Victorian jewelry : The Grand period / Mourning period (1860-1885)

Photo of the Prince Albert (Queen’s husband), gutta-percha brooch, hair mourning brooch, cross jewel by Shelley Cooper, archaeological revival bangle by Carlo Giuliano and mourning ring “not lost” (Dahlium).

The Grand Period or the grand mourning (1861 to 1880) began with the death of Prince Albert followed with the death of her mother in 1861. Queen Victoria went into deep depression and mourning.

After the death of her husband, she wore black and mourning jewelry for the rest of her life. Fascinated by psychics, mystics and the paranormal, she slept with a cast of Albert’s hand next to her in order to hold it. Her husband’s death was always in her mind. She had been worn mourning clothes for 40 years.

The House of Garrard created a miniature crown for the Queen Victoria so as she could wore it with her mourning veil.

Fascinated by death, Victorians had a strict mourning protocole. After the funeral, widows had to continue to wear mourning clothes (black) and jewelry during four years. Bright and extravagant jewelry were inappropriate. Like Queen Victoria, widows could keep their mourning clothes and jewels for the rest of her life.

Although mourning jewels existed before, it became popular during the Reign of the Queen Victoria. It was almost always black and had death designs (hearts, skulls, skeletons, coffins…). Mourning jewelry was dark and macabre. This type of jewelry were worn by both men and women when they lost a love ones.

Mourning jewels could be made with the hair of the deceased or contained a lock of the deceased’s hair. The deceased’s hair was kept as a relique. Thanks to hair mourning jewels, Victorians could wear a part of their lost love ones. It was kept as a souvenir of the deceased person they loved.

It was a time dedicated to love and religion. Mourning cross jewels flourished.

Mourning jewelry was almost always black. Black materials and fine gemstones were used (jet, Gutta-percha, black onyx, Vulcanite…).

Pearls were also used in mourning jewelry to symbolize tears of those grieving.

Ribbon chokers were worn by Victorian women :

Despite the dissolution of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in the early 1850s, it resurfaced in 1857, when Oxford undergraduates William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones teamed up with Dante Gabriel Rossetti and painters Arthur Hughes, Valentine Prinsep and others to decorate the Oxford Union debating chamber. Since 1860, a new generation of Pre-Raphaelites had been emerged with Rossetti as the leader.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones neglected a little the Medieval spirit and get inspired by the Italian art in particular by Botticelli. The paintings represented young women surrounded by flowers. They were inspired by the Italian Renaissance painters. The nature was prefered to the medieval art.

Jane Morris (William Morris’ wife ; 1839-1914) and Elizabeth Siddal (Rossetti’s wife ; 1829-1862) became the muses of the movement. Annie Miller, Fanny Cornforth and Alexa Wilding were also models of the Pre-Raphaelites, namely Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Besides, Fanny Eaton had been also a model for the Pre-Raphaelites.

The Pre-Raphaelitism continued to influence and inspire British Art until the end of the 19th century. Pre-Raphaelite painters and Victorian photographers had commun subjects such as medieval art, mythology and litterature (Shakespeare, Dante, Byron…). Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879), Henry Peach Robinson and Robert Fenton (1818-1869) made photos which were inspired by the English pre-Raphaelite paintings. Besides, Roger Fenton was a war photographer but he also shot several times the Queen Victoria.

The artist William Morris (second generation of the Pre-Raphaelites) and founder of the Arts and Crafts movement (1860-1915) exerced an important influence on the art and jewelry. William Morris founded in 1861 a firm of interior decorators and manufacturers “Morris, Marshall, Faulkner, and Company”. After 1875, Morris and Company was dedicated to recapture the spirit and the quality of Medieval craftsmanship. The William Morris’ patterns were inspired by the nature (flowers, plants…) with sinuous lines and arabesques.

The Pre-Raphaelites participated to the development of the Aesthetic movement. The Aestheticism movement (1860-1900) had an important influence on all of types of art including fashion and jewelry. The movement started in the 1860s in the studios and houses of a radical group of artists and designers, including William Morris and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. The father of this movement was the writer Oscar Wilde. Albert Joseph Moore and James Whistler were Aesthetic painters. The Aesthetics rejected Victorian materiality, morality, conformism and industrialism. Art musn’t express a moral or a socio-political message. They promoted pure beauty and “art for art’s sake”. Sensuality and free creative creation were vindicated by the Aesthetics.

Thanks to the discovery of silver in Virginia City, Nevada in the 1860s, the price decreased and became more available. Silver was a popular metal. Heavy necklaces and lockets were produced in silver.

