Victorian jewelry : The Aesthetic period (1885-1901)

William Morris wallpaper, Victorian 18 carat gold brooch in the form of a kitten, Victorian crown heart Turquoise Bar Brooch, butterfly brooch, micro mosaics brooch, Egyptian revival brooch, Art nouveau inspired floral pendant, Arts & Crafts brooch, Crescent moon broochs (honeymoon broochs), flower ring, diamond studs, hair comb and flower brooch.

The Late Victorian era (1885-1901) was also referred to the ‘Aesthetic Period’. Conservatism and tradition were rejected. Jewels of this period were different from the previous typed of jewelry. The Jewels became simpler, lighter, smaller (studs…), less heavy, less dark but feminine. These jewels fitted with an active life.

The complex and intricate designs of the early Victorian jewels were replaced by more simple lines and geometric designs. “Aesthetic art was characterized by subdued colors, geometric designs, and simplified linear forms.” Jewelry was different compared to the Victorian preference for fussy decor, curvaceous forms, and abundant details.

During this time period, the Aestheticism movement (1860-1900) had an important influence over all of types of art including fashion and jewelry. The movement started in a small way in the 1860s, in the studios and houses of a radical group of artists and designers, including William Morris and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. The writer Oscar Wilde was the father of the movement.

With the Aesthetic Movement (1860-1900), the Pre-Raphaelitism spirit was applied to all types of art including decorative arts, architecture, design and illustration. Aestheticism was namely inspired by the Pre-Raphaelite painting’s (red hair women, medieval themes, Japanese designs and geometric patterns). Aesthetic Movement concerned all types of art (music, sculpture, painting, literature, architecture, decoration, design, fashion, jewelry…).

The Aesthetic artists rejected Victorian materiality, morality, conformism and industrialism. They promoted pure beauty and “art for art’s sake”. According to the Aesthetics, art had to be considered only for its beauty and not for its social, moral or political message. They worshiped beauty. In reaction to the industrialisation, they promoted craftsmanship for all types of art.Many jewelers abandoned mass production of jewelry and returned to handmade production.

Oscar Wilde (father of the Aesthetics), Dante Gabriel Rossetti, James Whistler, Théophile Gautier, Frederic Leighton and Aubrey Beardsley, Albert Joseph Moore, Edward Burne-Jonesand Arthur Silver were Aesthetics.

Thanks to a thriving economy, the middle class grew with more free time. The entertainment industry increased ; actors and actresses became trendsetters for fashion and jewelry.

More women moved into the work force. Moreover, they became to get involved in politics. With the Primrose league (1883) and the Women’s Liberal Federation (1886), Victorian women tried to get the right of vote. The suffragette movement had a huge influence on women outfits and jewelry ; jewels were less heavy and smaller. Women formed an integral part of the workforce.

Women wore much less jewelry, especially during the day. The jewelry was more delicate, lighter and smaller. The heavy jewelry of the Grand Period didn’t suit well with women’s new active life. Delicate rings, bracelets, and pins replaced the heavy and opulent jewels of previous Victorian years.

Small studs were appreciated. Indeed, the latest Victorian hairstyles exposed the ears.

Hinged, or “leverback” ear wires have been used since the 1880s and are still popular today. Until the 1890s, all earrings were made for pierced ears.

In 1894, the screw-back earring was invented, allowing women without pierced ears to wear earrings.

Diamonds were judged inappropriate during the day. Diamond jewelry was worn only for evening or special occasions (rivières, Tiarras…).

Diamond solitaire engagement rings appeared during this period. Tiffany and Co designed solitaire rings.

Jewelry of this period often used gemstones such as amethyst, aquamarine, chrysoberyl, chrysoprase, diamond, emerald, moonstone, opal, peridot, quartz, ruby, sapphire, and turquoise. Jewelers also liked horn and pearl for their creations.

Rose cut (round shape with a domed top and flat bottom), old mine cut (rounded square shape with many facets), old European cut (round faceted shape) and cabochon (rounded top and flat bottom ; especially for opals, emeralds and amethysts.) were usual gemstone cuts in the late Victorian era.

Cluster (a central gemstone surrounded by a halo of smaller gemstones) diamond jewelry was popular.

Platinum and silver became metals usually used for diamond jewels.

Gunmetal also became a popular jewelry metal. It was an alloy of copper, nickel and zinc with a distinctive deep grey finish.

Gold was still a popular metal in Victorian jewelry.

Short bar pins with a small design on top along with bar were popular.

