Victorian jewelry (1837-1901)

Victoria was born in 1819 ; she was the daughter of Edward August of Kent and Victoria of Saxe-Cobourg-Saalfeld. Stemed from the Hanoverian dynasty (six Monarchs ruled England from 1714 to 1937), Alexandrina Victoria accessed to the throne of Great Britain in 1837. Her predecessor was the King Guillaume IV (1830-1837). She died in 1901 ; her successor was the King Edward VII (1901-1910).

She had been the first Queen crowned since 1702 with the coronation of Queen Anne. She had a very long reign, 64 years (1737-1901). She ruled during a period of change in the Great Britain with the industrial revolution, the technological improvements, society evolutions, rediscovery of ancient civilizations, important artistic movements and the weakening of the Monarchy.
Her title was Queen of the United Kingdom of the Great Britain and Ireland, Queen of Canada, Empress of India (since 1876) and Queen of Australia (since 1901). The Prime minister Lord Melbourne (1835-1841) was her political mentor.
She married her cousin Prince Albert in 1940 who became Prince consort in 1957. Contrary to the precedent Monarchs, Queen Victoria and her husband shared power : her husband had a public role (he represented the Queen when she wasn’t available).
The role of the Monarch involved during her reign : she was less involved in politics and had a dedication to her family and shared her power with her beloved husband. She died in 1901 ; her funerals were spectacular. It shown her popularity and the great influence of her reign.
The Royal couple had nine children (Vicky, Bertie, Alice, Alfred, Helena, Louise, Arthur, Leopold and Beatrice). She was nicknamed “the grand mother of Europe”, thanks to weddings, several children and grand children became rulers of European countries. For instance, her grandchild Alice of Hesse became the Empress Alexandra Feodorovna of Russia when she wed the Tsar Nicholas II in 1894.
Among major painters in the Victorian era, there were Joseph Mallord William Turner (Romanticism), Dante Gabriel Rossetti (Pre-Raphaelitism and Aestheticism), Sir Edward Burne-Jones (Pre-Raphaelitism), Arthur Hugues (Pre-Raphaelitism), Marie Spartali Stillman (Pre-Raphaelitism), Albert Joseph Moore (Aestheticism), Lawrence Alma-Tadema (Academic Art), Edward John Poynter (Academic Art), Frederic Leighton (Academic Art), Frank Bernard Dicksee (Academic Art), John William Godward (Academic art), John William Waterhouse (Romanticism, Pre-Raphaelitism), John Frederic Lewis (Orientalism), George Frederick Watts (Symbolism) and William Morris (founder of the Arts & Crafts). Besides, John Partridge and Franz Xaver Winterhalter painted portraits of Queen Victoria.
Queen Victoria marked her period with her values (family values, modesty, open-mindedness..), her way of governing (less involved in the political matters, more protocolar role and an important role for her husband), her life (love for her husband, mourning period and a long reign) and her style (taste for cameos, coral, mourning jewelry…).
Prince Albert offered exquisite jewels to Queen Victoria, namely tiaras made by the renowned jeweler Joseph Kitching.

The House of Garrard (founded in 1735) was an important jewelry House during the Victorian area.

Queen Victoria exerted influence over society but also over fashion and jewelry. Her taste in jewelry impacted the jewels during her reign : use of coral, cameos, brooches, mourning jewelry… Besides, Victorian Jewelry reflected the life of the Queen : her love for her husband, (Romantic period), her mourning (Grand period) and the end of the mourning (Aesthetic period).

The Victorian jewelry was feminine, sentimental (love symbols, mourning jewelry, heart jewels, mourning jewelry), meaningful and symbolic (acrostic jewelry, snake as symbole of internal love, lockets, hair jewelry, hands…). Jewels were also inspired by the nature (flowers, animals, insects and celestial objects). Birds, crescent moons, quatrefoils, Stars were particularly popular.

Society changes (emerging of middle class, emancipation of women…) also shaped Victorian jewelry. Thanks to the industrialization and the technical improvements (new machines) jewelry became more affordable (lower costs, massive production, costume jewelry, low carat gold jewelry…). At the end of the Victorian era, the philosopher and designer William Morris and the leading art critic John Ruskin (Arts & Crafts movement) defended craftsmanship and rejected the industrialization. They privileged good quality over low quality produced on a large scale.

Victorian jewelry had been influenced by the past (Antiquity, Middle Ages and Renaissance). Antique techniques were used such as micromosaics, filigree and enamel. Cameos (Roman inspired) were particularly popular. Victorian jewelry was also impacted by foreign countries (Japan, Scotland, North Africa, Middle-East…). Besides, jewels were as well influenced by contemporary Art movements (Pre-Raphaelitism, Aestheticism, Arts & Crafts and Art nouveau).

Amethyst, emerald, opal, garnet, turquoise, diamond, coral, tortoiseshell, jet, black onyx, gutta-percha, bog oak and pearl were gemstones and materials often used in the Victorian jewelry. Besides, gold, aluminum, pinchbeck and silver were the main metals used in jewelry.

Besides, cluster diamond jewels, hair combs, swag necklaces, repoussé jewels, fringe necklaces, filigree jewels, brooches, chatelaines, cut steel jewels, Essex crystal reverse intaglios, chocker necklaces, ribbon chokers and cannetille jewels were typical of the period. Brooches were characterized by specific clasps (“C” clasp or trombone clasp) and had a tube hinge. Lastly, hearts, belts, anchors, eyes and hands were popular motifs in the Victorian jewelry.

Whereas Victorian jewelry at the beginning was heavy, intricate, full of details, jewels became at the end less ostentatious, smaller, simpler and more practical to women who were more and more many to work.

