The Victorian era is probably one of the strangest times for jewellery and therefore one of the most interesting. With the incorporation of exaggerated styles, new motifs, and even human remains Victorian jewellery is in defiant need of explaining.
The Victorian Era was so adequately named as such because it marks the period of Queen Victoria’s reign, from June 20, 1837-January 22, 1901. But it does get a bit more complicated than that. The tricky part about understanding the different eras of fashion and jewellery is the fact that eras can be divided into subcategories called “epochs”. This happens due to SO many events (i.e., migration, political discourse, and the growth of technology) occurring in a single era resulting in a great many of changes. The Victorian Era is a prime example of an era with multiple epochs, 3 to be exact:
The designs made during this time were heavily influenced by past aesthetics, like that of the dramatic Gothic, the refined Renaissance, and the classics of Greek and Roman mythology. Master Italian gold smiths were greatly sought after for their distinct craftsmanship with gold wire. Statement pieces in women’s wardrobe turned to hair combs and pins embellished with gems and sometimes made from enamel. Religion was a huge influence on Victorian life. This resulted in a plethora of cross jewellery being worn by all women. The development of commercial photography resulted in the first common use of lockets, which people used to keep miniature photographic images on silvered copper plates called daguerreotypes. At this point everything is progressing in a pretty normal state right? But wait, there's more.
This is what most people think when they thinking Victorian and that's because the aesthetic takes a dramatic and epochal shift. After the death of Prince Albert (husband to Queen Victoria) and the American Civil war, a new period of death and war arose. Thus, ending the whimsical romance of the early Victorian period and hence forth will be the dark and moody mid period. As a direct result of a prince's death and war, mourning jewellery became the newest fashion trend. Most jewellery consisted of black centrepieces like jet, onyx, and black glass. A new and now iconic trend began, where people would carry a lock of human hair in their jewellery. The hair was often showcased in the design of the piece in a beautifully crafted way either in the form of braids or elegant swirls. This was also when cameos were invented as a means of remembering dead loved ones. Dark and foreboding motifs like skulls and skeletons became very popular. This became a time when it was ok to feel sad. And that is something is something a lot of people can identity with. It's probably why this time period has such a massive cult following and reoccurring revival. It's an aesthetic that people can connect with when they need to express thus intense feelings and that's ok.
Come 1880 the public had an intense desire to get back to refined artistic taste, with a focus on visually appealing designs. Thus, was born the aesthetic period. The public craved quality over quantity and advocated for the best that money could buy. Wanting to get best the dar foreboding feels of the Grand period, colour and texture became high in demand. During the Georgian era colour gems were seen as symbols of wealth, but in the aesthetic period they became symbols of natural beauty. Diamonds grew to be fashion faux-pas for general use, and were really only used as accent elements in the hair for evening events. Big clunky gemstone and heavy pieces became less and less popular and women opted for small and more delicate pieces. Motifs of peacocks, flowers, and insects were the most prevalent since they encapsulated the organic beauty of nature. It was now all about celebrating life and the vibrancy of the world. You could be sad for so long.