Late Victorian Period brooches had hinged tube catches.

Since 1890, broochs had been secured to the reverse with a hinged pin and clasp. There was an additional security with a fine link safety chain.

Navette (marquise cut) rings flourished in the late Victorian period.

Delicate pendant necklaces were particularly popular

Swag necklaces were appreciated.

Fringe of pendant drops necklaces were popular.

Chokers were frequent.

Charm slide bracelets were appreciated.

Lockets were fashionable during the Victorian period.

Vinaigrettes (small metal containers for scented sponges or spices) were usually used.

Among appreciated motifs, there were shamrocks, stars, knots and hearts, barrels, bows, clovers, knots, oak leaves, quatrefoils (luck), stars, trefoils, and wishbones. Designers often combined double hearts with crowns or knots.

Hearts were often surmounted by a crown. Two entwined hearts meant “forever in my heart”. A heart with a crown signified “ruler of my heart”.

Flower designs were very appreciated. Flowers expressed love and friendship.

The “honeymoon” broochs (crescent moons) were very appreciated. The crescent moon celebrated feminity. It could be also a symbole of spirituality.

Animal broochs (chicken, lizards, frogs, monkey, birds, owls, dogs…) flourished.

Insect jewelry was also popular. Insects represented changement and transformation in life.

Prince Edward popularized equestrian jewelry.

Mizpah Jewelry (pieces emblazoned with the Hebrew word mizpah) became quite popular during the Aesthetic Period.. This meant “the Lord watch between me and thee while we are absent one from another.”

Thanks to Alexandra, Princess Of Wales (future Queen Consort of King Edward VII of Great Britain), choker necklaces became fashionable.

Colors were lighter with pastel tones.

In the 1890s, “the Gibson girl hairstyle” was popular. Charles Dan Gibson was an illustrator famous for his portraits of women.

Decorative hair accessories were popular, especially hair combs (often in tortoise shell and adorned with gemstones) were essential accessories. Decorative hair ornamentation, particularly combs, were the order of the day, as these went with the new uplifted hairdos.

Filigree hair pins :

Chatelaines were also popular during the late Victorian era.

Compact purses :

Perfume bottle pendants :

Lorgnettes (a pair of glasses or opera glasses held in front of a person’s eyes by a long handle at one side) were fashionable accessories.

Whistle charms were usual.

Miniature portrait jewelry was often worn by Victorian women.

Academic art retained a dominant position in Victorian Britain. Academic art (“art pompier”) was an artistic movement dating from the middle of the 19th century which was characterized by a taste for historical themes (Antiquity 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.

In the late Victorian area, jewelers were inspired by antique civilizations (Egyptian, Etruscan and Roman).When the famous actress Sarah Bernhardt played “Cleopatra”, Egyptian style jewelry became popular.

Etruscan (micromosaics) and Roman (cameos, intaglios, pietra dura, coins) and Greek (cameos) revival jewels were appreciated.

Japanese design emerged and was characterized by engraved birds, bamboo and minimal design, usually worked on silver.

Queen Victoria received diamond necklace in 1887. it was composed of several diamond trefoils, each with a pearl centre. The centre piece is a quatrefoil of diamonds with a a pearl centre and a drop pendant. It was possible to wear the centre piece as a pendant. Queen Victoria left the necklace to the Crown in 1901.

Pre-Raphaelite mouvement disappeared with the end of the 19th century and the death of the founders. Younger artists such as John William Waterhouse (1849-1917) and John Collier retook and rehabilitated the Pre-Raphaelite ideal, ideas and aesthetic. The artists Evelyn De Morgan, Florence Harrison and Frank Cadogan Cowper perpetuated the Pre-Raphaelite spirit.

Pre-Raphaelitism has an important influence on artistic movements of the 19th century such as Arts & Crafts, Art nouveau and the Symbolism thanks to William Morris and Aubrey Beardsley.

The Symbolism movement (1886-1900) was deeply related to the pre-Raphaelitism, the Romanticism and the Aestheticism. Symbolist art rejected naturalism and realism. Symbolist painters became closed to the mythological paintings. Symbolists though the truth was found in their imagination, dreams and unconsciousness. George Frederic Watts was a Victorian painter and sculptor associated to the Symbolism Movement. Symbolists also explored themes like the mysticism, death, debauchery, perversion and eroticism.

The Pre-Raphaelite movement still influenced the late Victorian jewelry.

