Victorian Jewelry: The Romantic Years

Queen Victoria Ascends the Throne, Queen Victoria Marries Prince Albert, Industrial Revolution Grows, Rising Middle Class, Charles Darwin and Charles Dickens defined the Romantic Years.

When: 1837-1901. Victoria ascended the throne on June 20, 1837 and was, at the time, the United Kingdom’s (UK) longest reigning monarch when she died on January 21, 1901. Queen Victoria ruled for 63 years and 7 months. Her reign was known as the Victorian era and was subdivided into three periods, Romantic, Grand and Aesthetic, with each period triggered by major events. The Romantic Years, which will be covered in this blog, also known as the Early Years, runs from 1837 to 1861, with some historians noting the dates to be 1837 to 1860. While the Victorian era was specifically British, Queen Victoria’s status and the reach of the British empire caused Victoriana to be a global influence. It is important to note that there were changes in jewelry styles during the 63 years that Victoria was on the throne. However, there were also certain motifs and themes that stayed throughout her reign. Styles did not drastically change as the years went by, instead they evolved over time. What that means is that you will see certain motifs or themes that will carry over from the different periods during Victoriana. This is often known as transitional jewelry.

Famous Makers: Makers were not generally named during the Early Years of the Victorian era, however, Mellerio, Boucheron and Garrard were named firms making jewelry . Queen Victoria appointed Garrard as the first Crown Jeweler supplying her with jewelry and caring for the crown jewels.

Motifs: Snakes, Flowers, Vines, Leaves, Hearts, Bows, Birds, Knots, Eyes, Hands, Anchors, Crosses, Buckles, Grapes

The Look:  Ornate, decorated, colorful, large pieces, sentimental jewelry, anything with snakes  

Materials: 18-karat Yellow or Rose gold, Rolled Gold (a gold sheet soldered to base metal), Gold Electroplate (a very thin sheet of gold soldered to base metal), Pinchbeck, Aluminum, Cut Steel, Diamond, Emerald, Amethyst, Chalcedony, Garnet, Chrysoberyl, Turquoise, Malachite, Topaz, Seed Pearls, Tortoise Shell, Ivory and Coral

Snake enhancer, diamond, sapphire, silver and gold. Pearls were threaded through the swirls of the snake creating an undulating feel to the necklace, circa 1850, courtesy Paul Fisher.

Queen Victoria ascended the throne when she was just 18 years old. Of course, it was expected that she would marry and the world watched as royal suitors courted the young queen. In 1840 she married Prince Albert, Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, of Germany who was her first cousin and what was most unusual for the times: It was a love match. It is important to remember that in this time period, royal and aristocratic marriages were often formed to solidify relations between nations or to form strategic alliances among the nobility. And there was the usual marry for money, status and land that was so common during that era. But Victoria and Albert were genuinely in love and their fairy-tale love story caught the fancy of not just the British, but the world as England was a major global power at the time. Their love story rang in an era of romantic love and family bliss that blossomed during the early years of Victoria’s reign as the royal couple grew their family to nine children.

Concurrently, the industrial revolution was well underway and it was changing society by creating a middle class that had money to spend and they wanted jewelry. New manufacturing methods made it easier and less expensive to produce jewelry, making it more accessible to the growing middle class.

Acrostic heart pendant spells out “Dearest”, crystal, diamond, emerald, amethyst, ruby, sapphire, topaz, natural pearl and gold pendant, circa 1840, courtesy Anthea A G Antiques Ltd.

One of the most important motifs during the Victorian era were snakes. To commemorate their betrothal Prince Albert gave Queen Victoria a serpent engagement ring set with an emerald. Everyone wanted to copy the young queen’s style. Snakes with their symbolism of eternity and wisdom became a popular theme in jewelry for many years.

Victorian’s loved symbolism and sentimentality, which both converged in jewelry. Devotion or Acrostic jewelry became very popular. Generally this jewelry was in the form of a ring that held a row of stones that spelled out “regards” or “dearest” using the first letter of the stone — diamond, emerald, amethyst, ruby, emerald, sapphire and topaz, spelled out dearest. Pendants spelling out these sweet sentiments were also fashionable.

Hand-carved coral and 14-karat gold brooch and earring set with cherub and floral motifs in original case, circa 1850, courtesy Jacob’s Diamond & Estate Jewelry.

During the Romantic Years, Victorians layered and stacked rings and wore big brooches that often had a loop so they could be worn as a pendant. Brooches in oval and oblong shapes were preferred. In the Early Years, the clasp on brooches was long and went past the actual brooch and fastened in a “C” clasp. The Victorians favored large matching pairs of bracelets worn on the arms in the daytime and over gloves at night. Wearing hair jewelry was also very fashionable. Tiaras with naturalistic themes of leaves or flowers framed the face on special occasions.

Earrings were not worn much during the beginning of the Romantic Years because stylish women wore their hair parted in the middle with intricate updos that often covered the ears. The earrings that were worn were long or large chandelier type earrings, a continuation of the girandole styles of the Georgian era. Around 1850 hairstyles changed and ears were revealed. This led to a renewed interest in dainty earrings and small hoop styles, while long earrings remained stylish.

Carbuncle garnet, diamond, silver and 18-karat gold “Trefoil” pendant, courtesy Faerber Collection.

Necklaces were short and worn close to the throat in this era. Amethyst rivieres were important, pearls and coral beads were also popular. Long gold chains were in every well-dressed Victorian woman’s jewelry box and were sometimes embellished with a watch. Pendants and lockets dangled from long chains or a ribbon. Trefoil necklaces — a style that has three round elements linked together — were also en vogue.

Queen Victoria loved cameos, which helped to increase their popularity. They were sometimes worn as a necklace, often on a ribbon that enhanced their romanticism. Cameos were everywhere, decorating not just necklaces, but bracelets and rings as well. Victorians travelled to “The Continent”(the rest of Europe) as a vacation, or as part of one’s education. They often brought home cameos from their travels to Italy, which was a popular destination. Coral jewelry, often acquired during travels to  Italy, was very popular in the first half of the 1800s. Coral beads, carved coral, coral parures (sets) and coral cameos were popular. Coral was also worn in its natural branch form to ward off evil, an ancient Italian tradition that the Victorians adopted.

Diamond, silver and gold “Grape” earrings, circa 1850, courtesy Faerber Collection.

