Victorian Jewellery 1837-1901
In 1837, at the age of 18, Queen Victoria, became the Queen of England. Victoria was young, intelligent and emulated by her subjects. Everything she wore became an instant fashion trend.
The Victorian period became one of the most progressive eras in history. The industrial revolution sparked modern techniques and innovations. Jewellery styles during this period were varied. They included rose cut diamonds, enamelling, semi precious and precious stones discovered in far reaching parts of the British Empire. Birthstones became popular in engagement rings of the time.
After Queen Victoria’s husband died in the 1860’s mourning jewellery became the fashion. Rings with lockets of hair and brooches with black white enamel were most popular. Later in the 19th century the emphasis was more toward whimsical gem set animal brooches in silver and gold.
The Art Nouveau style was also a very popular trend at the end of the 19th century across Europe and Britain. This style was also typified by the influence of nature, animals and the far east, with its naturalistic and scrolling patterns. Louis Comfort Tiffany and Rene Lalique are the most famous names to emerge from this style.
Edwardian jewellery 1901–1915
The Edwardian period started with the death of Queen Victoria in 1901. Her son Edward became king. On the continent the same style was called ‘Belle Epoque’.
During this period many of the Edwardian designs incorporated expensive gemstones including; diamonds, pearls, sapphires, emeralds and rubies. The introduction of platinum in the early 20th century lead to groundbreaking new techniques which allowed jewellers to make far more intricate and sumptuous designs using less metal. Jewellery became much lighter due to the extra strength of platinum.
In clothing, layers of delicate fabrics and feathers were popular with pale pastel and monochromatic whites the dominant colours of the period. Demand for jewellery to follow these trends of the day became very sort after. There was a craze for the combination of natural pearls and diamonds in this period typically seen in swag motifs, garlands, bows and ribbons. Necklaces, chokers and tiaras, became the height of fashion as did chandelier drop earrings.
It could be argued that some of the best jewellery ever made was made during this period, especially in England and France.
Art Deco jewellery (1915–1935)
The Art Deco style got its name following the International Exposition of Modern Industrial and Decorative Arts, held in Paris in 1925.
The roaring twenties as they were known was a time of prosper following World War 1. Great fortunes were made by industrialists such as Henry Ford and John D Rockefeller.
The Art Deco style is typified by its geometric and linear designs which took inspiration from many sources including; Cubism, Ancient Greece, South America, American Indian art as well as Persian and Islamic influences. The discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922 had a profound effect on fashion with a trend for all things Egyptian, which was known as Egyptian revival.
Coco Chanel had a huge effect on fashion during the 1920’s. The demand was now for shorter dresses, short cropped hairstyles and low cut evening dresses and bare arms. Little was left to the imagination. Less was definitely more, which made modern dances like the Charleston a lot easier to undertake!
The trend for low cut dresses and bare arms made multiple bracelets very popular as well as long chains of diamonds and pearls called Sautiors both worn at the front and down the back of open dresses. Wristwatches for ladies also became very popular as well as cocktail rings and larger diamond bracelets for the super wealthy.
The classic use of white diamonds with black enamel is probably the commonly thought of combination in Art Deco jewellery however, this was also the period where new unexpected colour combinations took hold. Coral and diamond, turquoise and diamond and the combination of sapphires, emeralds and rubies all together known as Tutti Fruiti or Fruit salad designs were also popular.
Following the outbreak of WW2 precious metals and gemstones were scarce so it became popular to break up old jewellery and use the component parts in the modern designs. Jewellery became lighter due to the scarcity of the precious metals.
Colourful semi-precious stones like aquamarines, citrines, amethysts and topaz were widely used as they were cheaper than emeralds, rubies and sapphires. Pave set surfaces of semi-precious stones enriched with small amounts of diamonds were a regular feature in jewellery.
Gold was definitely the preferred metal of the period with large scale, sculptural designs being the norm. Designs took inspiration from nature with exotic flowers, leaves and animals all being very popular.
Bracelet watches with concealed faces became fashionable, as did large scale gold bracelets, rings and brooches. Ribbons and bows were readily used motifs. Large collars and bib style necklaces were also seen. Arguably the height of fashion was a matching necklace, earrings and ring set called a Parure.