The Pre-Raphaelitism produced the Arts and Crafts Movement. From 1860s, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones considered decor as a piece of art itself. Against the industrialisation, William Morris founded later the Arts & Crafts movement which promoted the craftmsnship. The ideas of the Pre-Raphaelites such as the faithful and accurate representation of the nature was founded in the decorative arts. Thanks to William Morris, leader of the Arts and crafts movement, Pre-Raphaelism was applied to the decorative arts (wallpaper, furniture, architecture…).

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 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). Their goal was to recapture the spirit and quality of the Medieval craftsmanship (techniques, designs…). His patterns were inspired by nature (flowers, plants…) with curved and sinuous lines.

Arts & Crafts (1860-1915) could be considered both as the British equivalent and the precursor of the French and Belgium Art nouveau movement. Born in the Great Britain in 1860, the Arts & Crafts movement expanded in the United States and Europe between the 1880s and 1910s. This movement wanted to revive the Middle age spirit and to encourage craftsmanship, despite the industrial revolution. This movement was inspired by the thoughts of the writer John Ruskin. William Morris was the leader but John Ruskin’s philosophy and thoughts influenced the movement.
Medieval art was established as an ideal.
In reaction to the damaging effects of the industrialisation in Great Britain, William Morris and the philosopher John Ruskin wanted to rehabilitate craftsmanship but also revive traditional techniques. Pre-Raphaelites were a source of inspiration for the Arts & Crafts movement. Among the artists belonging to the Arts and crafts movement, there were Charles Robert Ashbee, Edward Burne-Jones and Walter Crane.
Arts & Crafts jewelry was characterized by sinuous shapes, entwined and undulating lines and nature designs. It was also characterized by Medieval inspired designs and the use of enamel and the cabochon cut gemstones. Arts and Crafts jewellers avoided large, faceted stones and prefered cabochon (shaped and polished) gemstones.

C.R. Ashbee, a leader of the Arts and Crafts movement, thought jewelry had to be considered for “its intrinsic beauty and not for its intrinsic value”. The peacock was one of his favourite motifs. In 1888, Ashbee founded the Guild of Handicraft in London in order to revive traditional craft skills.

Among renowned Arts & Crafts jewelers, there were also Arthur & Georgie Gaskin, W. Ballantyne, Frank gardner hale, Sybil Dunlop and Edith Linnell.

The floral patterns and the geometric designs of the Art & Crafts will influence Art nouveau, Art Deco and the Bauhaus.

Aubrey Beardsley (1872-1898) was a British illustrator who influenced the Art nouveau movement. His drawings in black and white dealt with subjects like death, eroticism and fantasy. He was influenced by the Japonese Art.

Art Nouveau (1890-1914) was an ornamental style of art characterized by sinuous, organic and floral designs. It emerged in France and Belgium in 1890. This style was applied to all types of art (architecture, jewelry, interior design...). Philippe Wolfers was the most prestigious of the Art Nouveau jewellers working in Brussels. The French jeweler René Lalique was also a main figure of this movement. Lalique designed feminine heads with long waving hair (Mucha style) and used soft colored stones. The sinuous shapes, the simple floral motifs and delicate enamel pieces were typical of the Art nouveau jewelry. Enamel was very often used.

In England, René Lalique‘s work was perceived “as the culmination of the new aesthetic that jewelers were striving to achieve”. Sinuous, scrolled and floral designs were popular. Nature was a main inspiration.

Miniature portrait of Queen Victoria in 1886 :

Henry Charles Heath painted a miniature portrait of Queen Victoria in 1890.

For her jubilee, in 1897, Queen Victoria received a diamond brooch made by Garrard (Art nouveau inspired). The bottom chain of brilliants and pearl pendant was detachable.

The Aesthetic Period, and the Victorian Era closed with the death of Queen Victoria in 1901.

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 contemporary jewelry brands.

Sources : gemsociety, goldenagebeads, victorianajewelry, amp, langantiques, 1stdibs, britannica, theartstory , tate,, britannica, marketsquarejewelers, beautifulantiquetreasure, theartstory, victorianweb, modernvintagestyle,eclecticlight, orderofsplendor, graciejewellery, victorianweb, world-history-education, johnnyonthespotjeweler, gemsociety, myclassicjewelry, antiquers, realorrepro, Morninggloryantics, Lexico, rubylane , culture24, drawpaintacademy, dailyartmagazine, lancastrianjewellers, musee-orsay, lemonde, mydailyartdisplay, larnouveau, natgeokids, senses-artnouveau, gazette-drouot, V&A, Pinterest and Etsy

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