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Victorian Times: 19th Century Jewelry Catalogues Amidst the Rise of Mass Production

Tanzy Ward

The Industrial Revolution (c.1760-c.1840) birthed various advanced techniques that ushered in mass production within the jewelry industry. Advancements in jewelry techniques created a substantial market for ready-to-wear designs with superb craftsmanship. Fine jewelry of superior quality was accessible to a broader range of people, including the emerging Victorian Middle Class.  Electroplating allowed for 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 partly produced by machines and displayed in jewelry catalogs, featuring a variety of styles for buyers to choose from.

 

 From the E.V. Roddin & Co. 1888 jewelry & silverware catalog. The company manufactured jewelry and was a diamond importer. Their business location was based on 151 State Street in Chicago, Illinois. The catalog page above features intricate gold-filled stem-winding watches with detailed etchings and designs. Catalog courtesy of Archive.org https://archive.org/details/EVRoddinCoCatalogue1888/EVRoddin-1888-RTL021926-LowRes/

 

Polished gold-mounted diamond lockets and bracelets featured in the E.V Roddin & Co. 1888 catalog. 

 

The Victorian Era (1837-1901) also birthed a trend in quality costume wear and the ability to customize jewelry designs for a more personal charm. Sentimental accessories could be personalized and mass-produced with machinery in the booming industrial era. Artisans and jewelry companies became successful manufacturers and ushered in an age of shopping from home with catalogs. Jewelry businesses did not just rely on the support of machines but incorporated hand-engraved etchings and designs in their beautiful creations. Ladies and gentlemen could now look through jewelry catalogs and shop versatile collections of lockets, prince Albert watch chains, brooches, chatelaines, and lockets.

 

M.G Eppenstein & Co. catalog featuring a request on Page 1 to submit 35 cents in postage stamps for large illustrated catalogs of over 5,800 watches, diamonds, jewelry, clocks, and silverware illustrations. The company was located in Chicago, Illinois at 163 State Street. The company's front catalog cover title was 'Wholesale pocket price list of the largest house in America. Also leading and staple styles of diamonds, jewelry, silverware, clocks, and other goods pertaining to the jewelry trade''. C. the 1880s. Courtesy of Archive.org. https://archive.org/details/wholesalepocketp00mcep/page/n1/mode/2up

 

 

Solid gold-filled lockets with intricate etchings. The catalog proclaims that the lockets are ''good to wear for 15 to 20 years but many pieces can still be in great condition despite age, which is partly due to fine craftsmanship. From the M.G Eppenstein & Co. catalog, 1880s. Courtesy of Archive.org. https://archive.org/details/wholesalepocketp00mcep/page/44/mode/2up

 

19th-century companies with jewelry collections also offered ornate silverware and intricate watches. Since hair work designs were trendy during the Victorian Era, there was an option to get customized pieces designed or create your own with a catalog's DIY instructions. While some business catalogs were seasonal, many were also produced monthly. Their extensive collections are excellent references for authenticating antique jewelry designs from the 19th and early 20th centuries. 

The intricate etching on gold stem-winding watches, lace pins, and engraved cuff bracelets are interesting historical pieces to analyze and still have a unique presence in today's jewelry market. Although the original mass-marketed catalog of post-Industrial Era jewelry has evolved, the concept has generated millions of loyal customers and success for companies. With the beginning and height of mass-produced accessories, an innovative way of shopping aided the booming industrial market. Many of the original designs in antique catalogs are highly collectible in modern times. Their artisan craftsmanship and versatile collections are lovely reminders of the Industrial Revolution Era's lasting effect that transformed the Victorian Era and graciously carried into the 20th century. In present times, their exquisite designs are still revered. 


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