The dark red gemstone Garnet was very used by jewelers. Cabochon cut garnets became usual. They were set in pendants, brooches, earrings and necklaces.

Among the other gemstones used in the Victorian jewelry, there were amethysts, rock crystal, emeralds, diamonds, opal and ruby. Opal was a gemstone particularly appreciated by the Queen Victoria. Besides, thanks to diamond discoveries in South Africa in 1867, diamonds became abundant, creating an important supply of diamonds on the market.

The old mine cut was the most popular diamond cut until the invention of the steam lathe in the 1870s. After that, it was possible to create more rounded diamonds.

Materials such as bog oak, coral, ivory, seed pearls and tortoiseshell were also used. Following the French expedition in China, jade was used in jewelry.

Cabochon cut jewelry were usual. The gem or bead was cut in a convex form and highly polished (not faceted).

Scottish inspired jewels continued to flourish during the Grand period of the Victorian era. Agates, granit, celtic designs and sterling silver were typical.

scot mid

Ancient jewelry were still popular. Medieval (476 ap. J.-C. – 1453), Gothic (12th-16th) and Renaissance (1300-1600) styles were revived.

The Middle Ages began in 476 after J.-C with the disappearance of the last Occidental Roman Emperor. It ended in 1453 with the Constantinople fall for the Orient. For the Occident, historians determined the end of the Medieval era with the death of the last Medieval king (Louis XI of France) in 1483. However, the discovery of America by Christophe Colomb in 1492 can be also the end of the Middle Ages.

Main design phases in jewelry included Barbarian (409-910 ; jewelry for both women and men), Byzantine (330 after J.C – 1453 ; opulent jewelry with precious stones, glass and gold ; religious motifs), Merovingian (5th century – 8th century), Carolingian (751 after J.-C – 10th century) and Ottonian (919 after J.-C – 1024), Viking (end of 8th century – 11th century ; filigree work and repoussé techniques used) and the Late Middle Ages (Gothic style). Neck chains carried a variety of pendants (crosses, lockers…). Goldsmiths used the techniques of soldering, plating and gilding, inlay, repoussé, granulation and filigree.

The English painter Thomas Francis Dicksee (1819-1895) was inspired by history (Ancient Egypt civilization, Medieval era…) and litterature (Shakespeare). He was a student at the Royal Academy in London.

The Gothic era was an inspiration for the Victorian jewelers.

As a reaction to the austere Neoclassicism of John Nash, Gothic architecture became the most popular type of architecture in the Victorian Britain. This Neo-Gothic style used new materials like wrought-iron. St. Pancras station opened in 1868, was an example of the Victorian Gothic architecture.

The neo-renaissance jewels were popularized in the 1870s and were called “Holbeinesque jewelry” (at the manner of Holbein). It was inspired by the work of the Renaissance German artist Hans Holbein the younger.

Renaissance (1300-1600) revival jewelry was also fashionable. Renaissance was both a historical period and an artistic movement. It began in Italy in the 14th and 15th centuries, then in all Europe. It marked the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the modern times. It was characterized by the Humanism movement and the return to Antiquity.

Renaissance jewelry was characterized by “colorful set of gemstones inlaid on an intricate gold setting”. Hair ornaments, earrings, the sea theme and religious motifs were fashionable during the Renaissance. Goldsmiths of the Renaissance used technics for gold and vermeil jewels such as casting, chasing, hammering, cold–joining and soldering. They also used techniques like embossing, enameling, engraving and filigree. The Renaissance jewels (1300-1600) were often adorned with pearls, gemstones and decorated with enamel.

The contemporary Italian jeweler Carlo Giuliano revived the Renaissance designs.

Academic art had a dominant position in Victorian Britain. Academic art (“art pompier”) was an artistic movement dating from the middle of the 19th century. It was characterized by a taste for historical themes and Orientalism. The Academic art brought together Neoclassicism (Greek and Roman inspirations) and Romanticism (fantasy, high emotion). Frederick Leighton (1830-1896), Edward Poynter (1836-1919), Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836-1912) and Frank Bernard Dicksee were renowned Academic artists.

Antique civilizations were made fashionable through jewelry (archeological jewelry). Victorians were very interested of Antiquity (Egyptian, Etruscan and Roman era).

The Etruscan civilization (from 8th century BC to the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC) was admired by the Victorians.

