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History of Costume Jewellery

This snapshot is not meant to suggest that jewellery was not widely worn before 1760 – women have worn jewellery in one way or another since time and humans began but this gives us an idea of what we are likely to see around today in antique and vintage stores.

1760 – 1830  Georgian Period
This era covers the reigns of the four English ruling Kings names George & William lV. Because of the long time frame covering this period, styles and techniques changed considerably throughout.  The Georgian era, like the Victorian era was a romantic period. Memorial jewellery became popular... portraits of loved ones were often painted on to rings and brooches became more common. Sometimes hair was plaited and woven into a ring or brooch. It was also the beginning of REGARD and DEAREST jewellery... a technique of using different gemstones to spell out the word... d for diamond.

1840 – 1860  Early Victorian Period
The Romantic Period began with Queen Victoria’s ascension to the throne. In 1840 Victoria married Prince Albert, and theirs was a true love affair. Since the supply of gold was limited the jewellery of this period is characterized by light, open gold work using filigree, piercing, cannetille and repousse. Queen Victoria’s purchase of the Scottish castle Balmoral in 1848 generated interest in scottish pebble jewellery featuring ancient Celtic motifs…with a strong use of agates, jaspers and granites from the Scottish Highlands. In 1861 the Romantic Period came to an abrupt end with the death of Victoria’s beloved husband Albert.

1860 – 1885  Mid Victorian Period
Jewellery of this period was sombre and austere in design and heavy darker stones were used e.g. onyx, jet, amethyst and deep red garnets. As gold was newly discovered in America(1849) and Australia(1852) there was in increase in availability to jewellery designers. English families often travelled to Europe for the Grand Tour and while visiting they purchased mementos and souvenirs of their trip. Cameos from Naples, micromosaics from Rome along with jewellery depicting sporting themes became popular. Often those designs were depicted on buttons, stickpins, brooches, pendants, cufflinks and watch fobs. There was an interest in Egyptian themes as the Suez canal was opened and trade relations were opened with Japan. When in 1876 Queen Victoria was crowned Empress of India this encourage trade between those two continents, and so we saw the appearance of cloisonné enamels patterned after Indian fashions. 

1880 – 1902  Late Victorian (aesthetic period)
The Late Victorian Period, known as the Aesthetic Period or Movement was a direct response to the over indulgent fashions and strict protocol of the Grand Period…..27 years of mourning had been enough, and now a sense of fun emerged, and this was reflected in the jewellery of the time. Whimsical motifs emerged – crescent moons, and flowers, butterflies and dragons. Diamonds had been discovered in South Africa and electricity was invented. Princess Alexandra, Queen Victoria’s daughter in law became the fashion icon of the time and she was particularly known for her enjoyment of wearing the dog collar necklace. During this period hats became much larger and more ornate and there was an increased need for long elaborate hat pins. 

1890 – 1920  Edwardian & Art Nouveau
Edwardian jewellery tends to be less ornate than Victorian using simple designs and could appear quite “modern” in their simplicity. From 1890 there was a fashion for the graceful bow and swag design and the simple circular brooch with stone setting is a typical Edwardian design. Often wreaths of flowers or ivy leaves are used offset with coloured stones and even diamonds. Rings became popular in the early 19th century but were designed for delicate non working hands and their construction reflected that. George IV wore snake rings..the snake being a symbol of eternity. Art Nouveau jewellery illustrated an organic feel, with flowing lines and a sensual appeal, often with the use of enamelling. It was during this period that Suffragette jewellery also became popular with women keen to wear the jewellery with purple and green stones signalling support for the movement.

1920 – 1935  Art Deco Period
To many people nowadays this is looked upon as the most interesting period of all. And yet, at the time, when it was happening the words ART DECO did not exist. The term “ART DECO” was coined by the English Art Historian Bevis Hillier in 1968 in reference to a revival of interest in ART DECORATIF a movement that had cultivated a luxurious style during the previous thirty years prior to 1935. It is termed a movement by many art historians because Art Deco encompasses so many aspects – graphic design, jewellery, interior design, furniture, art, sculptures and textiles as well as the magnificent art deco architecture.

On 1925 a peak was reached when L’Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriel Modernes was held in Paris. From that time the Art Deco influence was seen to be demonstrated throughout the western world. As far as the art deco jewellery was concerned there was an increasing interest in using platinum, diamonds, and precious stones. The white on white look became popular…diamonds set in platinum with perhaps a colored stone as accent. Coral, turquoise and sapphire became popular and the “fruit salad” look was born.

The influence of Cubism became apparent with strong symmetry and geometry and streamlines shapes. The discovery of King Tut’s tomb in 1923 incited a craze for Egyptian motifs like the scarab, sphinx and falcon. Also stones which had been used in King Tut’s jewellery like lapis lazuli, carnelian and chalcedony became popular. The influence of India and the Orient was also evident in the use of carved ivory and jade.  As the automobile rose in importance so too was that reflected in design motifs for jewellery.

1940 – 1965  Post War and Retro Modern
It was during the 1920’s that Coco Chanel had introduced her jewellery range and been daring enough to produce a wonderful high quality range of costume jewellery i.e. jewellery made not from precious metals and stones, but non precious metals and imitation pearls and crystals – by the 1940’s costume jewellery had become widely accepted with many wonderful designers now busy adding to the wonderful ranges available. Through the advent of film women could see the American and British film stars wearing magnificent costume jewellery and so it fitted well within the austerity of the post second world war years. Bakelite had also been introduced in the 1920’s and by the 1940’s there were a number of high quality plastics available. From the industrial designs of every day items, it was discovered that moulded, coloured and polished bakelite and plastics could be turned into magnificent jewellery.  Bakelite and plastic jewellery from the 1930’s- 40’s is highly sought after today.