In 1852 Prince Albert gave Queen Victoria a major gift: Balmoral Castle. The couple had visited Scotland and became enamored with its natural beauty. They had a special wardrobe for their stays at Balmoral, which included Royal Stuart Tartan and of course the right jewelry was needed to accompany the clothes. The Queen began to wear jewelry made from agate that came from the area. Engraving and chasing on the metal was often used in the fabrication of these pieces.

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert had nine children together and were the epitome of idyllic Victorian life. But everything changed in 1861, when Victoria’s mother died and a few months later her soulmate Albert passed away. His death forever changed the Queen and the romanticism of Victoria’s early years ended as she began a life long period of mourning and the Romantic years morphed into the Grand Years.

Featured image (top of page): Floral themed diamond, silver and gold brooch, comes apart to form smaller brooches, circa 1850, courtesy Paul Fisher.

Authored by Amber Michelle

Four Georges and a William: Georgian Jewelry

Culture, Art, Literature, Mozart, Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, Lord Byron, John Keats, Baroque, Rococo, French Revolution, Marie Antoinette, Napoleon Bonaparte, American Revolution, Regency England, Pompeii Excavation and Oversized Powdered Wigs all defined the Georgian era.

When: 1714-1837, the Georgian era covered most of the 1700s and the early years of the 1800s. The century is called the Georgian era because there were four King Georges (I-IV) during that time.  King George IV died in 1830 and with no children as heirs to the title, his brother William IV ascended the throne. Most historians agree that the Georgian era ends when Victoria took over the throne in 1837, however some historians select 1830 as the end of the Georgian era as George IV was the last George of that time period. While much of Georgian jewelry is informed by British art and culture, the aesthetic was global.

Famous Makers: Jewelry was handcrafted during this time and with few exceptions there were generally no makers marks or gold marks used in this period.

Motifs: Early 1700s: Bows, Ribbons, Florals, Sprays of Foliage, Feathers, Crescent Moons, Crowns, Crosses, Hearts. Later 1700s: Arrows, Lyres, Intaglios, Geometric Forms, Pyramids, Papayrus Leaves, Roman and Greek Neoclassic Designs

The Look: Parures, Hair Ornaments, Girandole Earrings, Pendoloque Earrings, Closed Back Settings, Enameling, Subdued for Daytime, Diamonds for Nighttime   

Materials: Table Cut, Rose Cut and Old Mine Diamonds, Ruby, Sapphire, Emerald, Garnet, Topaz, Coral, Shell, Agate, Chrysoberyl, Turquoise, Carnelian, Pearl, Ivory, Silver, Gold, Pinchbeck

The 1700s were a tumultuous and fast changing time. It was also an era that was guided by stringent rules of dress, but by the middle of the century those rules were relaxed. Surprisingly, fashion trends changed very rapidly — even monthly — during this century with Marie Antoinette and her friend the Duchess of Devonshire, Georgina Cavendish, two of the leading style icons of the era.

By mid-century, jewelry became more accessible to everyone, not just aristocracy. Better candles were developed in the 1700s that cast a brighter light and lasted longer which led to more parties and more demand for night time jewelry.

Important diamond discoveries in Brazil in the early 1700s and India’s Golconda diamond mine  made the gems abundant and they were the height of fashion for evening wear — the only time the Georgians considered it appropriate to wear the sparkling stones.  Even then, diamonds were only worn to balls, receptions, at court or other formal events. Rose cut and old mine diamonds were everywhere. A diamond riviere necklace, sometimes called a “river of diamonds” or a “river of light”, was introduced in the 1700s. These necklaces were made of silver collets with diamonds that were linked together. It was a very popular style and a style that remains popular today, although it is now sometimes referred to as a “tennis necklace”.

Dog collars and chokers were a favorite length for necklaces in the early 1700s but those morphed into longer necklaces toward the end of the era as fashion changed and necklines lowered revealing more décolletage and leaving more area to show off a necklace.

Georgians also wore a lot of rings and they wore them on any finger. Bands set with gems either half way around or all the way around, were worn singly or stacked. Rings with a large center stone surrounded by a frame of diamonds was another important style. It’s a look that remains popular today. On the wrists, it was stylish to wear a pair of bracelets.

One of the defining fashions of the 1700s were white powdered wigs, the bigger the better and the taller the more chic it was considered. Wigs were worn by people to convey rank, social status, or profession. These elaborate hairstyles were the perfect place to show off jewels. Aigrettes, bandeaus, coronets, diadems, hairpin/combs and tiaras glittered in towering tresses. The style came to an end with the introduction of a hair powder tax that was implemented to raise money to fight against Napoleon and his wars. The tax made powder very expensive and the popularity of wigs waned. Although wearing hair ornaments continued.

To go with the proportions of the wigs, oversized earrings were very fashionable in the 1700s. Girandole and pendoloque were the most fashion forward styles of the day and the precursor to modern day chandelier earrings. Girandole earrings have a large stud with a central motif that was often a bow with three pear-shaped gems dropping from the center and sides. Pendoloque earrings had a round or marquis-shaped stone at the top, a bow motif dropped from the top stone and then gems dropped down from there.  These earrings tended to be quite heavy, so when they went out of fashion many were taken apart and were redesigned as pendant and earring sets.

Georgian jewelry was handcrafted and often showcased ornate metalwork. Repousse, a type of hammered metalwork was used freely. It is raised in relief from the inside back so that the design shows on the front. Cannetille, a type of intricate wirework was popular. Enamel was also an important element in  jewelry making. Pinchbeck, a combination of copper and zinc, was a popular metal in some jewelry as well.

Diamond jewelry was frequently set in “silver backed gold” also known as “silver topped gold”. Diamonds looked better set in a white metal, but silver tarnished and left marks on skin and clothing, so it was backed with gold. This process allowed the gold to touch the skin or clothing, so staining was avoided, while the silver optimized diamond sparkle.

Diamonds and sometimes colored gemstones were “foil-backed” or “foiled” in the Georgian era to make the diamonds brighter and to enhance the hue of colored gemstones. The process involves backing the stone with a very thin metallic, or non-metallic, sheet. Sometimes the foil was colored to amp-up the color of gems. Foil-backed gemstones are almost always in closed back settings to protect the foil from being damaged. A rather fragile process, foil-backing can be easily damaged by exposure to water.