Etruscans used jewelry antique techniques such as granulation (the surface is covered in spherules or granules of precious metal), embossing (producing relief decoration by raising the surface of thin metal from the reverse to form the design), enameling (decorate coating applied to metal) and filigree (embellishment in which fine, pliable threads of precious metal are twisted or curled into a design and then soldered into the jewelry).

Etruscan inspired jewelry was popularized in the Victorian era. Jewelers used these ancient techniques.

The jeweler Fortunato Pio Castellani (1794-1865) paid a tribute to the Etruscan jewelry through his creations. The ancient granulation technique was namely used by the jeweler.

The Italian jeweler Carlo Giuliano created also jewelry inspired by the Etruscan period.

Roman civilization (753 BC to 27 BC and from 64 AD to 1453 AD) also fascinated Victorians.

Roman techniques were used like the micromosaics. Pio Castellani and Carlo Giuliano created jewelry using this technicque Micromosaics were a type of mosaic created from tiny fragments of glass, called tesserae.

Ancient Egypt (3100 BCE – 30 BCE) fascinated people. The exhibition of Egyptian treasures at the Universal exhibition in 1867 was a great success. Academic painters depicted Egyptian scenes like Sir Edward Poynter and Lawrence Alma Tadema.

Victorian jewelers like Carlo Giuliano revived ancient Egyptian jewelry. They used Egyptian symbols like scarabs and falcons. They decorated them with enamel and used gemstone and materials such as coral.

During the 19th century, Europeans were fascinated by “Orient” (North Africa and Middle East). Many Victorian artists used oriental decors as backgrounds in their own religious paintings. Frederick Goodall and JF Lewis were renowned Victorian orientalist painters.

Tassel jewelry (Moorish influence) was quite popular.

Filigree jewelry was also a trend appreciated by the Victorians. “Filigree was a delicate embellishment in which fine, pliable threads of precious metal are twisted or curled into a design and then soldered into the jewelry”. This technique was namely used by the Etruscan.

Enameling (decorate coating applied to metal) was a technique used during the Victorian era.

Victorian jewels often had sophisticated flower designs.

Large bangles were popular.

Lockets (“small ornamental worn around a person’s neck on a chain and containing something sentimental value like a photograph or lock of hair”) were popular. Lockets were worn as pendants.

Geometric jewels were made. Some designs looked like the early stages of Art Deco jewelry.

Essex crystal reverse intaglios flourished during the grand period. A rock crystal cabochon was carved ; the carving was painted and sealed it with a mother of pearl backing. It could be decorated with gemstones or pearls. These jewels had for subjects nature (flowers) and animals (especially dogs).

Sporting jewelry representing sporting activities like hunting and horse racing was usual.

Among popular motifs, there were bells, birds, crescent moons, crosses, daisies, hearts, monograms, stars, and shield shapes. Stars symbolized direction and guidance for the spirit.

Insects like dragonflies, butterflies and bees were also very popular motifs. Insects meant transformation and changement in life.

The jewelry market knew a great changement with the apparition of less expensive jewels (secondary or costume jewelry). For instance, lower karat gold was used. With these more affordable jewelry, more women could buy jewels.


Heavy necklaces like Book chain collar necklaces were popular.

The Victorian society changed namely for the women rights. In the 1870s, the law allowed married women to dispose their own money. Then, a law of 1882 (Married Women’s Property Act 1882) granted married women the same rights than the non married women. Moreover, the Primrose league created in 1883 by Lord Randolph Churchill and his Fourth Party associates had been an important step to female suffrage. Besides, more women worked (teachers…). Women adopted more practical clothes for an active life.

WC Bell painted the miniature portrait of Queen Victoria in a bangle in 1879. The item was a gift from Queen Victoria to her Lady of the Bedchamber from 1878 to 1901, Lady Ismay Catherine Southampton.

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 Victorian inspired jewelry brands.


Sources : Yatesjewelers, katiecallahanan, historyofjewelry, thesprucecrafts, vintagenews, scheong.wordpress, langantiques, 1stdibs,,, justcollecting, gemsociety,, lexico , estatediamondjewelry, yatesjewelers, merriam-webster,, rubylane, wikiart, journals.openedition, victorianweb, howtotalkaboutart, telegraph, visual-arts-cork, aviewoncities, lancastrianjewellers, loiseaumoqueur, musee-orsay, lemonde, officiel-Galeries-musees , timemaps, theartstory, regard.hypotheses, springer, historyextra, museumofjewelry, grandpalais, goldenagebeads, Pinterest and Etsy.

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