Period Jewelry Highlights
Surviving pieces are rare. The few exceptional pieces that have survived, all show extraordinary craftsmanship.
Jewelry was not yet mass produced. It tended to be very well made and delicate in design with a French influence.
The emphasis was on the metalwork and not the stones.
High karat look, silver over gold to set diamonds, seed pearls, agate, rock crystal quartz, chrysoberyl, coral, garnet, ivory, paste, foil backed stones, portrait miniatures, champlevé, intaglios, mosaics, and bezel settings were used.
The setters routinely backed the rose-cut diamonds with a reflecting foil to enhance the beauty of the diamonds and so created the beloved fire, which is best seen under candlelight. Care must be taken in cleaning these pieces.
Around 1750, a new rolling mill was invented, that would revolutionize the appearance of all jewelry from that time on. It was able to roll uniform sheets of silver and gold, eliminating the need for time-consuming hand hammering.
The motifs were mostly plumes, urns, wheat, butterflies, crescents, florals, scrolls and Maltese crosses.
Girandoles (ribbon bows supporting pear shaped gemstones such as garnets) were in high demand during the Georgian period, along with crescent, flower-head and star-burst brooches.
Napoleon Bonaparte was so fond of jewelry that he founded a cameo carving school.
Around 1804 in Prussia, now Germany/Poland, the wealthy were called upon to give up their jewelry in order to finance the war against Napoleon. They were thanked with iron jewelry replacements, often inscribed with “Ich gab Gold fur Eissen” (I gave gold for iron). Those delicate ‘Fer-de-Berlin’ objects are highly collectible today.
In 1840, Victoria married her beloved Albert. The engagement ring that he presented to her was a snake with an emerald-set head. This would become the first Victorian Engagement ring ever made. The snake was a symbol of eternal love and emerald was her birthstone. From that time on, birthstones were often used in Victorian engagement rings.
The California Gold Rush in 1849 and mass production (with the advent of the Industrial Revolution) had a profound effect.
The use of larger stones, stone in stone setting, and organic materials, colored gold (rose, yellow and green), claw settings, engraving, micro mosaics, and portrait cameos, all became important.
The motifs were primarily forget-me-nots, pansies, animals, flowers, trefoils, grapes, hands, insects, starburst, horseshoe, lizard, snakes, birds, and ivy. Bypass design rings, solitaire rings, lockets and fringe necklaces were popular. ‘En Tremblent” added movement to pieces.
White gold started being used in the 1880’s.
Platinum over gold was used late in the era.
In 1867, diamonds were discovered in South Africa.
In December of 1861, Albert, the love of Victoria’s life, passed away. She was overwhelmed with grief and sorrow and mourned for the next 40 years.
During this time, popular jewelry included: Mourning jewelry; black jewelry; Tortoiseshell and Piqué; Revivalist, Etruscan, Renaissance and Egyptian motifs; Cameos-Intaglios-Mosaics; and Manufactured Gold, Gold-Filled and Plated pieces.
Late Victorian-Aesthetic Period circa 1880-1901
Early Celluloid, Silver and Mixed Metals, Diamonds and Colored Gemstones,
and, at the end of the era, Sport Jewelry came into vogue.
Art Nouveau Period circa 1895-1910
Natural forms inspired Art Nouveau Jewelry. Female forms, dancers, nymphs, mermaids, water lilies, flowers, dragonflies, and flowing lines are recurrent motifs. Colors were applied with fired enamels and quite often with plique azure, translucent enamel evoking stained glass.
Edwardian/Bel Époque Era circa 1890-1920
Although Edward VII died in 1910, the “Edwardian” style continued until the outbreak of the war.
Delicate and elaborate filigree work with platinum and platinum over gold was being used. White gold was being commercially used by the end of the era. Millegrain accents, natural pearls, guilloché, lace style pins, ribbon wrist watches, calibré and cushion cuts, rectangular shapedmounts, foliate, swag, demantoid garnets, natural pearls, peridot, spinel, tourmaline, Ceylon sapphires and moonstones were all popular.
World War I put an abrupt end to the light-hearted Edwardian spirit. Life changed overnight and jewelry all but disappeared, either hidden away in secure vaults or sold. Precious metal became scarce and platinum, which was used in the manufacture of armaments, disappeared almost entirely from the market!
Art Deco Period circa 1915-1930s
The Invisible setting was patented by Cartier and Van Cleef in 1933. Carved stones were used.
The Modern brilliant cut diamond was introduced, but Old European cut, along with single and rose cuts, were still present.
Retro Period 1935-1950s
Retro jewelry is characterized by the bold, oversized and three dimensional use of rose, yellow and green, highly polished gold. Retro jewels often feature massive, emerald-cut aquamarines, citrines and amethyst, accented with smaller rubies, sapphires and diamonds. Retro bracelets, watches and necklaces reflected the glamour and enchantment that Hollywood inspired during times of crisis. The movies provided a wartime escape into a world of fantasy and romance that was “larger than life.”
Much information from Warman’s Jewelry Third Edition by Christie Romero