The Jewelry of the early years of the Victorian Era “The Romantic Period” (1837 to 1860)

The early years of the era were described as romantic or sentimental and reflected the youth and courtship and marriage of the young queen.

The Romantic Period was a time of marital bliss and joyous family life for the young Queen. The jewels of the period reflected a feeling of confident tranquility. Gold ornaments were decorated with intricate engraving, delicate enamel work, and serpentine designs. The jewels were often accented with seed pearls, small turquoise beads and pink coral. The favorite pieces of jewelry were love tokens, mementoes, and souvenirs of travel or events.

Jewelry had had an amulet feel in the 18th century and this persisted in several ways. In 1848 Victoria and Albert bought a Scottish manor house called Balmoral in Scotland. Scottish influenced jewelry as well as tartan clothing began to appear and remained popular until 1860 after Albert’s death. The 19th Century Scottish brooches incorporate the foot of the grouse (a game bird) set into gold or silver. Some were set with Cairgorm's. This stone is most commonly a tea colored transparent stone which is a quartz found in the Highlands. Authentic Cairngorms are no longer available and citrine or smoky quartz are commonly substituted. Queen Victoria loved Scotland and all things Scottish. Her pride in her Stuart ancestry and the popularity of Sir Walter Scott's novels made Scottish jewelry a fashionable accessory. Jewelry set with Scottish agate was popular throughout England until the death of Albert in 1861.

Stones were valued for their meaning and even endowed with magical properties. Coral for instance was considered to be protective against evil and disease and children wore necklaces and bracelets of the pinkish red material. Lockets were much-loved accessories during the Victorian era and were made of every type of material. . (Lockets were sometimes worn under the clothing to protect a sentimental keepsake inside from public eyes and also unfortunately for us, the eye of the camera.) They often held painted miniatures and (in later years) small photographs, as well as locks of hair. Lockets were worn not just as necklaces but also as multiple charms on a bracelet, a pin or even a ring. Victoria loved rings and would wear many at a time sometimes on every finger at once.

Brooches were extremely popular and were worn in a variety of ways by the Victorian woman. They were worn on the shoulder, of course, but also at the neck, waist, in the hair, and on ribbons as necklaces and bracelets and often in clusters.

They were not all made of precious metals as the design was often as important as the material of which they were made. In addition to silver, gold, and base metals, enamels, Tortoiseshell, Mother-of-Pearl, and shell, and stone were used. Even a rock hard mud from volcanic lava was carved into cameos and intaglios and sold as souveniers from places such as Pompeii. Platinum and silver jewelry was not much used until the Edwardian years and almost all gold was yellow or rose gold. Most of the Romantic Period preceded the gold strikes in California, Australia and South Africa; thus, gold was in scarce supply.

The jewelers of the day worked the precious metal into thin sheets and fine wires from which they created large, puffy jewels that were light in weight. The goal was to get the most look from the least amount of metal. The early gold Victorian pieces were all 18 to 22 karat. Following the Stamp Act of 1854, gold content was standardized at 9, 12, or 15 karats, and required to be hallmarked and stamped as such. Non-gold metals used in costume jewelry were either pinchbeck (83 parts copper and 17 parts zinc), mercury gilt which gave a golden color, or electric gilt. Other popular metals of the time included silver backed by gold and rolled gold plate. Whenever diamonds were to be set, they were invariably set in white metal so as to enhance their intrinsic beauty. Vermeil which is gold plated over silver was popular in the 18th century but when it was recognized that the mercury used in its manufacture was dangerous it was no longer employed in jewelry. It is not found in jewelry again until the mid 1900s when a safer manufacturing process was discovered and it is found again often in reproductions of Victorian jewelry.