Victorian B.Altman & Co Catalogue From Their Fall/Winter Collection, 1879/1880-Haravrd University Baker Library. The Catalog Showcases The Popular Manufactured Jewelry Designs, Including The Gold & Silver Plated Hinged Bracelet Style That Became Popular During The 19th Century After The Industrial Revolution Boom)


Along with changes in production, techniques in jewelry engraving advanced as well. Metalwork stamping were popular decoration choices on Victorian Era jewelry. Although many metal-based accessories were still being engraved by hand, advanced designs were embedded with machinery. Taille d'Epargne was a widely used enamel technique used on gold-plated jewelry. The innovative technique involved engravings incised in metal, creating intricate black enamel designs and patterns. The technique originated in England, and variations of the designs can be seen throughout American-made styles


(Example of Taille d'Epargne Designs Engraved on A Gold-plated Brooch. New Engraving & Metal Stamping Techniques Emerged During The Industrial Revolution. Zanathia Collection)  


Before the Vernuil flame-fusion process of creating synthetic rubies and sapphires were commercially available in the 1900's, there were earlier versions of imitation gemstones produced in the Industrial Revolution Era. Often referred to as paste stones, finely cut glass and crystal were available in different colors and were of great quality. Although these permanently foiled paste stones were cut by hand, they were integrated in many mass-produced jewelry selections that were machine made. 

(Antique Victorian Era Gold Plated Locket Featuring A Ruby Glass Paste in the Center. Imitation Gemstones Were Commonly Hand-Cut & Placed in Machine Made Lockets. Industrial Era Paste Stones Were of High Quality & Intricately Designed. Zanathia Collection)


A significant part of Victorian Era jewelry was impacted by the innovations in technological advancements that were started due to the first Industrial Revolution. The historical significance and influence of 19th century mass produced jewelry styles can be routinely seen in many modern trends. Antique manufactured jewelry was created with high quality and allowed people to purchase pieces at an inexpensive price. Centuries have passed on, but the grand design and impact of 19th century industrial jewelry are still impressive collectibles to collect and wear in present times. 


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