Retro Jewelry (Circa 1935 - 1950)
Styles of this period in estate and vintage jewelry are characterized by the use of gold, and often rose gold. Platinum, popular in prior decades, was scarce due to its use in World War II. Bold, chunky styles with arrays and clusters of gems grabbed the imagination of the people. But rather than the most expensive of gemstones, more often they were brightly colored, less costly stones such as citrines, aquamarines, topazes and tourmalines. Diamonds were decidedly out of favor, except as small, accent stones. Clip-on earrings made their debut at this time. Earring styles were often close up on the ear or just below - long dangles of the 20's were out. Plain gold or the combination of alternate yellow and rose gold made its appearance in large, wide bracelets, dress clips, earrings, brooches and collar necklaces. With women working in greater than ever numbers (while men were away for the war), fashion and jewelry took on a decidedly strong profile.
Art Deco Jewelry (Circa 1920 - 1935)
While a brief period of history, its impact on jewelry design was resounding and long lasting. Known for its innovative designs, the wellsprings of creativity for this period were often derived from the sultry and frenetic music, performances, current events and arts of the day. The great Jazz Age brought color back into jewelry and made geometry the basis for much of the work of the times. Oriental and exotic themes also wove their way into the antique jewelry. The use of platinum and white gold were still popular from the previous Edwardian era. Yellow gold rarely seen. Strong, linear designs embellished with color - so gems of every sort were employed. Androgynous fashion and bobbed hair served as a backdrop for surprisingly ornate, yet sleek jewels. Long, lean earrings, stacked bracelets, rings, and long "flapper" beads all abounded. Screw-back earrings invented in the very late 19th century, were now used almost exclusively as pierced ears were considered taboo.
Edwardian Jewelry (Circa 1900 - 1915)
So named for England's King Edward, this era was known for its use of platinum, pearls and diamonds...and more diamonds. In France, this time span was termed La Belle Epoque (or "the beautiful epoch" or era). Renowned for it exquisite craftsmanship with an airy feminine style and rich restrained designs, it was an era well named. Platinum had finally come of age. While it had been discovered nearly a century earlier, its use in jewelry was virtually unknown. Making dating simple, a piece of platinum jewelry is almost always from the turn of the 19th century or later, used mostly during this period and forward.
A color scheme of white and white metal was the foundation for this grand and eloquent era of antique jewelry. Based upon styles found in the 18th century Georgian era, these were now reinterpreted through a different sensibility. A lighter airier framework and mount was possible due to the remarkable properties of platinum (strong even with the use of very little metal). The garland style took swags and flowers and translated them into jewels in which gems were at the forefront and their settings almost invisible. A new “royalty” emerged that was based on wealth rather than lineage. As a result American jewelry came into its own.
Art Nouveau Jewelry (Circa 1895 - 1910)
Although it often became an umbrella term for a number of varied styles and movements, Art Nouveau jewelry is one of the most common names. Known as Jugenstil in Germany and Austria, Arts & Crafts in Britain, and Art Nouveau in France, these do, however, share some similarities and overlap in many ways. In general, all these styles were a rebellion or counter weight against much of the rigid and sometimes formulaic designs of the mid and late Victorian period. Also too was a surge toward hand made, rather than machine made work propagated from the industrial age of the mid 19th century. Less expensive materials were chosen and combined with hand made craftsmanship (or what appeared to be hand crafted). Harkening back to the individual, rather than the mass produced, led to a radical form of jewelry not seen before. Silver, enamels, moonstones, even horn and natural materials, were combined in organic and sinuous forms, with metals being prominent and used artfully in the naturalistic designs. Insects such as the dragonfly, women's heads and flowing hair, plants and flora dominated much of jewelry design.
Victorian Jewelry (Circa 1840 - 1890)
In her days of ruling England, Queen Victoria also presided over and greatly influenced much of the fashion of the world. Although this era spanned many decades and a plethora of styles and materials were used, some broad themes emerge.
Initially, sentimental or romantic jewelry with floral motifs and symbolic themes flourished. Mid century brought the Grand Period and with it many revival styles. Late in the century, the Aesthetic Period blossomed. For the first decades, gold was the preferred metal. However, it was at this time that gilded metal, rolled gold and manufactured gold plated techniques were perfected. Gems including pearls, citrines, amethyst and garnets were popular. By the mid century and with the death of Prince Albert, the Queen went into a long period of mourning. This resulted in black jewelry becoming the fashion. Gold was often decorated with black enamel. All genres of black material were used to produce bold and strong designs for everything from brooches to necklaces and pairs of bracelets. Additionally, along with the mid century came revival jewelry styles. Using antiquity and the Gothic and Renaissance periods for example, jewelers incorporated those designs elements as the basis for much of the jewelry. Later in the century, silver jewelry again took its place as diamonds and pearl set jewelry were once more in vogue.
