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

How to Wear Antique Jewelry in the Modern World

Turquoise, diamond and gold necklace, diamond and gold earring, Victorian era.

Georgian and Victorian jewelry comes from eras rich in history that give us a glimpse into the lives of those who lived during that time, how they dressed and the meaning behind the jewelry that they wore. Despite being a couple of hundred years or more later, a good deal of jewelry made during those times is available today and it’s more wearable than you might think. To show us how to best wear antique jewelry with today’s fashions and contemporary jewelry, we spoke to New York-based antique jewelry dealer, Dana Kiyomura, who founded Keyamour in 2015, a curated collection of period antique fine jewelry from the Georgian era to contemporary signed jewelry.  

Kiyomura’s first piece of advice when adorning yourself with antique jewelry is to have fun. “Purchase what speaks to you and your aesthetic,” she advises. “Have fun and don’t take it too seriously.”

Some antique jewelry may seem overly elaborate for today’s lifestyle. If you do happen to have an ornate piece, Kiyomura suggests keeping the focus on one piece. “If you have an elaborate necklace wear it with small cluster earrings or diamond solitaire studs,” says Kiyomura, who found herself drawn to how jewelry and fashion intersect while she was earning a degree in history from the University of California, Berkeley. “If you’re one of those cool girls, wear it with jeans.”

Green “paste” stone and gold necklace, gold, pearl, diamond and ruby locket, Victorian era.

Like today, long gold chain necklaces were very fashionable in both the Georgian and Victorian eras. Many of these chains are surprisingly light and easy to wear. Make them modern by layering long necklaces together in varying lengths. Kiyomura recommends adding in pendants and lockets — contemporary or vintage — to further personalize your look.  Want to keep it really simple? Knot the chain and wear it long and dangling.

Cartier enamel pansy brooch is attached to a long gold chain, amethyst choker, Victorian era.

Another great way to wear a long chain according to Kiyomura is to double it and add a brooch by carefully sliding the pin of the clasp through the chain links. Wear the chain with the brooch on the side and you’ll be the chicest person in the room. “It’s more fun to wear the brooch on the side, then it becomes more than just a pendant. If you want to add more than one brooch, cluster them together on the chain,” says Kiyomura, who was a buyer at CIRCA and the director of acquisitions at New York City-based vintage jewelry retailer Fred Leighton, prior to founding her company.

Amethyst necklace and green stone necklace, Victorian era.

Colored gemstone necklaces were popular choices in Georgian and Victorian jewelry and there are many fabulous pieces to collect. You can of course, wear one, but if you’re feeling a bit more daring, add a second necklace in another color. “All the colors were complimentary in that era,” comments Kiyomura. “What’s important is to match the hues and tones of the gems. Also, the length matters, the necklaces need to nest correctly.”

Amethyst choker, Victorian era.

Chokers were also a popular necklace style during parts of the Georgian and Victorian eras. Wear them as is, or layer a choker with a long chain.

Many of us have a contemporary diamond solitaire necklace in our jewelry box and you may be wondering if it’s okay to wear it with antique styles. “Layer it with chains, complement it with a short colored stone necklace, or wear it with great earrings,” says Kiyomura, who spent three years working in the jewelry department at Christie’s auction house in Los Angeles.

Gold, amethyst and diamond long earrings, Victorian era.

Earrings are a lovely way to draw attention to your face in a very stylish way. There are all kinds of antique earrings to choose from, many of which make a big statement. Some are long with lots of movement and are very dramatic. In keeping with her philosophy of having one piece of jewelry as your focal point, Kiyomura suggests wearing those earrings with no necklace, but instead wear a big bracelet and rings to balance the earrings and to avoid looking overdone. “Victorian earrings have everything,” notes Kiyomura. “They have length, color, movement and shape.”

Long earring has detachable top that may be worn for day, add the bottom back for a more glamorous night look, Victorian era.

Another popular earring style in antique jewelry is the day/night earring. As the name suggests these earrings do double duty. The bottom will detach leaving a smaller top that is the perfect adornment for day, re-attach the lower half for instant night time glam.

Gold and ruby buckle bracelet, enamel and gold buckle bracelet, Victorian era.

It’s always fun to have a wrist party and Kiyomura has a couple of pointers for wearing bracelets. “A lot of people wear big watches. I like to wear bracelets on the other wrist to avoid damaging either the watch or the bracelet. You can wear a thin chain next to a watch. If you want to stack bracelets, stick to a theme, such as bracelets that have a buckle motif.”

Diamond cluster ring, Georgian era, enamel and gold mourning rings, Victorian era.

Rings are one of the most worn pieces of jewelry and they were beloved by Georgians and Victorians. Rings can be worn on any finger and Kiyomura notes that a big cluster ring is a great focal point. She also notes that stacking rings from one time period is a good way to wear multiple rings.  Engagement rings have their own way of being worn. Kiyomura explains that many antique rings are large with different shapes and a wedding band doesn’t always sit flush with the engagement ring. To resolve this issue, she advises wearing the wedding band on your left hand ring finger and the engagement ring on the right hand.

“Have fun and experiment with length and color,” concludes Kiyomura. “Have one piece or type of  jewelry as your focal point and don’t over-do it. As Coco Chanel said, ‘before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off.’”

All images courtesy Keyamour, jewelry is available on the Jewelers Circle.

Authored by Amber Michelle