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Victorian Costume Jewellery

Friday, 11 May 2018  |  Anne

The Victorians loved jewellery of all kinds and when they couldn't afford precious stones and metals they wore jewellery made from non-precious materials which we now know as Costume Jewellery.

Victorian Costume Jewellery Influences:

There were two main influences on the jewellery during the Victorian era i) Queen Victoria's influence on Jewellery style can be seen with mass market copies of the Jewellery which the queen wore herself. When she had an interest in all things Scottish then Celtic and pebble jewellery brooches became fashionable. This influence was seen in both the materials used in jewellery and also in the shapes with Penannular shields, Kilt pins, Dirks, Scottish Crosses and buckles all being popular. When she went into mourning following the death of Prince Albert then the whole country took to deep mourning following the death of loved ones and the fashion for black jewellery was created. Victorian Jewellery of this kind is highly sought after these days.
  • ii) New discoveries and innovations. New materials became available ( see below) and these were quickly used in Victorian costume jewellery also with technological progress new manufacturing techniques were invented. These manufacturing techniques meant that costume jewellery could be mass produced making it cheaper and more widely available. The new techniques included: the machine stamping of parts so that not everything had to be handmade as it was in previous eras. It was possible to inlay silver and gold into tortoiseshell . Aluminium was commercially produced from the 1860s and new discoveries of semi-precious gems and new ways of cutting them brought their prices way down.

Victorian Costume Jewellery Materials:

1. Jet, Gutta Percha, Bog Oak:

The best Jet was from Whitby. A highly polished form of black glass known as French Jet was a cheap substitute. Gutta Percha is a natural material derived from rubber. Bog oak from Ireland is fossilised wood and often carved with shamrock shapes. All these have a dark black colour and were used in mourning jewellery
2. Rolled Gold, Gold Plate, Gold coloured metal, Iron.
Used as substitutes for Gold and silver. Pinchbeck was still available but gradually faded from popularity.

3. Glass and Glass mosaics.

Glass was used widely - as covers for locket panel, as beads in black and deep red, as paste stones. It was also formed into artificial cameos. Tiny glass tiles in different colours were put together to form micromosaic pictures mainly made in Italy.

4. Coral, Shell, Fishbone, pearls, tortoiseshell, mother of pearl.

Materials from the sea once rare become more widely available as transport links improved. Shells were popular for carving into cameo jewellery

5. Early Plastics:

celluloid, imitation coral, Parkasine. The Victorians invented plastics however the early plastics have not survived the years well, it has faded, cracked and generally disintegrated. Little Victorian plastic jewellery remains of any worth today.


6. Agate, semi-precious gemstones and other hardstones:

Popular for Celtic type jewellery. new innovations and discoveries made it possible for these to be offered on the mass market. There is quite a wide range of Genuine Victorian hardstone and semi-precious set costume jewellery available for us to buy today.

7. Hair, Teeth, claws, Horn, Bone, Ivory: Animal parts.

The Victorians loved natural parts materials and wore them without the squeamishness that some of us (me included) would have today about such items. Hair jewellery was often made from the hair of a departed loved one - worn as bracelets, watch chains or in a locket. Tiger tooth brooches, animal claws and teeth all mounted as brooches. There was no concern over conservation of elephants and ivory was widely used .

8. Porcelain and pottery.

Ceramic cabochons could be painted at home and decorated with flowers before being set into jewellery but most often porcelain plaques were printed with a scene from a classical European painting. These were popular holiday souvenirs.  

The Jewellery Style of the Victorian Era

When Queen Victoria first reigned there was a naturalistic, romantic feel to jewellery. The Language of Flowers became popular with different flowers having different meanings, for example, Forget-me-nots were for true love. Once Prince Albert died the fashion became black and sombre. This lasted until the later Victorian era (1880's onwards) when colour once again appeared in all things. There was also the influence of Gothic and medieval in early Victorian times. By the time of the Great Exhibition in Crystal palace (1851) design had become very ornate and heavy with almost everything being over-ornamented. The Victorian aesthetic of the 1870s with its Japonaise feel was more simplistic. At the very end of the Victorian era, even simpler more naturalistic shapes and forms were revived with medieval and Scottish and Celtic themes being popular once more. Of course, this applied to Victorian Costume jewellery too.  This was part of the stylistic rebellion led by Ruskin pushed away from this heavy Victorian ornamentation and led to the arts and Crafts movement with its return to artistic values.