Joseph Kitching and Garrard designed jewels for the Queen Victoria herself. Fortunato Pio Castellani (1794-1865), Carlo Giuliano and Robert Phillips were renowned Victorian jewelers who revived archeological jewelry. Besides, Charles Robert Ashbee and W. Ballantyne were important jewelers belonging to the Arts & Crafts movement.

There were three periods : The Romantic period (Love for her husband ; 1837-1860), the Grand period or Mourning period (mourning of Queen Victoria ; 1860-1885) and the Aesthetic period (end of the mourning ; 1885-1901).

The Romantic period (1837-1860), was characterized by the Queen’s love for her husband. Jewels were romantic (heart jewelry, regard and dearest rings, heart lockets, hand jewels…) and symbolic (acrostic jewelry, lockets, hair jewelry…). Through jewels, Victorians expressed their sentiments (love, friendship, loyalty, faith and mourning). Snake jewelry became popular as a symbol of eternal love.

Thanks to the industrial revolution (jewelry made with machines allowing massive production), the growing middle class and the discovery of gold in California and Australia, jewelry became more affordable and available (low carat gold, costume jewelry). Until 1850, jewels were made only with 18k or 22k gold. Then, many jewels were made with low-karat gold (9, 12 and 15K) or were gold-plated. Besides, Aluminium and pinchbeck were also used.

Besides, cut steel jewelry, cannetille jewels, cluster diamond jewels, seed pearls jewels, girandole jewelry, chain necklaces, filigree jewelry, repoussé jewels and chatelaines were typical of the period. Coral, amethyst, lava, tortoiseshell became popular gemstones and materials. Brooches were characterized by specific clasps (“C” clasp or trombone clasp) and had a tube hinge. Besides, flowers, hands, anchors and bows were popular motifs.

This period was also marked by a taste for the past (Medieval and Renaissance). Pre-Raphaelitism (founded in 1848) was a contemporary art movement which exalted Medieval art. Victorians were also interested in Antiquity. Archeological revival jewels (Egyptian, Etruscan, Greek and Roman) flourished… Cameos, intaglios, micromosaics, pietra dura and enamel jewelry were fashionable.

The Grand period or Mourning period (1860-1885) was marked by the death of Queen Victoria’s husband and mother (1861). Black and dark jewelry, memento mori jewels and hair mourning jewelry were worn by the Victorians to pay respect and remember their lost love ones. Jewelers used black materials and dark gemstones to create mourning jewelry such as jet, black onyx, gutta-percha, garnets and vulcanite.

Silver began to be used in Victorian jewelry with the discovery of silver in Virginia City, Nevada in the 1860s. Lockets, essex crystal reverse intaglios, book chain collar necklaces, filigree jewelry, floral inspired jewelry and insect jewels were popular. Jade, amethysts, garnets, tortoiseshell were materials and gemstones used in the mid-Victorian jewelry.

History influenced Mid-Victorian jewelry. Pre raphaelites (founded in 1848) put medieval art as an ideal. Medieval (476 ap. J.-C. – 1453), Gothic (from mid 12th to end 16th) and Renaissance (1300-1600 ; Holbeinesque jewelry) jewelry were revived. The contemporary jewelers Robert Philipps and Fortunato Pio Castellani designed Renaissance revival jewels.

Academic art was an art movement appearing in the middle of the 19th century which had taste for history and Antiquity. Victorian jewels designed antique revival jewelry (Egyptian, Etruscan, Greek, Roman designs). Among the most famous jewelers who revived archeological jewelry, there were the Italian jewelers Fortunato Pio Castellani (1794-1865), Robert Philipps and Carlo Giuliano (based in London since 1860).


The Aesthetic period (1885-1901), was distinguished by the end of the Queen’s mourning (lighter mourning), the economic growth and a more modern life for the women (Suffragette movement ; more and more women join the work force, new property rights for women…) and the reject of the Victorian conventions and morale (Aesthetic movement). Conformism and industrialism were fought. They promoted pure beauty and “art for art’s sake”. 

Jewelry changed, the jewels were lighter, smaller and simpler and less ostentatious (small broochs, studs, delicate pendants, no diamonds for the day…). With the emancipation of women, heavy jewels were replaced by more discreet jewels for every days. Diamonds were henceforth reserved for the evening and special occasions. Besides, antique jewelry (Etruscan, Egyptian, Roman and Greek) were revived. Academic art was inspired by Antiquity and Orient. Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836-1912) and Frank Bernard Dicksee were renowned Academic artists.

Floral, celestial (crescent moons…), animal and insect jewels were popularized. Charm slide bracelets and Filigree jewels were loved by Victorians. The swag and fringe necklaces flourished. Diamond cluster jewels, equestrian jewelry, choker necklaces and bar pins were fashionable. Perfume bottle pendants, hair combs, miniature painting jewels, filigree hair pins, chatelaines, vinaigrettes, compact purses and book chain necklaces were also typical. Gunmetal, platinium, gold and silver were usual metals. Besides, brooches had hinged tube catches and had often a safety chain.

In the late Victorian era, jewelry was influenced by the Arts and crafts movement (founded by William Morris in the late 19th century and derivated from the Pre-Raphaelism). Charles Robert Ashbee was a main Arts & Crafts jeweler. Arts & Crafts artists defended craftsmanship and rejected industrialization. Besides, Art nouveau movement (1890-1914) also influenced the late Victorian era. Floral jewelry with sinuous shapes and arabesques flourished.

Vintage costume jewelry brands like Goldette of NY, Hattie Carnegie, Kenneth Jay Lane and Trifari created jewels inspired by the Victorian area.

Grainne Morton, Shelley Cooper and Axelle Delhaye are contemporary Victorian inspired jewelry brands.

Leave a Reply