Queen Victorian reigned from 1839 to 1901 and the styles of the Victorian period are very intimately connected with the different stages in her life. This combined with the industrial revolution, the growth in the British Empire and the evolution of the middle class also greatly influenced this period in history.
During this time Britain started to feel less restrained and had more money to spend on luxuries such as jewellery. Queen Victoria reigned for almost sixty-four years and because of its many different styles the period is often broken up into three subcategories known as Early, Middle and Late Victorian.
In 1840 Queen Victoria married the love of her life Prince Albert and this had a huge influence on jewellery styles. Motifs of hands, hearts, crosses, and knots were seen as a symbol of an eternal bond between two people. Inspiration was drawn from nature, and designs including birds and flowers were classically seen and made as symmetrical and realistic as possible. Snakes also featured as a symbol of promise and to be in love forever.
Middle Victorian or Grand Period
The Middle Victorian or Grand Period was seen as an extension of the early period.
The theme of romance was still abundant with lockets becoming increasingly popular. Wearers enjoyed holding pictures of loved ones inside.
Chains in the style of ropes were popular and were considered to symbolise the strong bond between two individuals. Opals were also discovered in Australia and became sought after in Victorian jewellery.
Advances in diamond cutting and polishing led to the design of the marquise-cut diamond. Beautiful, enamelled pieces became popular as did pearl set jewellery often bordering a larger gemstone. Queen Victoria also discovered a love for the Scottish Highlands which led to an increased popularity in Celtic, silver jewellery.
It wasn’t just Victoria who was hugely influential. Prince Albert also left his mark on the jewellery world as he famously wore a heavy gold watch chain which was renamed the Albert Chain and is still called this today.
Victoria's and Albert's love and bond towards each other was undeniably strong. In 1861 when Prince Albert died Queen Victoria entered a deep phase of mourning. She completely changed her style of jewellery, wearing only mourning jewellery. It wasn’t long before society followed her new style. Black gemstones such as agate, onyx and jet where the main gemstones seen in jewellery. Black enamel was also used as a cheaper alternative.
Late Victorian or Aesthetic Period
As Queen Victoria shifted away from wearing mourning jewellery, pieces became daintier, lighter and focused more on aesthetics and intricate features. This marked the beginning of the late Victorian or Aesthetic period.Gemstones were chosen for their beauty over their value and with heavier pieces becoming less popular beautiful jewels set with small diamonds, opals, turquoise and amethyst found new life.
This period in Victorian jewellery could also be referred to as the start of the Edwardian period.