Jewelry History

Georgian (circa 1714 -1840)

Georgian jewelry has a magical old world quality that brings history alive. There are many identifiers of Georgian jewelry, ones that are rare and fascinating windows into our past choices of adornment. Jewelry of the Georgian era is highly collectable and treasured to this day by many who love the mysterious twinkle and intrigue of a rare and timeless treasure.

Some of the main characteristics of Georgian jewelry are how the stones were cut and set.

Old mine and rose cut diamonds were the most popular diamond cuts, while the cushion cut was most popular for colored stones. The stones themselves (especially diamonds) were often set in high content gold, and overlaid with silver to enhance their color. Set in closed mounts, it is common to see metallic foils behind Georgian gemstones to richen their sparkle and color.

Memorial and other symbolic jewelry was commonly worn in Georgian periods, and took form in all types of jewels, primarily in rings. Enameled or engraved dates, names and mottoes, along with locks of hair or symbols such as the ouroboros (a serpent with its tail in its mouth), were often used in memorial pieces.

Victorian (Circa 1837-1900)

Romantic Period: (circa 1837-1860)

Queen Victoria heralded a powerful and transformative time in human history. As she ascended the British throne at the age of 18, she brought with her a hopeful and delightfully romantic aesthetic mirrored in jewelry of the time. Often found are feminine compositions of sentimental and naturalistic motifs such as flowers set with pearls and pink tourmaline. In 1840, Victoria wedded Prince Albert. His engagement ring to her was a snake with an emerald-set head, symbolizing eternal love; this vaulted the snake ring into high popularity for years to come. When Victoria and Albert purchased the Scottish Balmoral Castle in 1848, Scotland became all the rage, influencing a trend of celtic style jewelry set with agate, bloodstone, citrine, and Cairngorm quartz. Her reign was a turning point in history, bringing about the cultural and industrial realities that survive to this day.

Symbolism was also used in many forms other than the famous snake. Many included animals such as birds, lions, and flowers represented specific sentiments, which became popular as well. For the early Victorians, jewelry was a language of the most intimate nature. An anchor, flower, heart, knot, claw, hand, or even the subtlest of an engraving created a sentimental and everlasting form of communication.

High Victorian Period (circa 1860-1885)

A telltale and transformative aspect of the Victorian era’s jewelry history is the death of Prince Albert in 1861. Queen Victoria went into deep mourning, and the British Empire followed in suit. There was much emphasis placed on wearing mourning jewelry, so commemorative engravings, black enameled gold, jewelry with the grieved one's hair, and lockets containing memorabilia became prominent. Dark stones like onyx and banded agate, and intense jewel tones like garnet and amethyst were popular choices and often set in gold. Mourning traditionally lasted for around a year, but Victoria remained in mourning for Albert for the rest of her life.

As the world became more open, so did the influences on adornment. Archeological discoveries were inspiring aesthetic revivals of Etruscan, Pompeian, Egyptian, Celtic and Roman jewelry. This was a time of much creativity for jewelers to develop their own interpretations of classical motifs. The Far East opened, heralding a new fascination with Japan seen in all the decorative and fine arts. Techniques such as sakudo and shibuichi (alloys of bronze/gold and silver/gold) were used to create entirely new and exotic looks. Halley’s comet made a appearance inspiring celestial themed jewelry, and the emphasis was on crafting pieces with dimension and volume without adding too much weight. Roman micro mosaics and Florentine mosaics or pietra dura joined cameos and intaglios in popularity. Old European and mine cut diamonds continued to be the most popular diamond cuts of this era. The warm light and richness of tones distinctive to jewelry of this time was influenced by the use of gas light flame as a light source. This romantic lighting of times past brought a rich sparkle to gemstones, and a deep luster to gold.

Late Victorian Period (circa 1885-1901)

The Late Victorian Period was abundant with change. The turn of the century saw the mechanization and industrialization that lead the way to our current way of life. Women became more present than ever in western history in their social activism, demanding the right to vote, work and marry by choice. Science (particularly Darwin) piqued curiosity and inspired late Victorian jewelry, imitating bugs and rare flora and fauna. Prosperity in the mechanical age brought a revived sense of romance as lifestyles evolved to meet the modernity of automobiles and electricity. Mainstream engagement ring designs such as the Tiffany engagement setting (a six-prong solitaire introduced in 1886) live to this day. Victoria died in 1901, having overseen a remarkable shift in history, and an unbelievable expanse of jewelry evolution.

Arts and Crafts (circa 1860-1914)

The Arts and Crafts movement was an avant-garde applied philosophy that was a direct reaction to the growing mechanization and industrialization of the Victorian Era. The Arts and crafts lifestyle immersed itself entirely in homes, visual art and adornment to create a living, breathing aesthetic identity. One often sees a variance in designs, but the similarity lies in that everything is handmade. Jewelers often revived and rethought classical jewelry techniques. They utilized precious and non-precious materials, many pieces are made with silver or brass, enamel, horn or semiprecious stones. Due to the historical and conceptual relevance of Arts and Crafts jewelry, it is highly collectable and sought after.

