The Art of Victorian Jewelry Design

Naturalistic and floral motifs were common. Unlike the Art Nouveau period that followed however these motifs were usually rendered naturalistically. Realistic flowers with botanical details clearly rendered to allow identification were created instead of abstracted elements of the flower, leaf or bird.

Leaves, insects, flowers, vines, and birds and their feathers were molded, stamped and carved into jewels and mountings. The motifs also included a great amount of symbolic imagery. Both sentimentality and symbolism were important elements of Earlly Victorian design. There was a resurgence of Gothic and medieval designs as early Victorians looked back to an earlier period for inspiration.

Religious symbols were mainstays of jewelry design in both the Georgian and Victorian eras, They were not just from the Christian symbology such as crosses, doves and angels but also from more ancient sources that were being re-discovered as old jewelry was found in archeological sites. Ivy, dragons, Greek letters and figures from mythology were widely used.

The snake surprisingly to us today was a very popular motif. Snakes in their coils, were symbols of eternity and of commitment. This was taken, from the Germanic/Scandinavian traditions rather than the Christian associations which equate the snake or serpent with sneakiness and evil. Snakes wrapped around parts of the body as rings, bracelets, and necklaces. Brooches and watch fobs and stickpins showed the sinuous draping of serpents often holding or guarding a pearl or other precious gem. Queen Victoria's engagement ring from Prince Albert was in the form of a serpent.

Symbology and sentimentality was taken to such an extreme that very intimate messages were spelled out in jewelry that could be read, like books if one knew the vocabulary, with the design and choice of elements telling of the giver's feelings or hopes.