Demi Parure’s which consisted of matching earrings and brooch were also popular.
Christian Dior and Givenchy triumphed in the fashion world, with calf length skirts, cut in yards and tight fitting tops with thin pointed necklines the norm.
The austerity of the 1940’s quickly gave way to an opulent new era during the 1950’s which witnessed an economic boom.
Abstract designs were inspired by the Surrealist movement, of which Salvador Dali was a leading contributor, alongside the influence of the Futurists conceptualisations of future forms. The linear designs of the 1940’s were swapped for more rounded and aerodynamic shapes. Curved lines were widely used and the ‘Gas pipe’ style became the height of jewellery fashion.
Nature was the biggest influence during the 1950’s with flowers, leaves and animals especially large game, lions, panthers most popular. The Space Race also meant that star bursts and clustered designs were also popular.
Diamonds and precious gemstones were once again incorporated into jewellery design in a big way.
Dior was still the King of the Parisian catwalk however Chanel was once again popular with the two piece suit. Silk was worn in the evenings along with tiaras and fur coats. It was also the time of Marilyn Monroe and the beginning of the film star era.
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Economic uncertainty once again ruled during the 1960’s which had a profound effect on design, fashion and arts.
Asymmetry was the order of the day in 1960’s jewellery design. Prickly jagged designs were popular, typified by the work of Andrew Grima. Geometric splintered shapes incorporating lots of textured metal with large uncut natural crystals and colourful semi-precious stones were used in such a distinctive style never before seen in jewellery design.
Bright colours, short hair, hot pants, knee high white boots, miniskirts and wacky sunglasses were very fashionable, not to mention the use of psychedelic colours and black & white chequered patterns. In the fashion industry Pierre Cardin challenged the more traditional designs of Dior. Yves Saint Laurent also became famous.
Less expensive informal designer jewellery became the fashion utilising cheaper materials such as coral and turquoise. It was also popular to use a combination of gemstones which were previously not considered to go together such as sapphires and emeralds or emeralds and coral.
Sea shells, insects, fish and animals were all popular themes used in bangles, brooches, earrings and bracelets. In New York the jewellery designer David Webb became very popular.
Economic hardship continued into the 1970s due in some part to the end of cheap oil from the middle east. Prosperity for their economies however flourished and wealthy Arab clients became very powerful buyers of jewellery.
Jewellery design during the 1970’s was very fragmented and far from unified. There was no prevailing trend with many choosing very different roads from the exotic, to the more traditional shapes seen in previous decades.
Wood and semi-precious stones in heavy yellow gold settings became very fashionable. Long heavy chains and earrings were once again seen with the use materials that possessed inherently vivid colours such as Malachite (which is a bright green) and Coral used.
Again things tended to be more angular which was a move away from the more rigid spiky and prickly designs of the 1960’s
The Italian jewellery designer Bulgari became a very popular name in high society. They were famous for designing wearable jewellery for the day and opulent gem set suites the evening. The use of vivid colour and beaded cabochon stones was a trademark of the Bulgari jewellery.
Flared trousers, ruffled shirts, crushed velvet and a more ethnic look became the fashion trends during the 1970’s. Names such as Ralph Lauren, Kenzo, Vivienne Westwood, Giorgio Armani and Nino Cerutti were making their mark around the world.
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This was a time of prosper, with the wealthy having larger disposable incomes than in earlier years. This obviously had a positive effect on the luxury goods industries such as jewellery and fashion. The popularity of television programmes such as Dallas and Dynasty popularised large gold jewellery.
The introduction of large shoulder pads was also seen – ‘Power dressing’ as it was known certainly signified a change of direction from the styles of previous decades and jewellery was once again worn as a sign of wealth.
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Bold designs on large scales showed off the new position of women in society. The introduction of the jacket and suit into fashion meant that brooches once again became very popular. Large multi coloured bead necklaces by Bulgari along with huge earrings and pendants were the height of fashion. Large bangles and the use of multiple smaller bangles as well as crucifix jewellery were in trend. Gold was once again very popular with chains becoming desirable for men to wear.
Delicate but bright pastel colours took hold during the day however black made a recovery as a prominent colour for evening wear. Christian Lacriox, Thierry Mugler and Donna Karan were the height of fashion with their daring colourful and groundbreaking new lines.
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