British 15-karat textured gold long-chain, clasp is decorated with cannetille and granulation, courtesy Shalom Bronstein.

The Roman ruins of Pompeii were being excavated between 1706 and 1814. Treasures discovered in  Pompeii influenced jewelry design during that time with Greek and Roman motifs — laurel, grape leaves and Greek keys — becoming popular, especially towards the end of the century.

One of the more collectible items of Georgian jewelry is Fer de Berlin, which translates to Berlin Iron. In 1804 Napoleon was ravaging Europe with war and countries needed money to stave off his attacks. Wealthy Germans gave their jewelry to the government to raise money in the fight against Napoleon. In exchange they were given Fer de Berlin — iron jewelry that was sand cast and lacquered black.

An important piece of day jewelry for Georgians was the chatelaine. A chatelaine was a decorative clasp with several long chains with hooks that held day-to-day items such as scissors, thimble, eyeglasses, keys, watches, seals and other household items. It was worn at the waist attached to a belt. Chatelaines could be quite ornate, made in gold and adorned with precious gems. Again as fashion changed, many chatelaines were taken apart.

The Georgian era ended when Queen Victoria took the throne and ushered in a new era of romance.

Featured image (top of page): Georgian era necklace features 35 old mine cut diamonds with a total weight of approximately 35-carats set in silver-topped yellow gold, courtesy Shalom Bronstein.

All of the jewelry showcased in this blog can be found on the Jewelers Circle.

Authored by Amber Michelle

The Boom Years: 1950s Jewelry

The Boom Years, Atomic Age, Cold War, The Red Scare, Suburbia, Consumerism, Uniformity, Cultural Conformity, Civil Rights Movement Was Born, Rock ‘n’ Roll, Elvis Presley, Television, Abstract Expressionism all defined the 1950s.

When: 1950-1959. The 1950s was an era of unprecedented prosperity in the United States. The war was over, people had come home from overseas and life was much more joyous and lighthearted. The 1950s were boom years, a housing boom and a baby boom were well underway. Both of which gave rise to suburban housing developments (the suburban boom) that were part of the “American Dream”. Appliances and cars were easily available. People had money to buy these new items and consumerism took hold. It was the golden age of television and families were gathering in their suburban homes to watch shows like “I Love Lucy” and “Leave it to Beaver”. American women were encouraged to marry young and be stay-at-home moms and homemakers. Rock ‘n’ roll was born and Elvis Presley made it famous through legions of screaming fans. The House Un-American Activities Committee was investigating anyone and everyone for having ties to communism, instilling fear throughout the country, while the threat of nuclear war put everyone on edge.

Famous Makers: Boivin, Boucheron, Buccellati, Bulgari, Cartier, Chaumet, Marchak, Mellerio, Sterle, Tiffany & Co., Van Cleef & Arpels, Harry Winston

Motifs: Naturalistic Themes, Flowers, Leaves, Animals, Fish, Birds, Spirals, Clusters, Disks, Bows, Ribbons, Tassels

The Look: Matching Sets of Jewelry, Big, Colorful, Textured Gold, Mixed Diamond Shapes, Platinum, Simple Pearl Strands, Formal

Materials: Textured Gold, Platinum, Colored Gemstones, Pearls, Fancy Shaped Diamonds – Baguette, Marquis and Pear.

Fashion in the 1950s was all about matching sets and a sense of formality, a sensibility that spilled over into jewelry. Not only that, but in the 1950s there was a distinct difference in what was worn as daywear and what was worn at night.

Pearls were once again available after the war and they were a fashion favorite. Their allure was enhanced by multiple images of movie stars Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn wearing their pearls. During the day every well-dressed woman wore either a single or double strand pearl necklace that fell just below the throat along with pearl earrings. Pearls looked great with sweater sets, suits, shirtwaist dresses and the very stylish cigarette pants that were worn in that era. Paris was the fashion capital of the day and Dior’s New Look, which was actually introduced in 1947 had taken hold. The silhouette featured a fitted bodice with an open neckline, a nipped waist and full skirt.

Sleeves on sweaters and dresses were often three-quarter length (about halfway between the elbow and wrist) to accommodate bracelets. During the day bangles, pearl bracelets and gold mesh bracelets were favored. Charm bracelets, popular in the 1940s, were still going strong. Some were link bracelets overflowing with charms, while others were a simple bangle with one charm.

Daytime earrings were big, but close to the ear, often a pearl with an ornamental surround, or a simple gold clip-on earring. Pierced ears were not common in the 1950s so most earrings were clip-ons.

The look changed at night becoming much more formal. The sheath dress, often worn with elbow length gloves, was a favorite. The dress was frequently embellished with a bow, sash, peplum or apron skirt. A pencil skirt with a flared jacket was another popular style.

Jewelry changed for night time as well when the sparkle came out in full force. Diamond and platinum jewelry, often in matching sets, were worn for evening. Baguettes were frequently used in diamond pieces mixed with other fancy shapes, especially marquise and pear shaped diamonds. Earrings were diamond clusters, or the cascade style with a precious stone on the ear with smaller gems creating a cascade of stones that dangled around the face and neck. Earrings showed off well in the 1950s as hair was worn either short, or swept up into a chignon. Diamond hair clips were another way of adding more sparkle to the look. Large pearl earrings were also favored. And let’s not forget about bracelets; those too, were glittering with diamonds often with a floral or swirl motif. Necklaces were large and worn close to the throat. Sometimes pearls, sometimes diamonds and sometimes with colored gemstones, necklaces were front and center. Torsade’s with elaborate closures were popular.

Brooches were still worn quite a bit in the 1950s. Large brooches in textured gold depicting animals and flora and fauna were favorites. Small brooches were also stylish. Instead of wearing just one large brooch, “scatter pins”, small brooches worn in multiples, were trending and were often themed.

Rings were not forgotten in the 1950s. Other than engagement rings and wedding bands, rings weren’t worn much during the day. Large rings were still in style, but instead of one large, square or rectangular gem, they evolved into more rounded forms. Bombe styles were centerstage as were cluster styles, ballerina rings and bypass rings featuring oversized gems.

As the 1950s marched on, there was change in the air as new ideas and social reform were beginning to take hold as we moved into the rebellious, revolutionary 1960s.

Featured image (top of page): Stylized brooch showcases baguette and marquise shaped diamonds, pear shaped rubies set in platinum, circa 1950s, courtesy Odeon.

