‘Vintage’ is a cover-all term used to describe jewellery from many different eras. This is mainly for jewellery from the 1940s onwards, however for the avid admirer of all things antique, here’s a quick guide to jewellery styles from the 1700s all the way through to war-ravaged 1914.
Georgian jewellery hails from the era between 1714 and 1837, and many of the themes of vintage jewellery through the succeeding two centuries were heavily influenced by Georgian styles. Jewellery of this period tended to be created by highly skilled craftsmen who forged it by hand, typically using 18 and 22-carat gold.
Different styles of jewellery would be worn at different times of day, from necklaces and chains, cameos, small rings, pairs of bracelets and delicate earrings during the day, to rivers of light, made from rose-cut diamonds linked together to form a circle, in the evening. fashionable gentleman modelled decorative shoe buckles and buttons.
Jewellery in the Georgian era tended to be romantic and nostalgic, with portrait miniatures, hair jewellery, silhouettes and eye miniatures all given as tokens of love. Portraits would also be painted on rings and brooches, and woven hair would be set into the back of lockets.
The jewellery that survives from this era is often of the highest craftsmanship.
Victorian jewellery was produced between 1837 and 1901. The marriage of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert sparked the beginning of the Romantic period, leading to a plethora of sentimental jewellery.
Queen Victoria was a great patron of jewellery during this era, her love of it and her position as Empress of the most powerful nation on earth catapulting her into the role of a style leader for the best part of a century. Women from all classes strove to follow her lead and wear fashionable clothes and jewellery, and the mass production brought about by the industrial revolution saw fashion becoming much more accessible. Heavy necklaces and lockets made of silver were desirable, and diamonds were favoured over brightly coloured jewellery.
The pageantry of the royal wedding added impetus to the fashion for romantic jewellery, and Mizpah pins and love brooches engraved with the initials of loved ones were popular during the early part of Victoria’s reign. Hair jewellery also saw a revival, with hair worn inside brooches, chokers and bracelets, along with jewellery miniatures.
The death of Albert marked a change in fashions. During the grand period, the period in which Victoria mourned for her husband, only jet could be worn at court, according to royal decree, which caused its popularity to soar. Charm bracelets also became popular, with the queen wearing a series of miniature lockets on a gold chain with portraits of her family in them.
Between 1880 and 1915, Art Nouveau was in vogue due to a backlash against the industrial revolution and mass production. The demand for quality handcrafted items was resurrected, and most jewellery was purchased from craftsmen and artists whose work was heavily influenced by history and nature.
Jewellery from this period typically features dragonflies, females with long, flowing hair, flowers and leaves, a combination known as the femme-fleur. Made from gold and silver, pieces are crafted from gold and silver worked into soft curves, commonly set with opals and moonstones. Enamelling was also popular.
The Edwardian era began with the death of Queen Victoria in 1901 and ended when war broke out in 1914. The queen was succeeded by her son Edward VII and his Danish queen, the stylish, elegant Alexandria. It was the new queen who set the standard for fashion and jewellery across the country, with women across society modelling themselves on her. Her style was intricate, delicate and feminine, and so was the jewellery she patronised.
During the Edwardian period, platinum and diamonds were greatly sought after, and precious stones such as rubies and emeralds saw a fashion revival. Amethysts and pearls were particularly favoured by Alexandria, who wore a choker necklace set with these favoured jewels. The peridot stone, a favourite of the king and considered by him to be lucky, was also popular and can be seen in a majority of jewellery pieces hailing from the era.
Thanks to the use of platinum, delicate, intricate ‘lacy’ designs were created, with rolled gold also becoming popular. Craftsmen favoured garland, heart, bird, leaf and flower imagery worked in white metal in their designs.
A rarity today, antique jewellery remains as popular amongst stylish women now as it was in its heyday. The finest jewels, collected and catalogued by experts like George Tarratt, are as beautiful as ever, and the craftsmanship found in vintage pieces is largely unparalleled by modern designs. The history contained within these aged pieces, too, undoubtedly adds to the perpetual allure of antique jewellery, beautifully capturing the aesthetics, fashions and spirits of an age, and injecting a touch of it into our sometimes dull 21st century lives. On those grounds, no woman should be without their own little keepsake.