The Most Common Design Periods for Jewelry
Different historical eras are referenced in the jewelry industry to help date antique jewelry and also to help us better understand the historical significance behind certain pieces. Some of these eras are recognized outside of the jewelry industry and others are specific to just jewelry and fashion. Below is a list of the most common Jewelry Eras used to describe jewelry made within the last two hundred and fifty years.
Georgian (1714 – 1837)
This era took place during the reign of four kings in the United Kingdom all named George: George I, George II, George III, and George IV, hence the title Georgian. Jewelry from this era is rare and is often composed of a high karat gold and silver. Common stones include foil backed diamonds, topaz, and garnet.
Victorian (1837 – 1901)
The Victorian Era was named after Queen Victoria of England who reigned from 1837 until her death in 1901. Jewelry from this latter part of this era is fairly easy to find. 10K rose gold was common as well as garnets, amethyst, turquoise, pearls, and diamonds.
Edwardian (1895 – 1915)
This era is named after Kind Edward VII of England who reigned from 1901 to 1910. This is the last of the main design eras to be named after a British Monarch, but it is also known as the Belle Époque era. The jewelry from this period has clean lines similar to those from the Art Nouveau era but incorporates more traditional and delicate motifs from the Victorian Era. Platinum, diamonds and pearls are among the most used materials.
Art Nouveau (1890 – 1910)
The Art Nouveau aesthetic movement was named after Siegfried Bing’s gallery in Paris that opened in 1895 entitled Maison de l’Art Nouveau. The gallery featured innovative and “new” artwork inspired by Eastern design. The jewelry from this era is also referred to as Arts & Crafts, Jugendstil, Liberty style, Secession, and others depending on the country of origin. The era acted as a segue between the elaborate and heavy jewelry that preceded it and the modern and simple style movements that followed.
Art Deco (1920 – 1940)
Art Deco emerged after WWI and coined its name from French architect Le Corbusier who promoted the Exposition International des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in his journal with the title 1925 Expo: Arts Déco. Art Deco design is very streamlined and clean. Emeralds, rubies and sapphires accented diamonds. Jewelry designers also commonly worked with jade, onyx, and enamel in 18K white gold and platinum.
Retro (1935 – 1950)
During the International Exhibition of Arts and Techniques in Modern Life in Paris in 1937, there was a major shift from the previous Art Deco styling seen in the 1920’s and 30’s. Large colored stones and the use of flowers took precedence over the geometric shapes from the Art Deco period. At the start of WWII, metal scarcity limited the use of platinum, and instead there was a rise of popularity in rose gold which implemented low karat gold with copper alloys.
Modern (1950 – Contemporary)
Post WWII jewelry has only recently been defined as a distinct jewelry era. It includes jewelry from the 1950’s up to the modern day and continues to be very diverse and eclectic. 1950’s era jewelry in particular is filled with very luxurious and showy jewelry from high end designers like Van Cleef & Arpels, Tiffany, and Cartier. Larger pieces feature clusters of uniquely cut gemstones in the shapes of animals, flowers, and other unusual patterns.
The Early Victorian Era
The Victorian Era is a well known jewelry period that can be further broken down into the early period and the late period. There are enough differences in the fashion styles and jewelry made during these years that with enough experience, it is fairly easy to distinguish between a piece of jewelry made in 1840 and a piece made in 1890 even though they are both considered Victorian.
The early part of the Victorian Era begins right after the Late Georgian Period and leads up to the American Civil War between the years of 1837 – 1860.
This block of time is also referred to as the Romantic Era, which was a social movement that impacted the arts mostly but also influenced politics. Some think that Romanticism was a response to the Industrial Revolution and was a rebellion against science. Likewise, this was a very emotional movement that focused on our connection to nature and human sentiment.
Its impact can be seen not only in the music, art and literature from this time but also in the jewelry.
The resistance to and the advances from the Industrial Revolution weren’t the only things inspiring goldsmiths at the time, though. In Britain, young Queen Victoria set jewelry trends that would be fully embraced throughout the world. Everything from her wedding jewelry to her portrait miniatures were copied in large quantities, and this is primarily because of advances in technology. Electroplating was developed in the 1840’s so now paste stones could be set in gold filled and gold plated jewelry, allowing the lower classes to own jewelry inspired by royalty.
Like the Romantics, Queen Victoria was exceedingly sentiment, carrying lockets with Prince Albert’s hair and having new jewelry made for pretty much every special occasion she attended.
She even wore a bracelet made of her children’s baby teeth! The baby teeth sparked an even more unusual trend than hair jewelry.
Every motif that was used in jewelry during this time was a symbol for something else, and most of these motifs were inspired by nature. Florals, ivy, clasped hands, and snakes for instance are just a few of the examples of symbols with a deeper meaning.
Snakes symbolized wisdom. Clasped hands symbolized friendship and eternal love. Ivy symbolized marriage and friendship. Queen Victoria and the Romantics also put a lot of emphasis on the gemstones used in each piece of jewelry. Pearls symbolized tears. Emeralds symbolized hope. Not only that, they believed that certain gemstones like coral possessed healing powers. Posy jewelry with poetry lyrics and acrostic jewelry spelling out “dearest” and “regard” were very popular during this time.
In contrast with jewelry from the latter part of the Victorian Era, jewelry from these years is usually hand wrought. As the years went on, more and more jewelry began being made by a machine. American made jewelry from this era usually does not have a quality mark indicating the metal content.
Fashion remained fairly consistent throughout these years, but small changes impacted the types of jewelry being produced. In the 1830’s and 1840’s, women wore clothing that sat high on the neck and covered most of their bodies, so necklaces were scarce and rarely worn. Large brooches were popular and were pinned high on the clothing at the middle of the neck. In the 1850’s, hairstyles changed from long draped curls that covered the ears to hair that was up-swept and parted down the center. Because of this, dangling earrings made a comeback.
Some of the most popular stones used during this period are old mine cut diamonds, rose cut diamonds, coral, seed pearls, garnets, pink topaz, and turquoise. The precious metal used was usually a high karat yellow gold, a lower karat rose gold, and/or silver.