Victorian Jewelry (1840 - 1890)
The Victorian period roughly spans from 1840 - 1890 and, of course, is named after the British ruler Queen Victoria. Her influence, much like that of Princess Diana in recent years, spawned a vast array of styles in fashion and personal adornment. The nuances of fashion and jewelry sway greatly depending on the trend setters, as the fashionista of today.
Victorian jewelry is usually divided into three stylistic periods: the Romantic Period, the Grand Period and the Late or Aesthetic Period. Although considered to be one broad era of jewelry history, in actuality the Victorian period embodies a considerable range of styles, forms and utilized a vast array of materials. Yet looking closely, the inevitable ties to what has come before, to revivals, and to inspirations rooted in the past is clear. However, innovation is ever present in all the eras of the history of design.
In addition, the phrase “Victorian Jewelry” has come to encompass jewelry styles of other countries such as the United States and France. To be precise, it actually refers to only jewelry of British origin. Modern convention however gives us leave to have that designation apply to any antique jewelry produced during that period of time, not matter the country of origin.
The Romantic Period
As a holdover from the end of the Georgian period, sentiment, meaning, symbolism and femininity reigned supreme. With the marriage of Queen Victoria, all thoughts turned to love and union. Jewelry was far more than a mere pretty bauble. Exchanged between family, friends, lovers and spouses, often there was an intimate message or meaning imbued with the design and giving of jewels. Forms and motifs such as hearts, anchors (hope), snakes (eternity and everlasting love), and crosses (faith) all alluded to emotions imbued in these keepsakes. Gold was ever popular as were many semi-precious gems. Open backed gemstones were now the rule, not the exception.
The Grand Period
Characterizes by motifs and themes rooted in the past, this era borrowed from many glorious past eras including ancient and Renaissance, Gothic and other patterns, textures, color and jewelry making techniques to create a grand and eloquent statement. Terms such as Greek, Etruscan or Egyptian revival along with that of Roman, Renaissance, Gothic and Celtic revivals were key all were used as a springboard for jewelry design. Many of these earlier periods of design, styles and jewelry were translated and reinterpreted during the Victorian period. Exceptional master jewelers, such as Carlo Guiliano and Castellani, made an extraordinary impact on jewelry history. Taking actual archaeological discoveries of jewelry, they sometimes cast new jewelry in their likeness. Yet, they also brought great creativity and individual interpretation to these relics of the past. Casting, an ancient technique, was once again revived.
Gold is found quite frequently and used during this period along with enamels and colored gems. Classical themes and geometrics dominated the scene. Sometimes heavy and ornate, the jewelry was most often dramatic and large in overall scale.
The Aesthetic Period
The later decades of the 19th century from around 1880 to 1901 were referred to as The Aesthetic Period. This period of time actually witnesses many other jewelry movements as well. Art Nouveau, Beaux Arts, Arts & Crafts, and Jugenstil, and even the beginning of the Edwardian period. It can be confusing as to exactly what era "box" to put an item of jewelry into. Influences and touches of design came from many quarters.
In general, the last phase of the Victorian period is seen as a return to some romanticism with a lightening of the scale of jewelry. Smaller, more delicate, whimsical and less formal were shifts in the production of jewelry. Some motifs prevalent include stars, clusters, crescent moons and insect and reptiles. Diamonds discovered in South Africa naturally led to a great deal of jewelry set with this ever popular gem. Old mine cuts, cushion cuts and rose cut stones were most often used.
The end of the century then divided into tributaries of jewelry design from many countries and influences.
Georgian Jewelry (Circa 1714 - 1835)
Spanning no less than the reigns of the four kings of England (George I, II and III and IV), this period was a grand and elegant era in jewelry history. Stemming from the consummate and regal designs of the late 17th century France, the eighteenth century carried on in much the same excessive tone. Mainly of gold and silver, large jewels held diamonds, sapphires and emeralds. Colored gems such as garnets, topazes, amethysts and citrines all were used. Frequently gems were set in closed backed metal with foiling beneath. Metalwork tended to be greater in proportion to the stones than in more modern jewelry and most jewelry was handmade. The back of the jewelry was sculptural and weighty and were usually bulbous.