Authored by Amber Michelle

All jewelry showcased in this blog is available on The Jewelers Circle.

The Retro Years: Jewelry of the 1940s

WWII, Pearl Harbor, Rosie the Riveter, USO, Rationing, Women’s Army Corps, Great Depression Ends, Housing Boom, Baby Boom, Jackie Robinson, Color Television, Big Band Music, Swing Era, Zoot Suits, Bikinis all defined the 1940s.

When: 1940-1949, the first half of the decade was all about the war effort, which ended the Great Depression. The second half of the decade was about recovering from the war, a time when the economy began to boom, with houses and babies, top priorities of this newly prosperous time.

Famous Makers: Boucheron, Boivin, Cartier, Marchak, Mellirio, Sterle, Tiffany & Co., Traebert and Hoeffer Mauboussin, Van Cleef & Arpels

Motifs: Red, White and Blue, Patriotic Themes, Flags, Airplanes, Eagles, Bows, Tank Tire Treads, Flowers, Animals, Birds, Hearts, V for Victory, Ballerinas

The Look: Oversized jewelry, large colored gemstones set in gold, small stones used to create big pieces, scrolling forms, fan shapes

Materials: Topaz, Citrine, Amethyst, Aquamarine, Rubies, Sapphires, Diamonds, Rose Gold

World War II officially started in 1939, ringing in an era of austerity and gloom that lasted until 1945 when the war ended. When the war was in full swing, women were once again called upon to fill jobs in factories and offices while men were overseas. “Rosie the Riverter” epitomized the new working woman and her image was in posters everywhere encouraging patriotism. Everything was in short supply and rationing was common. There was a somberness that filtered into every aspect of life including apparel, which was much more subdued than in the previous two decades. These more restrained clothes provided the perfect backdrop for the oversized jewelry that was so in vogue. The scale of the jewelry also prompted a change in the way it was worn, unlike the previous years when layering multiple pieces of jewelry was de rigeur, it was now stylish to wear just one or two jewels — a brooch and earrings, necklace and earrings, or bracelet and brooch. Sets with two matching pieces were on trend in keeping with the “rule of two”. Rings with one large colored gemstone — often a square or rectangular shape — were featured heavily in movies, providing a touch of glamour.

Needless to say, the war had a huge impact on jewelry making and what was considered fashionable. The war made precious gems and metals difficult if not impossible to come by. Compounding the issue, many jewelry manufacturing firms were recruited to make military equipment such as components for compasses and other small items.

Platinum, gold and silver were declared strategic metals and were reserved for military use for the war effort. It was also very difficult to source diamonds and gemstones during that time as import/export rules were in flux. Jewelers had to be creative to find workarounds for these challenges. Often times, clients brought in an older piece and the gems and metal were used to create something new. Gold was in short supply so it was alloyed even more with other metals to make it go further, especially copper which gives gold the lovely rosy hue that is prominent in 1940s era jewelry.

Large colored gemstones were stylish, with one gem, or sometimes paired with other colored gems creating jewelry with an optimistic spirit that countered the glum mood brought on by the war. Patriotic themed jewelry, such as flags, or pieces made in red, white and blue stones were popular. It was difficult to find larger sizes of diamonds, rubies and sapphires, so to compensate jewelry was made using those gems as pavé to create substantial pieces.

Brooches remained a favorite jewelry item and as in earlier decades they were worn on dresses, hats, belts and shoes, while dress clips were fastened on a V-neck or square neck.

One of the most iconic jewelry trends of the 1940s is the tank bracelet, sometimes referred to as tire tread bracelets. These oversized, wide, architectural bracelets were inspired by the patterns left in the dirt by tank tires. Bracelets were a favorite adornment of the era and charm bracelets were wildly popular. They were link chains with small charms fastened to them that told the story of one’s life. And when it came to collecting charms, the more the merrier. ID bracelets were another important style with a thin gold plate flanked by a link chain.

Wide 18-karat gold tank bracelet, circa 1940s, courtesy Keyamour

Necklaces were not forgotten and were mostly collar length, sitting just below the throat. Beads were a favorite necklace style. Necklaces often did double duty converting to bracelets, clips or even earrings. Lockets were a favored style, especially in heart shapes, with a photo inside, it was a way of keeping a loved one who was away at war close.

When World War II ended in 1945, change was once again in the air. The mood lightened and along with that shift came a move into jewelry that was more naturalistic – flowers, bows, ribbons, scrolls, wild cats, domesticated cats, dogs, horses and especially birds were in the spotlight. Gems became more readily available as did precious metals. And in the latter half of the 1940s diamond engagement rings became a cultural imperative as mining giant De Beers created a marketing campaign geared to jump starting diamond sales that had declined during the war years.

The new found freedom and prosperity that came after the end of the war set the stage for the boom years of the 1950s.

Featured image (top of page): Retro 18-karat gold, ruby and diamond orchid clip with makers marks for Auguste Paillette, circa 1945, courtesy Friman & Stein Inc.

Authored by Amber Michelle

All jewelry featured in this blog is available on The Jewelers Circle.

The Glamour of Art Deco Jewelry

The Jazz Age, The Charleston, Flappers, Tutankhamun, Cubism, Graphic Design, Airplanes, Automobiles, Industrialism, Russe Ballet, “Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industrials Modernes”, Prohibition, Cocktails and Speakeasies defined the Art Deco era.

When: Art Deco, which encompasses all the decorative arts including jewelry was from 1920 to 1939.  It began to manifest a couple of years before World War I and took off when the war ended, building and evolving until World War II came along. Some jewelry historians refer to 1930s Art Deco as Art Moderne or Modernism. The era is also known as the “style between the wars”. Art Deco was fully launched in 1925 at the Paris “Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industrials Modernes” where this new look was on full display.

