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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 made from hand, factories began to produce mass quantities of goods at rapid rates. New social and economic conditions emerged, including increased middle-class families in Europe and America. The California Gold Rush (1848-1855) and the success of the railroad system created new opportunities that permanently impacted 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 various 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 thin layers of gold and silver to be combined on a metal base sheet. This technique introduced a new collection of jewelry choices that were more lightweight and affordable compared to the pricier and 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 and displayed in jewelry catalogs, 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 and Co Catalogue From Their Fall/Winter Collection, 1879/1880-Harvard University Baker Library. The Catalog Showcases The Popular Manufactured Jewelry Designs, Including The Gold and 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 was a popular decoration choice on Victorian Era jewelry. Although many metal-based accessories were still 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 approach involved engravings incised in metal, creating intricate black enamel designs and patterns. The practice 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 and Metal Stamping Techniques Emerged During The Industrial Revolution. Zanathia Collection)  


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


The innovations impacted a significant part of Victorian Era jewelry in technological advancements 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 inexpensively. Centuries have passed, 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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