The Victorian period follows the reign of Queen Victoria in Great Britain from 1836 to 1901. Queen Victoria's love for her husband and children inspired jewelry that reflected a romantic and sentimental outlook.
Victorian jewelry is usually divided into three stylistic periods: the Romantic Period, the Mid-Victorian Period and the Late Victorian or Aesthetic Period. Although considered to be one broad era of jewelry history, in actuality the Victorian period embodies a considerable range of styles, forms and utilized a vast array of materials. Yet looking closely, the inevitable ties to what has come before, to revivals, and to inspirations rooted in the past is clear. However, innovation is ever present in all the eras of the history of design.
The Romantic Period (1836-1850): As a holdover from the end of the Georgian period, sentiment, meaning, symbolism and femininity reigned supreme. With the marriage of Queen Victoria, all thoughts turned to love and union. Jewelry was far more than a mere pretty bauble. Exchanged between family, friends, lovers and spouses, often there was an intimate message or meaning imbued with the design and giving of jewels. Forms and motifs such as hearts, anchors (hope), snakes (eternity and everlasting love), and crosses (faith) all alluded to emotions imbued in these keepsakes. Gold was ever popular as were many semi-precious gems. Open backed gemstones were now the rule, not the exception.
Mid-Victorian Period (1860-1880): This era corresponds with the death of Queen Victoria’s husband which inspired more solemn, grave designs known as mourning jewelry. The pieces feature heavy, dark stones like jet, onyx, amethyst, and garnet.
The Aesthetic Period (1885-1900)
In general, the last phase of the Victorian period is seen as a return to some romanticism with a lightening of the scale of jewelry. Smaller, more delicate, whimsical and less formal were shifts in the production of jewelry. Some motifs prevalent include stars, clusters, crescent moons and insect and reptiles. Diamonds discovered in South Africa naturally led to a great deal of jewelry set with this ever popular gem. Old mine cuts, cushion cuts and rose cut stones were most often used.