Famous Makers: Boucheron, Black Starr & Frost, Cartier, Chaumet, Jean Deprès, Georges & Jean Fouquet, Lalique, LaCloche, Mauboussin, Raymond Templier, Tiffany & Co., Van Cleef & Arpels, Raymond Yard

Motifs: Egyptian, Asian, African and Native American Art, Geometric Forms, Flora and Fauna, Architecture, Tassels

The Look: 1920s Art Deco: Flat, Linear, Symmetrical, Geometric, White on White, Black and White, Bold Color, Long Necklaces. 1930s Art Deco: Bigger, Wider Bracelets; Convertible Jewelry, Rounded Scrolling Forms, Bib and Collar Necklaces

Materials: Diamonds, Rubies, Sapphires, Emeralds, Rock Crystal, Onyx, Lapis, Coral, Pearls, Carved Gems, Cabochon Gems, Enamel, Lacquer, Platinum, White Gold, Yellow Gold

The 1920s, often referred to as the “Roaring 20s” was a time of great prosperity and innovation. World War I had just ended bringing major societal changes along with it. In particular, the role of women in society had dramatically changed by the early 1920s. During the war years women went to work holding down the jobs that men had held before leaving to join the war effort. Wardrobe changes were a necessity. Working women ditched their corsets, raised their hemlines and shortened their hair so they could move more easily. In the U.S. some women were further empowered when they won the right to vote in 1920. After enduring the hardships of a world war and a global flu pandemic during the previous few years, by the early 1920s people were ready to dress-up and party.

Prohibition laws from 1920 until their repeal in 1933 made the sale and consumption of liquor illegal in the U.S. The law didn’t stop people from imbibing and the speakeasy launched – secret rooms where revelers would drink hidden away from the world. Flappers — the “it” girls of the era — danced the Charleston in speakeasies and scandalously wore hemlines raised up to their knees, seamed stockings, sleeveless shift dresses, sleek bobbed hair and most shocking of all they wore lipstick, rouged their cheeks and smoked cigarettes. Cigarette holders, cases and minaudières adorned with gems were all part of the glamourous look of the era. And of course every outfit was accessorized with sparkling jewelry.

During the Art Deco era, jewelry design was pared down to its most basic elements creating sleek silhouettes that were easy to wear. It was an embracing of machination and the industrialism that was spreading quickly through the world during that time. The white on white look of diamonds and platinum continued from the Edwardian era, but the jewelry became geometric and streamlined and was often punctuated with patterns created from the use of black onyx, black enamel, ruby, sapphire or emerald. Platinum continued its streak of popularity. Diamonds remained a favorite in the 1920s and 1930s, with pavé becoming an important design element. There were also some new advances in diamond cutting and with that came new diamond shapes that complemented the geometry of jewelry designs – including the Asscher cut and the baguette.

Sautoirs — a long necklace comprised of strands of pearls or colored gemstones, often with a tassel of pearls or pearl and colored gemstone beads — swung from the necks of fashionable women. Cultured pearl production ramped up in the early 1920s making the gems more available and their popularity soared. Flappers wore long ropes of pearls — often knotted — sometimes even letting them dangle chicly down the back of a low cut dress.

Shorter hair made statement earrings an important jewel, with long, linear earrings taking centerstage. The style also worked well with the straight, drop waist dresses of the 1920s.

Bracelets were a favorite in the Art Deco era and were often worn over elbow length gloves and stacked together to create maximum high voltage glamour. Diamonds were the base of these flat, linear bracelets which were embellished with colored gemstones that broke up the whiteness of the diamonds while at the same time outlining and amplifying the geometric forms that were a key look of the era. Wider bracelets were often used to tell the stories of exotic places and were embellished with birds, florals and Egyptian motifs, which had become popular with the discovery and opening of King Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922.

The Maharajahs of India also influenced jewelry design in the 1920s as they took carved rubies, emeralds and sapphires to European jewelers and had them turned into extravagant jewels. Cartier was the leader in this colorful look dubbed tutti-frutti.

Rings followed a similar pattern of geometric shapes covered in diamonds with a line of colored gemstones that defined the symmetry of the design. Multiple rings were worn at the same time often with a big center stone and like bracelets, rings were worn on top of gloves. Brooches and dress clips were worn primarily during the day and they were attached to everything from hats, collars and coat lapels to shoes.

The Bandeau was an important part of jewelry fashion in the 1920s.  A headband worn on the forehead and generally crafted from diamonds did double duty by converting to a necklace, bracelets, brooch and/or dress clips.

In October 1929, the stock market collapsed causing the world to fall into an economic depression that left the global economy in tatters. While millions were unemployed and standing in line at soup kitchens, there were still plenty of people with money and the glamour of the Art Deco era continued, but the style evolved during the 1930s.

Sleek suits, silk and satin gowns that clung to a woman’s figure, long furs and lots of jewelry defined the decade. Hemlines dropped, hair was longer and worn up and the mood was subdued. Prohibition ended and cocktail parties came out in the open, which continued the trend of a big stone ring that looked so glamorous on a hand holding a champagne glass.

Platinum was still the desired metal, but 18-karat white gold was used as a less expensive alternative. Necklaces changed, they were now collars and bibs with some rounding and scrolling beginning to appear that broke up the flat geometric style that had dominated in previous years. Necklaces in the 1930s were often constructed to come apart as two dress clips that could also be put together to wear as one brooch. While brooches and dress clips were highly coveted in the 1920s, they surged in popularity in the 1930s. Suit lapels were the perfect backdrop for a sophisticated brooch while dress clips on each side of a party dress or gown twinkled flirtatiously at night.

Earrings also changed during the 1930s, shortening from long drops to scrolling forms that framed the face. Some earrings even had detachable components. Bracelets became wider and curves and rounded forms began to appear by the end of the 1930s.

The glamourous parties and free-wheeling lifestyle of the Art Deco era ended in 1939 when World War II exploded.

You can find the Art Deco jewelry featured in this article on The Jewelers Circle.

Featured image (top of page): Sapphire, diamond and platinum bracelet, circa 1925, from Ernst Faerber.

Authored by Amber Michelle

Art Nouveau Jewelry: An Artistic Awakening

Art Nouveau brooch signed Lalique, enamel, rose cut diamonds and gold, circa 1890, photo courtesy Christie’s.

Naturalistic, Exotic, Flowing Lines, Curves, Fanciful Women, Sinewy, Sensual, Sexual, Scandalous, Colored Gemstones, Enamel, Asymmetry all defined the Art Nouveau movement.

WHEN: Jewelry historians have slightly different dates for the Art Nouveau jewelry movement. It is widely accepted that it began in France and Belgium during the late 1800’s around 1895, although some historians put that date a bit earlier at 1890. The movement ended with the start of World War I in 1915, or even slightly earlier according to some historians. While the movement was decidedly French, it did have a following in Avant Garde circles elsewhere in Europe and America.