Art Nouveau (circa 1890-1920)

The Art Nouveau period was a remarkable time in jewelry history. Often the jewels have fluidity of line, imitating natural and feminine elements. The jewels tend to incite a mystical and fantastical presence, using themes such as exotic florals, mythological creatures and classical female nudes to create expressive narratives. Metals and gemstones were combined in innovative techniques and combinations such as plique-à-jour with gold, silver, and asymmetrically arranged gemstones in pastel shades. Out of all the remarkable jewelers who emerged from this magical era, René Lalique is one of the most notable for expressing the Art Nouveau aesthetic.

Edwardian (circa 1901-1920)

The Reign of King Edward and his fashionable wife Alexandra was a time of opulence and femininity. A royal elegance in lighter, brighter construction identifies Edwardian jewelry, as do common motifs like bows, tassels, garlands, and inspiration from classical architecture. Alexandra often wore choker necklaces, layers of pearls, and tiaras, catapulting them into popularity. Platinum was discovered in this era, and the strength of the metal allowed jewelers to create more minimal yet intricate designs than ever before. We see milgrain and filigree details applied to platinum, and diamonds were in higher demand, as electricity brought bright light and glitter to jewelry design and the lapidary arts. The year 1919 marked the development of the early modern brilliant cut diamond by Marcel Tolkowsky.

Art Deco (circa 1920-1935)

Art Deco jewelry and the subsequent Roaring 20's is for some considered the most influential design era in jewelry history. After World War I ended, culture truly opened its doors to the future and innovation. In the age of movement and jazz, women could increasingly choose their roles, their fashion, and their participation in society. Designs were influenced by graphics, modern architecture and art such as cubism, creating distinctively new compositional designs.

Much attention was paid to the influences of other cultures, including Africa, South America, Japan and India. The exotic fantasy of these cultures manifests in Art Deco jewelry design through materials, design and construction. When King Tut’s tomb was discovered, Egyptian jewelry had a surge in popularity, reviving Egyptian iconography with materials in gold, silver, enamel and semiprecious gemstones. Colored gemstones like chrysoprase, coral, lapis, onyx and crystal were popular choices for daytime or working wear. 

Diamonds were all the rage, and many new types of diamond cuts emerged in the 1920s, including the marquise, emerald and Asscher cuts. Pavé set diamonds as well as baguette cut accent stones are often seen in Deco jewelry with bead set and/or milgrained detailing. Platinum was the metal of choice, and increasingly used in intricate new designs that often were geometric in influence. High contrast in jewels accentuated the fashionable lines of the 1920s, so placing onyx, sapphires, rubies or emeralds next to diamonds was in vogue. Often, these contrast stones were synthetic, expressing the exuberance for modernism and technology at the time. The distinct aesthetic identity of Art Deco jewelry has continued to serve as major influence in modern jewelry design.

Retro (circa 1935-1950)

Retro jewelry is a delightfully unique era in jewelry history. Aspects of the Deco era combine with elements of the machine age to create a jewelry narrative that was equally reflective of its war time era, as it was glamorous. The onset of World War II made platinum scarce, and gold alloys turned more coppery, hence the warm rose gold hues distinctive to Retro jewelry. Fashions had a practical, masculine look as women joined the workforce, wearing squared off shoulders and powerful angles, and for the first time, slacks. The simplicity and severity of these wartime looks were the canvas and complement to Retro jewelry’s creativity and power- and, in some ways, a testament to patriotism. Textural elements such as the gas pipe chain and moving mechanisms were fashioned into strong jewels that were remarkably light despite their large size. Large semiprecious gemstones mainly discovered in Brazil were very popular as cocktail or dinner rings, making a statement that was both glamorous and strong. There was a certain whimsy in Retro jewelry as well; a diverse set of motifs were used, including bows, mesh, drapes, fruits, floral, and animal subjects, particularly large cats.

As this short era came to a end, it left behind a beloved chapter in jewelry design. Many discerning collectors covet Retro jewelry for its distinctive architectural presence and individuality formed wonderfully by history. 

Mid-Century (circa 1950-1965)

Jewelry in the 1950s had a hopeful and flashy glamour, one that was both traditional but innovative. The growing middle class, combined with a need for stability in the post-war lifestyle, created a great demand for jewelry, both as everyday pieces and for luxury evening wear. Dior’s ‘new look’ of long full skirts and accentuated waists highlighted the luxurious use of fabric, and fashioned a new canvas upon which to adorn with jewels. Hollywood glamour furthered the American dream, and was expressed in the fantastical array of jewelry now accessible to every home. Full sets of jewelry were very popular, as were cocktail rings and  daytime pearls. Jewels had a tendency to be less dangly and closer to the body, in concentrated clusters of flashy gemstones.

Diamonds reigned as the most popular stone choice, and the famous De Beers ‘A diamond is forever’ ad cemented the idea of the diamond engagement ring. This sentiment met with the need to create community and family post-war and catapulted the sales of diamond engagement rings to new heights. Diamond engagement rings in the 1950s are often seen in clusters of multi-textural diamonds with one distinctive center stone, conveying glamour and sparkle. The baguette diamond accented solitaire paired with matching bands truly cemented itself in this time as the classical engagement ring choice. The Nuclear age was in full swing, and as seen in all design forms in this era, this technological futuristic aesthetic started to be seen in jewelry, and continued to become more pronounced into the 1960s.