Victorian Jewelry Materials

In the early Victorian era, Diamonds and Pearls were rare and expensive. The first diamond mines in South Africa in the 1870s and so mid century were available only to the rich. But there were many alternatives available to the middle class such as: Amethysts, Opals, Turquoise, and Freshwater, baroque and seed pearls. These are often found in examples of Victorian jewelry. Gems or stones set into a piece of jewelry can be major clues to determining a date. It's either a reproduction or a "married" piece" when you find one with a gem that "wrong" in a piece of Victorian jewelry. Alexandrites, tourmalines, hematite, blue heat treated topaz, tanzanite were not used by early Victorian jewelers.

Stones commonly found in Victorian jewelry

  • Agate especially dendritic and later Scotch banded agate
  • Diamond
  • Onyx
  • Glass, especially glass pearls
  • Carnelian
  • Amber
  • Coral
  • Garnet (both red and green colors)
  • Emerald
  • Opal
  • Peridot especially in late period
  • Ruby
  • Sapphire
  • Pearls (seed, baroque, freshwater, natural, and blister)
  • Topaz (NOT the bright blue colors)
  • Turquoise
  • Opals - Victoria loved Opals and frequently gave them as gifts but until the 1880s was unable to overcome the bad reputation that Opals had acquired. Opals gained the reputation for bringing bad luck to anyone who wore it, other than as a birthstone. There are two theories as to why this belief became common -1, The French jewelry industry created and spread this rumor to damage the Opal trade. Most Opals came from Australia, an English territory and were considered a threat to gems that came from France or French territories. Or 2, it arose from a Sir Walter Scott novel from the early 19th century and popular at the time where wearing of opal was associated with bad luck.

Some materials other than gold commonly found in Victorian jewelry

  • Pinchbeck is a copper and zinc look alike to gold that was made for a short time in the 18th century and the process lost when its inventor died in 1732. Today fine pieces can have almost the same value as a gold piece.
  • Rolled Gold or Gold Fill
  • Gold plated over sterling Silver (vermeil)
  • Enamels
  • Cameos (stone, shell, lava, and gem carved)
  • Bog Oak
  • Jet
  • Gutta percha, a hardened tree resin
  • Ivory
  • Bone
  • Petra dura
  • Micro-mosaic (of very small tesserae)
  • Cut Steel
  • Tortoiseshell
  • Human Hair