FAMOUS MAKERS: George Fouquet, Rene Foy, Gabriel Falguieres, Lucien Galliard, Lucien Gautrait, Rene Lalique, Georges Le Tureq, Louis Comfort Tiffany, Henri Verver

MOTIFS: The Female Form, Nymphs, Mermaids, Fairies, Long Flowing Hair, Vines, Leaves, Exotic Flowers, Dragonflies, Butterflies, Insects, Japanese Art, Subdued Colors

THE LOOK: Large scale, enamel and colored gemstone pieces depicting naturalistic scenes and/or fanciful women, insects and stylized flowers

MATERIALS: Colored Gemstones with Opal, Moonstones, Peridot, Amber and Amethyst favored; Diamonds, Enamel, Silver, Gold, Bone, Horn, Glass

The Art Nouveau movement started in France beginning around 1890 to 1895 and it encompassed the decorative arts as well as jewelry. Generally when we talk about a style of jewelry it is associated with a time frame often involving reigning monarchs or a particular decade. Art Nouveau jewelry was a bit different. It was an artistic movement that started as a backlash to the machinated world of the Industrial Age. The artists involved in the movement made their pieces by hand with rapt attention to details portrayed in the imagery, believing that design was more important than materials used. The designs were influenced by the Arts & Crafts Movement in England, Japanese art and the Symbolist Movement that started in France but spread through Europe.

Most of the jewelry during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s was very formal and gem intensive. It was a time of great wealth and people wanted to show it through the jewelry they wore, so the value of the pieces was in the gems. But the Art Nouveau movement was the opposite, since it was about design over materials, to some degree it redefined precious by incorporating materials such as bone, horn or even glass into the designs. It was a rebellion against the practice of jewelry only being valued for the gems. That being said, diamonds and other gemstones were used to define elements of a design, but they were generally not the central focus.

Enamel was one of the most important materials used in fabricating Art Nouveau jewelry and there were different types of enameling techniques used. Some pieces even combined different types of enameling.  The two main enameling techniques used were Plique-à-Jour and Guilloche.

Plique-à-Jour, French for letting in daylight, is a transparent enamel that requires a high level of skill to create. The enamel is placed into the openings of filigree metalwork, but there is no metal behind the enamel. The finished effect is often compared to stained glass due to the enamel’s transparency. Guilloche enamel work is created very differently, but also has tremendous artistic merit. Guilloche is a type of metal work that engraves an intricate, repetitive pattern into a metal which is then “painted” with a thin layer of enamel so that the pattern remains visible. Both enameling techniques allowed for large areas of pastel color on a piece. Enamel is rather fragile and consequently many pieces of Art Nouveau jewelry have not survived because they broke or were damaged.

From a design perspective Art Nouveau focused heavily on the feminine form. The curves of the female body were emphasized as was long flowing wavy hair. Women were often depicted as being almost holy, or as a sensual seductress, perhaps even slightly sinister or dangerous – these two archetypes were a reflection of the changing role of women in society at that time. Women were actively seeking the right to vote and they were looking for opportunities outside the home, both of which threatened to upend the status quo. Nymphs, fairies and mermaids, either nude, or partially covered by their hair, frolic on Art Nouveau jewels, scandalizing, the prim and proper aristocratic, wealthy society mavens who found this style of jewelry too risqué to wear.   Instead it was worn by those who were free thinkers,  artists themselves or bohemians, which in that era meant supporters of the arts. Actress Sarah Bernhardt, for example, was known to favor Art Nouveau jewelry.

Nature, in the form of vines, exotic florals and leaves were another very important theme in Art Nouveau jewelry. Dragonflies, butterflies and other insects often with splendid plique-à-Jour wings were also prevalent. These naturalistic themes were again a backlash to the industrial age as people moved from rural areas to cities to find work. The jewelry was a reminder of nature’s beauty and a message to stay connected to its nurturing presence.

The Art Nouveau movement was short-lived, but impactful. It brought attention to jewelry design as an art form, but like everything else in that time period, it abruptly ended with the start of World War I.  

Authored by Amber Michelle

Swinging 1970s Jewelry

From Left to Right: Silver Elsa Peretti Bone Cuff, signed Tiffany & Co., courtesy Tiffany & Co.; Coral, diamond and gold earrings, 1970s, signed David Morris, courtesy Berganza; Lapis, turquoise, diamond and gold brooch, 1970s, signed Kutchinsky, courtesy D&E Singer; and Gold Taurus zodiac medallion, 1970s, signed Fred, courtesy Charlotte Fine Jewelry.

Bohemian, The Me Decade, Jet Set, Women’s Rights, Watergate, Eastern Influences, Ethnic, Oversized, Bellbottoms, Disco, Environmentalism, Earth Day all defined the 1970s.

WHEN: 1970-1979. The 1970s started out with the Vietnam war at the forefront of the news as protesters continued to fill the streets with antiwar demonstrations. The war ended in the mid 1970s and the Watergate scandal led to the resignation of President Nixon. Pop psychology directed people to explore feelings and relationships. Rock remained popular with the Rolling Stones, Elton John, David Bowie, Led Zepplin and Queen leading the pack. As the decade progressed disco hustled in to take over clubs and music radio spawning a whole new fashion story and cultural touchpoint. The movie “Saturday Night Fever” crystallized the disco scene along with music by the Bee Gees, Donna Summer and the Village People among others.

FAMOUS MAKERS: Bulgari, Cartier, Chaumet, David Morris, David Webb, Fred Paris, Kutchinsky, Elsa Peretti for Tiffany & Co., Van Cleef & Arpels

MOTIFS: Florals, Zodiacs, Fanciful Animals, Abstract Forms, Bold Color, Geometric, Medallions, Big Link Chains, Ancient Coins

THE LOOK:  Statement Pieces, Textured Gold, Sleek Silver, Chunky, Colorful, Layered, Multicultural

MATERIALS: Yellow Gold, Silver, Lapis and Other Hardstones, Wood/Shell Combined with Gems or Gold, Fancy Shaped Diamonds, Antique Coins  

The early 1970s were an extension of the 1960s with bellbottoms and frayed jeans, prairie dresses and floral prints a core style. Towards the middle of the decade, miniskirts headed south and the mid-calf length midi took hold. “What’s your sign?” was the question on everyone’s mind and the interest in astrology spawned a constellation of zodiac jewelry. During the 1970s large, intricately designed gold medallions — sometimes with gemstones — on long chunky link chains were popular. The large scale of the pieces held up well to the highly patterned fabrics that were everywhere in clothes. Layering was back in style and chain link and/or bead necklaces were piled gleefully around the neck, while multiple bangles jingled on the wrist and large hoop or drop earrings completed the look. Who could forget Rhoda Morgenstern and her huge hoop earrings on the Mary Tyler Moore Show?

