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Jewelry Periods & Overview

Table of Contents

Jewelry Periods


Jewelry Overview

Throughout history, jewelry and fashion have been closely linked together. It is important to note that each stylistic change was a direct reaction to the one that preceded it. Artisans' understanding of metallurgical properties, gemstone traits, and the technology of their time limited their abilities. Each era must be appreciated within its own unique parameters, rather than compared on a broad scale. Furthermore, the jewelry periods do not start and end at distinct points in time. They often overlap, most poignantly noted at the turn of the 20th century when the Victorian, Arts & Crafts, Art Nouveau, and Edwardian movements existed concurrently. We start with the late Georgian era and trace jewelry history into the beginning of 21st century.

Late Georgian Jewelry (1760-1837)

In the 1700s, the nobility wore jewelry. Much of it was constructed in silver, because gold was in short supply, and would remain so until major discoveries occurred in the mid 19th century. Cannetile, a form of scroll or tightly coiled gold wire, was generally the extent of gold accent in Georgian jewelry. The jewelry was often flat. Rough cut diamonds, topaz, garnet, coral and pearls were incorporated into designs. At the time, artisans didn't understand diamond or gemstone light transference properties. All stones were set in closed back mountings, sometimes adding a thin foil film in an attempt to improve the color. There was a prevailing interest in Greek and Roman antiquity that transferred to jewelry design. Popular motifs included the Maltese cross, miniatures, floral sprays, girandole earrings, feather brooches and fancy hair combs. Mourning jewelry and early costume or paste-set jewelry also developed in the 1700s. Important technological advances would change the jewelry industry forever; beginning with the invention of rolled gold-plating in 1743, and fabrication of gold-filled jewelry in the 1820s.

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The Victorian Era (1837-1901)

The Victorian era is the longest running period in all of jewelry history. It began in 1837 when Queen Victorian ascended to the British throne, and ended with her death in 1901. The era was shaped not only by her personal life and contributions, but also by the industrial revolution. This 64-year timeframe is generally divided into three distinct phases, beginning with the Romantic Period.

Early Victorian (Romantic Period) 1837-1861

Queen Victoria ascended to the English throne and married Prince Albert in 1837. By all accounts it was a happy marriage that contributed to the romantic nature of jewelry. Sentimental themes dominated the early Victorian period. The interest in romance created a wave of revivalism, a nostalgic review of eras gone by. Jewelry appeared more natural and three-dimensional. It was often symbolic, with each image having its own sentimental attachment or meaning. The snake symbolized eternity, guardian spirit and wisdom, or everlasting love, when displayed with tail in its mouth. Flowers were tokens of sentiment, as well as a reflection of nature. Clasped hands illustrated friendship or good luck. A wreath represented mourning. Hair, whether human or horse, became a popular jewelry fashion - once again as an expression of sentiment. Artisans created amulets, brooches, bracelets and hair ornaments incorporating these motifs. The bracelets, specifically bangles, were the most popular item of the time and were often worn in multiples.

The general gaiety of life transferred to jewelry design in the form of tassels and fringes. These additions created playfulness in design. Interest also grew in Scottish jewelry, and jewelry set en tremblant. Important technological advances ushered in by the machine age had a lasting effect on the jewelry industry: the invention of 1840, introduction of rolled gold-plating to the United States in 1848, and legalization of 9k electroplating in gold in England in 1854.

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Mid Victorian (Grand Period) 1861-1880

While much of the focus at this time was on England, jewelry movements were carrying on simultaneously throughout the world, notably in France and America. Jewelry continued to be worn mainly by the wealthy class. Women favored bangles, jarretiere and slide bracelets, brooches, necklaces, and lorgnettes. Gentlemen developed an interest in jewelry as well, preferring cufflinks, signet rings, stickpins, shirt studs, and watch chains with fobs. Designer's continued to express an interest in Revivalism, branching out to explore Etruscan, Renaissance, Egyptian, and archeological themes. Micromosaics and pietra dura were their most common form. This interest peaked in the 1860s - 1870s. International exhibitions promoted exotic arts, styles and motifs such as scarabs, tiger's claws and Mogul jewelry.

1861 dealt a major blow to society with the death of Prince Albert. This event threw the Queen into a period of mourning that lasted until the end of her reign in 1901. Black jewelry, which represented bereavement, evolved as the only acceptable jewelry form. Materials such as jet, black onyx, black enamel or taille d' epargne and black glass rose to prominence. Brooches, large oval gold and gold-filled lockets on chains were popular forms of mourning jewelry.

Gold discoveries in Australia and the United States made the material readily available and more affordable for jewelry design. Two new styles developed out of the accessibility; native gold, wherein actual gold nuggets were placed into miniature mining replicas, and gold-in-quartz, which featured thins slabs of white quartz with actual gold deposits. The latter was popular with the well to do in the United States.

