Jewelry | The Georgian, Victorian & Edwardian Eras
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in the 18th & 19th Century
commonly known 'Victorian era' was bookended by two other significant
periods in British history, the Georgian and Edwardian eras. All
three were named after the British monarchs who oversaw the period.
As far as fashion, social attitudes, and aesthetic taste is
concerned, there is little disagreement that the royal families had
an indelible influence on the period's fashion and design motifs, as
well as national the mood.
Jewellery (1714 to 1830)
roughly the same time as the Industrial Revolution, the Georgian
period was defined by the rule of the English kings George I through
George IV, as well as the American and French revolutions. This
period was distinguished by its air of opulence, self indulgence and
quirkiness, with George III (aka the porphyria stricken "Mad
King George") setting the tone. Starting with the the ornate
Rococo style of the early Georgian period, motifs transitioned from
Gothic Revival during the mid-Georgian era, to Neoclassical during
the transitional 'Regent period' of George IV.
jewelry styles of the period were both elaborate and intricate,
forming ornate arrangements such as 'chandelier' style earrings,
rivière necklaces' with their 'flowing river' of diamonds, and
multi-strand festoons or three-strand en esclavage necklaces' forming
swagged concentric rings. In keeping with the 'excesses' of the
times, diamonds were a favorite gemstone of the early Georgian Era.
Gemstones were used in ornate repoussé settings, forming a
raised metal pattern by working from the back side of the piece.
Georgian accessories were the cannetille, chatelaine, and stomacher.
The stomacher was an elaborately decorated triangular pane, filling
in the front opening of a woman's bodice. Cannetille work was another
popular Georgian style of metalsmithing, being made up of a lacy,
open filigree consisting of tightly wound twisted gold wires, forming
a coiled spiral that resembles spun gold. A chatelaine is a
decorative clasp worn at the waist, with a series of suspended chains.
Jewellery (1837 to 1901)
"Victorian era" as it has come to be known, started on June
20th 1837 with the crowning of Queen Victoria as the United Kingdom's
longest ruling monarch. The Reform Act of 1832, and changing social
mores are also credited with the ending of both the Georgian era, and
transitional Regency era (1800-1830), bringing about a new,
fashion and design blended an eclectic array of stylistic motifs such
as Elizabethan, Classical and Gothic revival, Greco-Roman,
Neoclassical, Orientalism, Rococo and Romanticism, all tailored to
fit the new vision of an "ideal woman" as pure,
unadulterated, and subservient.
Victorian' years from 1837 to around 1860 were referred to as the
"Romantic Period," marked by the Queen's marriage to Prince
Albert in 1840. Romanticism was a social shift away from the
aristocratic, social, and political norms of the Enlightenment
period, stressing the importance of dreams, emotions and
sentimentality as inspirational source material for artistic
expression. The Romantic era also brought about a new fascination
with nature, adding Eden-like symbols such as the serpent, grapes,
flowers, and birds to the 'romantic' motif.
Victoria and Prince Albert had purchased Balmoral Castle in the
Caledonian woodlands of Scotland in 1848, Celtic motifs began to
permeate English culture. By the end of the Romantic Period, brooches
and pendants containing polished agate gemstones called "Scottish
pebble jewelry" had become very popular.
Hair Jewelry (left)
"hair jewelry" or "memorial mourning brooches"
became a staple of the period, with Queen Victoria giving gifts of
jewelry made from her hair (above, left). Mourning brooches were made
by weaving small locks of a loved one's hair into detailed "hair
art." The locks were mounted on an agate or mother-of-pearl
backing, then covered with domed glass. Human hair was also woven
into elaborate designs and patterns used on pins, brooches, and bracelets.
After a twenty
year run, the Romantic era ended suddenly with the death of Queen
Victoria's husband, Prince Albert in 1860. A new period of mourning
known as the Mid-Victorian or "Grand" Period, lasted from
1860 to 1885. Darker stones such as jet and black onyx began to
appear in jewelry, symbolic of the national mood.
offshoot of the Queen's fascination with the Scottish countryside was
the popularity of the Celtic Revival Cross, worn as a pendant or pin.
Due to a scarcity of raw materials during this period, open-work
techniques such as cannetille, filigree, and repoussé were
employed so as to exaggerate the quantity of precious metals, and
size of the jewelry piece.
jewelry items of the period were mosaic jewelry, the cameo brooch and
the stick pin, with cameos of carved conch shell, hardstone agate,
carnelian, and sardonyx, or Wedgwood ceramic, depicting mythological
Greco-Roman imagery. Glass or paste gemstone simulations were also
used extensively during the Victorian Period, and jewelers would add
a foil backing to reflect more light through the 'stone.'
also decorated with miniature Limoges painted enamel portraits
(above, center), surrounded by Etruscan style granulation, filigree
and fleur d'lis. Small enamel portraits were painted by artisans
called "limners," who would travel the countryside creating
these wearable likenesses.
Mid-Victorian Period saw the rise of a new urban middle class . A
fashionable pastime for the well-heeled Englishman was to embark on
"The Grand Tour" of Europe, visiting classical Baroque,
Greco-Roman and Italian Renaissance monuments while collecting
mementos from each location. Collectors brought back Pietra Dura
(stone inlay) mosaics and mico-mosaics (tessarae) which local
artisans would craft to emulate the architectural motifs of famous
Etruscan and Greco-Roman sites.
Victoria was crowned as the Empress of India in 1876, 'Orientalism'
brought about a newfound fascination with the Far East, as Eastern
and Indian motifs worked their way into European art and jewelry design.