In 1975 the Vietnam war ended; hippies and the peace movement began to fade into the background as the counter culture turned mainstream.  As the decade progressed, clothes and jewelry changed especially as disco took hold and the look became much more streamlined.

Daytime was easy dressing, the Diane Von Furstenburg wrap dress was ubiquitous. Nighttime brought out all the glitter and glam of the club scene — sequins and rhinestones sizzled unapologetically. The look was sleek and the stretchy fabrics were made for easy movement. Patterns were replaced with shiny fabrics and monochromatic pieces.  Studio 54 was famous for its dancing and decadence and many of the decade’s most influential artists and designers were regulars, including jewelry designer Elsa Peretti who joined Tiffany & Co. in 1974. Her sensual silver designs gave the white metal a new glamour and her Diamonds by the Yard made it simple to wear diamonds during the day with more casual clothes – even jeans. The Cartier Love Bracelet designed by Aldo Cipullo was a huge 1970s hit that continues to entice couples today.

The jetsetters — a term that had been around for a number of years, but saw a resurgence with the introduction of the Concorde Jet in 1976 — were jetting off to the world’s most glamourous playgrounds inspiring a more multicultural style that borrowed motifs from other countries, especially Morocco and India. Morocco made its way into fashion through Yves Saint Laurent. The fashion designer had homes there where he hosted his jetsetting friends and clients as his fame was rising during the 1970s. Van Cleef & Arpels and Cartier were both leaders in jewelry that drew upon the East for inspiration, creating oversized pieces with colorful gemstones generally set in gold. Another very popular motif in the 1970s was coin jewelry. Bulgari introduced its Monte Collection of jewelry made with ancient coins in the mid 1960s and by the 1970s it was everywhere, gaining in popularity as the 1980s took hold and everything big – hair, shoulders, jewelry and life in general was on a grand scale.

Authored by Amber Michelle

The Mod, Mod World of 1960s Jewelry

From left to right: Gold and turquoise bracelet, 1960s. Photo Courtesy: Charlotte Fine Jewellery. Pear and marquise shaped diamond earrings, 1960s. Photo Courtesy: J. & S.S. DeYoung. Coral, diamond and gold ring, 1960s. Photo Courtesy: Hancocks of London.

Organic Shapes, Abstract Forms, Yellow Gold, Turquoise, Coral, Texture, Mod, Pop Art, Hippies, The Great Society, Space Age, The Beatles and tremendous social change all defined the 1960s.

WHEN: 1960 to 1969. At the start of the 1960s John F. Kennedy had just been elected President, the look of the time was put together and ladylike with gloves, pillbox hats and a prim strand of pearls accessorizing a simple sheath dress or suit. By the end of the 1960s, hippies were taking to the streets to protest the Vietnam war. Bright colors, bold color blocking, miniskirts and go-go boots were of the moment and the bohemian look began to take hold as styles became more casual and free from the strict rules of earlier decades.

FAMOUS MAKERS: Cartier, John Donald, Andrew Grima, Jean Schulmberger for Tiffany & Co., Van Cleef & Arpels, David Webb, Harry Winston

MOTIFS: Textured Gold, Space Age Influences, Flaming Stars, Animals, Birds, Flowers, Angular Shapes, Architectural, Asymmetrical 

THE LOOK: Textured yellow gold with bold color combinations, abstract, large-scale, chic and playful. Starbursts, sunbursts and other “space” themes. Cluster rings were popular with a large stone resting on top of a cluster of stones – often diamonds. Ballerina settings were also a favorite with a large center stone surrounded by diamonds — frequently baguettes — that appear to float like a dancer’s tutu, around the central gem.

MATERIALS: Yellow Gold, Silver, Turquoise, Coral, Sapphires, Rubies, Emeralds, Pear and Marquise Diamond Shapes, Cabochon Cut Gems, Baroque Pearls, Lapis and Other Hardstones, Sometimes Carved.

The 1960s were a time of unprecedented change. The U.S. and Russia were competing to see who could land on the moon first, civil rights were in the spotlight and the British Invasion saw rock ‘n roll rise to the top of the charts as the Beatles took over the world. And jewelry design reflected the times. The more formal matchy-matchy ladylike sets of the previous decade were being replaced with bigger, bolder more colorful jewelry that reflected a changing world that was more casual and incorporated influences from foreign lands. Unlike previous eras where there was jewelry that was for day and jewelry that was for night, the 1960s had more of an anything goes attitude and it became acceptable to wear any type of jewelry at any time.

Hollywood also put jewelry in the spotlight. In 1961, the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s was released. The iconic Fifth Avenue jeweler played its own part in the film and its star Audrey Hepburn wore the Tiffany Diamond on her press tour for the movie. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton made headlines with their shopping sprees at Bulgari and other jewelry purchases. Harry Winston made its own press by loaning jewelry to movie stars for various events. These celebrity connections put jewelry front and center in the minds of consumers.

The diamond-centric look of the previous decade began to see color take centerstage. Like the changing times, 1960s jewelry saw a shift away from traditional faceted gemstones set in platinum or white gold and a movement to textured yellow gold set with colored gemstones. Cabochon cut colored gemstones became a popular choice in the 1960s, they had a “new, modern” feeling to them and they changed the look of a design. The smoothness of the cabochons provided a distinct contrast to the textured metals that embraced the stone. The combination of textured yellow gold and cabochon gemstones was a chic evolution in jewelry style. It fit the more casual dress code that was coming into play during that decade. It also put hardstones such as lapis lazuli and malachite — which are perfectly complemented by yellow gold — front and center. Oversized rings, bracelets and necklaces began to emerge.

Brooches were still in demand during the early 1960s but they were generally smaller than in previous eras. Birds, animals, flora and fauna as well as abstract shapes were all interpreted in a more playful manner. David Webb created many of his bejeweled creatures — frequently in the form of brooches — during the 1960s, which were wildly popular and are highly collectible.