Many of the designs were composed of bow motifs as well as the teardrop shape. Quintessentially 18th century, the ever present girandole motif consisted of a surmount, bow and a three-drop form. Late in the century, a rise in Neoclassicism led jewelry designs into a different world. This realm of clean lines, simplicity and geometry distanced itself from the now out-of-favor aristocracy of the Revolution. Less costly materials and semi precious gems were in favor. Early in the 19th century, a softer romantic tone emerged. A rising middle class continued to present themselves with the luxury of jewels and finery of the aristocracy. Understandably, a great deal of jewelry was produced and a surprising amount, although scarce, can still be found today.
Georgian Jewelry (Circa 1714 - 1840)
The term Georgian refers to an era in English history during the reign of King George I-IV from 1714 - 1840. Like the term Victorian (used for jewelry during Queen Victoria's rule), it is accepted in use as a term that refers to certain styles of jewelry. While this time period saw a number of stylistic changes and, is in reality a broad, sweeping category, the label is oft used for jewelry with certain characteristics. Sometimes the term is applied to jewelry from other countries (France, Italy, and the United States for example) and although its use is not entirely appropriate, it is generally still accepted as a way to refer to a time period and to certain styles of antique jewelry.
Eighteenth Century Jewelry
For the privileged and elite, that century saw a great increase in evening pursuits as improvements in the manufacture of candles gave rise to longer burning and brighter candles. Balls and soirees of sumptuous proportions rose to exceptional heights. Thus the divide between day and evening jewelry marked a new chapter in jewelry history. Women often wore pearls, garnets, moss agate or colored gems or paste in daytime. The most formal evening events, courts, balls and receptions were the only appropriate times to wear diamond jewelry. Consequently, diamonds found new favor. Mines opened in Golconda, India and Brazil began to produce stones in the 1720's. Now diamonds were more readily available.
Closed backs were used on almost all gems and paste stones. Open backs were known, but most of the examples we see today are of the closed style. The true art of stone cutting (and allowing light through a gem to reveal its refractive properties) was not yet truly understood. In addition, then most stones were foiled. Foiling is the use of a metal coating, sometimes colored, painted on the back of a stone to enhance its brilliance. The cut of gems were either the rose cut or the old mine cut, although a few table cuts were still in use. Brilliant cuts also gained in popularity. Often for colored gems a flat cut was used - the top being flat with a few facets on the edges.
For metals silver or gold was in use; platinum was not as yet discovered and white gold was not used in jewelry. Rose gold, yellow gold, silver, and sometimes green or red gold were employed. Most diamond jewelry was almost always set in silver; the sentiments of the time were that the silver color of the metal enhanced the properties of diamonds, whereas a gold surrounding did not. The backs of jewelry and ear wires were often gold to prevent tarnish on skin and clothing. Colored gems were set in gold. Mounts or bezels for jewels were frequently set in a closed setting, a cut away setting or in a very early claw setting (usually seen for early large pastes). The first two mountings show a good bit of metal that comes up around the sides of the stone, thereby encasing the stone in metal.
Stylistically, the earlier part of the century saw a more ornate form of jewelry with complex and frilly designs. As the years progressed and the next century advanced, the forms turned to more of a neoclassical inspiration of simpler geometric and formal derivation. Also it was a great century for paste. Even Marie Antoinette had her own paste jewelers - it was not just for those who could not afford real gems. Some examples of the themes and motifs used in the earlier 18th century were bows, floral designs, giardinetti (garden) and feathers while later times saw classical themes such as arrows, quivers, lyres, intaglios, and geometric forms.
Types of jewelry worn were the stomacher (a large element worn similarly to a huge brooch at the center of the stomach just below the breasts and trailing down the front), aigrettes (elements for the hair), girandoles (three drop earrings), pendeloque earrings (a bow and drop form), necklaces (sometimes secured by ribbons, rings, slides), bracelets typically worn in pairs usually slipped onto a ribbon, chatelaines, and buckles and buttons - for men for shoes, breeches and other clothing.
Nineteenth Century Through 1830 - Antique Jewelry
Toward the end of the earlier century and into the next, wars tore through Europe and affected life and, consequently, jewelry. Often gold and precious gems were in short supply as these items were typically given toward the war effort. Jewelry used less metal, even of very thin proportion, and cannetille came into use. Cannetille uses tiny wires that are wrapped to make a much more ornate jewel utilizing little metal. A romantic era arose, again sentimental and mourning jewelry became popular by the end of the 18th century and into the 19th. Regard rings, symbolic gems, tokens of affection, and lockets of hair all found great favor. Gems were small and less significant. Queen Victoria's reign brought about many changes in temperament and the jewelry and fashion which followed suite ending a grand and elegant era in the production of jewelry.
Jewelry Eras at a glance:
1837 - 1900
1901 - 1910
1880 - 1914
Arts & Crafts:
1890 - 1914
1920 - 1939
1935 - 1950