years extensive Gothic and Renaissance
the introduction of more massive pieces with Algerian and Etruscan influences,
had been brought forth by the influence of archeological finds.
delicate styling and organic influences
root with the rise of naturalism.
years of this period
are known as the "Gay Nineties".
Victoria ascended the British throne at the height of Romantic Revivalism, a movement which produced the most complex and fastest evolving jewelry fashions to date, ruling a predominantly peaceful and prosperous Great Britain for 64 years. Perhaps the single biggest influence of the time was the Industrial Revolution, which brought forth rapid economic and social changes. The resulting prosperity gave birth to a new middle class, one with both resources and unprecedented time to spare, and the desire to ascribe to the stylistic lead provided by the first female monarch in over a century. The outcome was a tremendous rise in demand for jewelry, which was met by the new manufacturing capabilities. As a result, large quantities of jewelry were produced for the first mass market.
Fashions of the period are perhaps best described as expansive. Full skirts, voluminous petticoats and lace collars were de rigeur in the early Victorian period. The fashion silhouette would expand even further in mid-century with the introduction of crinolines and hooped skirts. 1870s fashions were heavily embellished with flounces and fringe, and became all the more massive with bustles and trains. Towards the end of the century, womens dresses took on a more tailored style, as women began to work and take a more active role in leisure activities. During the 1860s and 70s, the demand for even more massive quantities of jewelry grew, while the styles themselves took on lighter and more delicate motifs.
Numerous influences were at work in the changing jewelry style; Queen Victorias love for her husband and inherent romantic nature can be seen in the heart, flower, bird and ubiquitous bow motifs. Jewelry which incorporated the hair of a loved one became very popular. Romanticism reigned along with Victoria. An entire language of flowers evolved, in which lovers might send messages without putting pen to paper; proposing marriage and accepting, all by the delivery of a bouquet - or a piece of floral jewelry.
Scottish motifs became very popular as well, in celebration of Victorias pride in her Scottish heritage, and her purchase of Balmoral Castle in 1848. The resulting motifs included crests, buckles and knots, with stones native to Scotland, such as agate and bloodstone, becoming widely used. This style has become known as Scottish jewelry.
The rise of a jewelry mass market saw the use of more and more semi-precious stones, to keep jewelry affordable. Most popular were turquoise, garnet, amethyst, and Victorias favorite, opals.
Archeology took on great importance in mid century, with Prince Albert himself participating in some of the large digs. Cameos and mosaics would become very popular through the influence of archeological finds of Greek, Roman, Etruscan and Egyptian origin, creating a market for what would become known as revivalist jewelry. These pieces were often sold as souvenirs to visitors at the ancient ruins.
As demand for jewelry grew, so did its sources, and at the same time gold standards were relaxed. After 1854, gold jewelry was produced in lower karat weights than 18K, also contributing to the production of affordable jewelry. The greater availability of materials spurred jewelers to experiment with new and more intricate styles and textures, giving rise to engraving and filigree, as well as granulation and chasing techniques.
The wealth of South African diamond deposits were discovered in 1967, making these gems more affordable. With the introduction of electric lighting in the 1880s, the sparkling quality of diamond jewelry became all the more desirable.
Victorians are well remembered for their love of gardening, and this is reflected in the floral and animal, including insect motifs, of their jewelry. In addition, serpents became very popular, being a favorite of Victoria's, as they symbolized wisdom, eternity, and even luck.
When Prince Albert unexpectedly died in 1861, the entire nation mourned with Victoria. Jewelry was no longer worn during the day. The exception was mourning jewelry, also known as memorial jewelry, which had been popular before Victorias reign. These pieces incorporated black enamel, jet and onyx and were a more conservative style than previously produced jewelry. The results were disastrous for jewelry makers, and upon facing near bankruptcy, a group of jewelers appealed directly to Princess Alexandra to help reverse the conservative trend by consenting to be seen in public wearing more lavish jewelry pieces. The public soon lost interest in the conservative style of mourning jewelry however, and despite the gloom which would characterize the remaining 40 years of Victorias reign, it quickly fell out of favor.
With the death of Queen Victoria in 1901, England was ready for a new resurgence in fashion and jewelry. Further revolutions in manufacturing, including the steam engine, made manufacturing even larger quantities of jewelry possible, though with the result of lower quality. But decades of extreme conservatism had now ended, resulting in a sudden and profound break from tradition, leading to the Art Nouveau period of the early 20th Century.