By the end of the 1960s the Vietnam war was raging, psychedelia was everywhere and it was the “dawning of the age of Aquarius”.

Authored by Amber Michelle

The Elegance of Edwardian Jewelry

Diamond and Platinum Edwardian Era Bow Brooch, Photo Courtesy: Paul Fisher, Inc.

Opulent, Refined, Luxurious, Lifestyles of the Rich and Royal, White, Platinum, Pearls, Diamonds all defined the Edwardian era.

WHEN: 1901-1915, the Edwardian era officially began during the reign of King Edward VII in 1901 (although he was coronated in 1902) and ended with the start of World War I in 1914/1915, historians vary as to the exact dates. Edward, the son of Queen Victoria, began to take on many official duties after Prince Albert, the Queen’s husband and Edward’s father, died. The Edwardian style began to develop in the late 1800s and blossomed during his reign. Even though this same time period was known as the Belle Epoque in other parts of Europe and as the Gilded Age in the United States, the jewelry had the same design aesthetic.

FAMOUS MAKERS: Boucheron, Cartier, Chaumet, Fabergé, Garrads, LaCloche, Marcus & Co., Tiffany & Co.

MOTIFS: Bows, Ribbons, Garlands, Laurel Wreaths, Florals, Feathers and Tassels, Stars, Millegrain

THE LOOK: White-on-white platinum with pearls and/or diamonds, light and lacy, intricate, formal and regal

MATERIALS: Platinum, Pearls, Diamonds, Pink Topaz, Peridot, Demantoid Garnet, Amethyst, Turquoise, Blue Sapphire, Ruby , Emerald, Aquamarine, Kunzite, Opal, Moonstone and Alexandrite

King Edward was known for his love of luxury and revelry. There were many parties and celebrations during his reign and dressing up was required. Not just dressing up to look good, but dressing up to show your rank in society and your respect for the rank of those around you.

Status-conscious Edwardians were not shy about piling on jewelry. If you want to see layering at its best, look at women of the Edwardian era. They started with a choker or dog collar and then added more necklaces of varying lengths that dropped to the waist, or longer. The dog collar was particularly popular as Edward’s wife Queen Alexandra favored the style to hide a scar on her neck and others followed suit.

Brooches and pins were also popular, with fashionable Edwardians wearing numerous pins during the day on their bodice, as epaulets and in their hair. It was also customary to wear a few bracelets stacked together on each arm along with several rings.

For an evening event, along with all the other jewelry, tiara’s, jeweled combs or other hair ornaments were worn. Tiara’s were especially important if royalty (king, queen, prince or princess), or upper echelon nobility was present. And for evening, bigger brooches were worn, often a few at a time, with star motifs being favored.

There were a number of technological events in the Edwardian era and two that made a big impact on jewelry and fashion. In 1903, the high heat oxyacetylene torch was invented. The torch was able to easily heat platinum to its melting point, allowing jewelers to stretch the metal until it became very thin. Platinum, which is a very strong metal was then formed into delicate, but very elaborate settings. It was also pierced to create openwork adding to the lightness of the pieces both aesthetically and in terms of weight. Jewelry created in the Edwardian era is surprisingly light weight given its larger sizes.

A second major technical advancement was availability of electricity. It made a big change in fashion. Heavy fabrics, brocades and velvets in dark colors that were beautiful by candlelight looked dreary and drab under electric lights. They were replaced by pastel colors and lighter fabrics such as silk or taffeta. These new styles were the perfect backdrop for the intricate, openwork jewelry of the era.

Diamonds and pearls were two of the most used gems in Edwardian jewelry. Set in platinum they reinforced the era’s formal white-on-white design aesthetic. The diamond mines in South Africa were producing an abundant supply of diamonds making them readily available and cost effective to use in jewelry design.

Pearls on the other hand were much more rare as cultured pearls had not yet been perfected and brought to market. Pearls were natural and much harder to come by making them scarce and far more valuable than other gems.

When World War I erupted, the gracious and luxurious lifestyle of the Edwardian era came to an abrupt end.

Authored by Amber Michelle

The Glamour of the Art Deco Era

By Florence Brabant

Platinum Art Deco Emerald and Diamonds Ring. New York, circa 1925. Courtesy of J. & S.S. DeYoung, Inc.

The Art Deco era was a very interesting and dynamic period in jewelry history. Even the depression happened in the middle of this era — people bounced back with luxury and style! Diamonds sparkle everywhere! Nothing is too much!

“What do you mean I can’t get a purse finished with diamonds?” Not in this era! Geometric cut diamonds such as baguettes, trapezoids, and marquises were introduced — creativity jumped to a higher level and innovation was tickling in the hands of jewelry craftsmen.

The most glamorous rings, bracelets, sautoirs, headbands, cuffs, and clips were designed. The pieces were living up along with the growing haute couture. One of the famous designers back then was Madame Grès. She was known for her elegant pleated Greek dress designs. She was quoted as saying, “For a dress to survive from one era to the next, it must be marked with an extreme purity.”

Others shared her vision in their creations: Cartier, Van Cleef and Arpels, Chaumet, Boucheron, and many other leading jewelry houses. Their quality and outstanding design were reflected in their jewelry. Many other anonymous artists were pushing to deliver the same quality as their leaders.

And here we are; their creations survived from one era to the next. Art deco glamour remains one of the most desirable styles in jewelry. Why don’t you treat yourself or your loved ones with something that is just as beautiful today as 100 years ago? It is the ideal accessory to mark the word “chic” in the “casual-chic” dress code of today.

Blue jeans topped with a white shirt and rocking an art deco cocktail ring might just do it. Or for an evening look, that same ring can be dressed up to celebrate even something as festive as New Year’s Eve… It will dazzle just as fabulously in the disco lights as in the morning daylight. Diamonds dance in any kind of light with a different charm.

If you want to go deeper into the history of glamour and luxury, a must-visit is the exposition “Luxes” in Paris. It is taking place at the musée des arts décoratifs and it runs until May 2nd 2021. There is a flow of different themes and it brings appreciation for designers and artists that made a difference in luxury history. Enjoy!

Boucheron velvet, platinum and diamond evening bag. Courtesy of Camille Bessard for La Galerie Parisienne