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Late Victorian (Aesthetic Period) 1880-1901

Queen Victoria and her loyal subjects had been in mourning long enough. Her son, Prince Edward and his Princess Alexandra were young and rapidly becoming the new fashion trendsetters. Jewelry and clothing took on a lighter, less somber appearance. It became less ornate. The massive size of items began to diminish, and large oval lockets now became rounder and smaller. The new style was one of refined simplicity. While sentimentality was still the prevalent theme, new subject matter such as crescents, animals, stars and sporting themes, rose to the design forefront. Popular styles were chatelaines, stickpins, small brooches and lockets. Silver, not gold, was deemed the daytime metal of choice. The silver articles were often gold-backed so as not to tarnish the wearer's clothing. An interesting technique involving mixed metals (basically varying colors of gold combined with silver) became popular by drawing upon Japanese influences. While diamonds continued to be the jewel of choice, colored gems, such as moonstones, turquoise, demantoid garnets and pearls, grew in popularity.

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Arts & Crafts 1890-1920

The Arts & Crafts movement took place predominantly in three countries, Great Britain, France and the United States. The general motivation behind the movement was a rebellion against country had its own specific concern, they shared common interests in the simplification of line and form and the use of stylized organic motifs. Generally, the artisans worked with inexpensive materials and preferred silver to gold, and enamel to semi-precious gemstones. They revived both the idealism and technique from the medieval and Renaissance guilds. Individual craftsmanship was of the utmost importance. Favorite motifs were generally small scale brooches, hatpins, and pendants. The intrinsic value of the materials was secondary to the design and workmanship. However, the true proponents of this movement didn't realize the limitations created by the very nature of their production style. The jewelry was labor intensive, and they could not produce sufficient quantities. This, in turn, limited their clientele to the wealthy class who could afford their designs. In the United States, Chicago artisans took the forefront at the Kalo Workshop, whose doors were open from 1900-1970.

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Art Nouveau (1895-1910)

A gentleman by the name of Samuel Bing (1838-1905) is generally credited with developing the term Art Nouveau in Paris in 1895. This short-lived dramatic style greatly impacted jewelry history. The movement occurred in France, in England by Arthur Liberty of Liberty Co., and Tiffany & Co., in the United States. Many of Art Nouveau's stylistic elements reflect those of the Arts & Crafts movement; the use of inexpensive gemstones, enamel, and nature motifs. France rose to the forefront of Art Nouveau design. The female form, botanical themes, fantasy and metamorphism were often combined as the predominant subject matter. Artisans wove sensual overtones through exaggerated lines, the famous "whiplash" curve and nudity. Flamboyant actresses, such as Sarah Bernhardt, favored the dramatic themes and exaggerated size of designs.

Enameling techniques reached their zenith at the turn of the century, as basse-taille, champleve and plique a jour became art forms unto themselves. It is the plique a jour or stained glass window effect that is most associated with Art Nouveau jewelry and, more particularly, with French masters. English craftsmen appreciated plique a jour; however, they felt the beauty was hidden once the item was placed against an article of clothing. Instead, they preferred to utilize a painterly technique, carefully shading the enamel as it covered a design's surface. Important craftsman of the time included Georges Fouquet, Henri Vever, Louis Comfort Tiffany and Rene Lalique. Of these, it is the latter, Lalique (1860-1945) who truly embodies the heart and meaning of Art Nouveau.

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Edwardian (1890-1920)

King Edward VII's reign was brief, between 1901-1910. The style most often viewed as Edwardian actually began to evolve ten years earlier and continued for nearly ten years after his death. Although mainly associated with England, the movement occurred simultaneously in France, where it was called belle epoque. The style is characterized by a monochromatic color scheme and a delicate, lacy appearance created by "knife-edge" platinum wires. This period in history saw an ever-growing wealthy class, the Russian Revolution and World War I.

Platinum was the metal of choice. Its strength, ductile quality, durability, and naturally white color made it perfect for showing off diamonds and pearls, both favorites of the Edwardian artisans. Advances in cutting techniques provided craftsmen with a new range of gemstone shapes to work with. Marquise, baguette, emerald, briolette, and calibre cuts were introduced. Attention to detail was highly valued by artisans of the Edwardian period. The reverse of an item had to be as well finished as the front. Millegrained edges added a refined touch. Generally, only one color was used in conjunction with white or colorless gemstones to accent a design. Blue sapphire, peridot, ruby, amethyst, opal, garnet and turquoise provided the preferred color palette. Diamonds and pearls remained the gemstones of choice for the sophisticated lady. Favorite motifs of the period were bows, lace, wreaths, swags and tassels. These appeared in brooches, tiaras, lavaliers, hair ornaments and necklaces. The scalloped nature of the motifs created the moniker, the garland style, in reference to the Edwardian period. Two important jewelry designs associated with this period are the negligee and dog collar-style necklaces. The Edwardian period also saw the development of synthetic rubies in 1902, synthetic sapphires in 1911, and the patent for white gold in 1915.

