It was the death of the Prince Albert in 1861, which casted a long shadow on the glory of that era. All of a sudden mourning jewellery was widespread. Works from the black material jet were omnipresent as if from nowhere. Whitbyjet claimed the highest quality level itself. Exceptionally and luxuriously carved by hand, faceted and polished, jet jewellery was worn as chains, bracelets and earrings. Motives like flora and fauna came into decorative implementation, as it was typical for Victorian jewellery. Precisely worked out nuances and complicated hand engravings testify to the highest technical skill of the jewellers of that epoch. We make a distinction of 3 style epochs within the Victorian age, which allows understanding the living conditions perfectly.
Early Victorian (1837-1860)
Queen Victoria ascended the throne in the height of the romantic movement. The interest in the Middle Ages and the court life of the knights found its climax in the stories of Sir Walter Scotts (e. g.” Ivanhoe‘) and Victor Hugo’s ‚The Hunchback of Notre Dame‘. In 1834 the so-called Tudor Gothic was chosen as a style inspiration of the new Houses of Parliament. What took place in literature and architecture also had its inspiration in the jewellery creation. The goldsmiths took their motives from the Renaissance, the Middle Ages and nature. They adapted these subjects without copying them precisely. A mood should be created, not a copy. Besides architectural influences nature was also a big subject supplier. Sheets, blossoms and branches are often to be found in the jewellery design. The natural motive, however, which is to be found most often in the Early-Victorian epoch, is the snake. As a symbol of wisdom and infinity it was used in a more positive way those days than it is today. Some materials define this epoch most appropriately. The hair ornament counts to it: the finest threads, twisted and bobbin lace from hair, presents as love and friendship proofs. In addition, glass seedbeads, which were sewed onto the mother-of-pearl and which produced extremely astonishing ornaments. And last but not least jet, that noble fossil material which celebrated its premiere in 1851 at the London world exhibition and wrote jewellery history afterwards. To date, antique jet jewellery works because of its strong and confident statement as a companion to the contemporary fashion. All in all, the jewellery of this epoch reflects the early Victorian society: enthusiastic, optimistic and curious.
Mid Victorian (1860-1885)
The Grand period
If we think in general of the Victorian pieces of jewellery, then these are those extensive, imposing and confident pieces of the mid period. It was not only the growing wealth of the population, which is reflects this style, but also the position of the women who penetrated bit by bit into male domains. For example, it was revolutionary that they were allowed keep their own earned money to themselves! Since 1870 they did not have to deliver their wage any more to the husband. In the pieces of this time motives of antique finds are found which were brought to light in Niniveh, Troy and Etruscan areas of Italy. High-carat examples from the workshops of Giuliano, Castellani Froment-Meurice, Phillips and Brogden emerged there. Pieces of jewellery in the classical style had a rich trimming of big coloured stones and gold showed the typical surface of a peach skin. This was done by a procedure which bestowed a matted, almost velvety structure to the gold. In the middle of the 1870s the taste changed and the trend went to colourless stones, primarily, diamonds. This was probably because of the huge diamond finds in South Africa. These mines which spitted out only large amounts of the popular stones since1867 made them simply inexpensive and accessible for bigger social classes. Also the technical development removed the supremacy of coloured jewellery for a while. In the new and quickly spreading electric light diamonds sparkled unusually strong and inspiring.
Late Victorian (1885-1901)
The late Victorians looked with disgust at the complacency of their parents and their taste. They aimed at a complete break with the tradition and in their zeal to lever out every convention, they became romantic in a new way. The Art Worker’s Guild which brought manual artistic creativity close to the public with their exhibition ‚Arts and Crafts Exhibition‘ in 1886 arose from the pre-Raffael painter’s movement. They propagated easier materials and simpler forms. A revolution of the popular taste. The jewellery taste became simpler as well. Less jewellery was worn in general. To wear diamonds during the day was finally the top of bad taste. Anyway little jewellery was worn between 1887 and 1890, so that the „Jewellers Association‘ appealed desperately to Alexandra, the princess of Wales. She was so kind to buy some pieces of the guild and wore them at public appearances. Thereafter the jewellery trade gained motion again. Watches hung on long chains as well as small earrings near the ear were worn. At evening events, like a ball or an opera visit, diamonds in filigree settings were worn as a necklace. Popular was also hair ornament, like combs or delicate Tiaras, mainly set with diamonds and pearls. Almost not a single colour stone was to be seen! In general the colours of the clothes became brighter, softer and more pastel. The jewellery design evolved accordingly. The stone, which characterizes this epoch besides the diamond most appropriately is the opal. Furthermore the society favoured moonstones and natural pearls. Small insects like flies, butterflies or dragonflies were worn as brooches. Also diamond-studded owls, frogs, salamanders and other creatures were typical representatives of this epoch. The appearance of the jewellery in the late Victorian can be hardly called Victorian. It melted with the aesthetics of the French Art nouveau and the German Art nouveau. This presents the beginning of a new international taste and the beginning of the Edwardian era. However, one thing stayed the same: the wish to own the ultimately best what could be achieved with money. An attitude, as it prevailed since the world exhibition in 1851. So the break with traditions was not so drastic as it appeared.
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