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Art Deco (1920-1935)

The Art Deco period followed the Edwardian era, again, diamonds and platinum predominated. The objective of the early 1920s jewelry design was to maintain a practical, functionality that was often thin, flat and yet, convertible. The ability to wear a necklace or break it down into two bracelets was both functional and affordable; in theory, two for the price of one. Jewelry was still monochromatic in nature until the mid 1920s.

A color explosion occurred in the mid 1920s due in part to a combination of elements; first, a reaction to the stark monochromatic trend of the 20th century; second, the opening of trade with the Orient; and third, cultural influences, such as the ballet and discovery of King Tutankhamen's tomb. Gemstones, such as ruby, emerald, sapphire, and turquoise, flourished as diamond accents. Further, jewelry saw the introduction of gemstones, such as rock crystal quartz, jadeite, synthetic stones and black onyx, rise to the forefront of design. The Wall Street crash of 1929 greatly impacted the outlook of the time as well as jewelry, fashion, and basic lifestyles. Jewelry became more geometric. Bracelets, brooches, clips and bandeaus, which replaced tiaras, became the most popular jewelry forms in the 1930s.

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Retro (1935-1945)

The 1930s saw a greater sense of responsibility prompt change in both the fashion and jewelry industries. Interest in the white metals such as platinum, white gold and silver waned. Then, World War II turned the World upside down. Wartime brought about shortages as well as restrictions. Platinum was declared a strategic metal and consumers were asked to melt down jewelry as a sign of support. After 1940, much of European jewelry production was curtailed do to the war. America was somewhat removed, so US designers rose to the forefront. Patriotism was a prevalent theme viewed through flags, eagles and military motifs.

Designs became larger and more three-dimensional. They took on an asymmetrical, fluid, curvilinear appearance. Favorite motifs included hollow scrolls, spirals, leaves and flowers. Combinations of contrasting colors of gold alloys in pinks and green as well as yellow, became prominent. Large semi-precious gems such as topaz, amethyst and citrine were widely popular and often accented by diamonds, rubies and sapphires.

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The post-war era saw a return of feminine fashion, to which, jewelry followed suit. Styles began to change. The brightly polished multi-color golds of the 1940s were giving way to highly textured gold forms in the 1950s. Yellow gold was considered to be the metal of choice for daytime wear. It was modeled into playful, whimsical cartoon-like characters depicting animals, flowers and people. Designers such as David Webb and Jean Schlumberger dominated jewelry design in the industry. Their brightly colored enamel and gem-set creations captured the eye of the jewelry consumer. Charms were also very popular.

White metal highlighted evening jewels of the 1950s. These had a showy appearance, yet were designed to be soft and airy. Diamonds were the gemstone of choice. Baguette, pear and marquise cuts rose to the forefront. These were often used in combination with rubies, sapphires and emeralds to create elegant stylized sprays, ribbons, and flowers. Birds were a favorite motif of the 1950s.

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The 1960s were an era of change in lifestyle, economics, dress and attitude. "Flower power" and the ensuing sexual revolution led to increased multi-cultural awareness. There was a strong rejection of the establishment. A growing interest in "Op Art" affected the arts, fashion and jewelry. It inspired the use of color and texture in combination with abstract design, including asymmetry and splintered shapes. Colored gemstones were purchased for their color, rather than their economic value. Interest grew in tourmaline, turquoise, boulder opal, moonstone, and agate. Designers explored new areas utilizing cabochons and uncut gems. The use of seashells brought designers, such as Verdura and David Webb, to the industry forefront. Popular daytime jewels took the form of animals crafted in cartoon-like fashion. Made of simple polished gold, the jewels were amusing and easy to wear. The "winking cat" was a highlight of Van Cleef & Arpels boutique collection. Diamonds were utilized as evening accent jewels. They were often set in textured yellow gold and combined with rubies, turquoise or emeralds. Marquise and pear-shapes were favored, as their jagged nature suited abstract designs.

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The 1970s saw a recession do in large part to the Arab oil crisis. Suddenly, the prosperity of the 1960s gave way to economic instability. India, the Orient and the Middle East heavily influenced both fashion and jewelry design. As a result, yellow gold was used almost exclusively. High karatage gold was widely introduced. Non-precious materials such as coral, wood, shell, malachite, lapis lazuli, tiger's-eye and rock crystal quartz typified jewelry of the 1970s. Jeweler's followed the fashion industry, by introducing Seasonal Collections. It was a brilliant concept. Stylized flowers, star motifs and ancient coin jewelry became favorites. Designers such as David Webb, Van Cleef & Arpels and Bvlgari enjoyed a rise in popularity.

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