Mid-Victorian or Grand Period 1860-1885

Early Victorian jewelry incorporated light, delicate designs with elaborate engraving. These eventually evolved into the heavier, more conservative designs that have come to mean Victorian. The Mid-Victorian period displayed bolder, and brighter jewelry, introducing both day and evening wear. Day jewelry consisted of classical motifs made of small mosaics, sea shells, agate, jasper and amethyst. Diamonds and other sparkling colorless faceted gems were the rage for evening wear. The pieces were set in highly detailed Etruscan frames made entirely by hand.

The discovery of archeological sites in Italy also brought to light examples of old jewelry, that utilized small balls of metal individually clustered together and called granulation. These decorative textures were referred to as Etruscan. Two popular design types that originated in the Victorian period were Cannatille and Repousse. Cannatille jewelry utilized twisted strands of gold wire wound into elaborate designs which were attached to stamped designs. Repousse, on the other hand, was identifiable for its solid forms with raised and fluted edges that gave the piece its characteristic massive quality.

Antique cameos had been rediscovered in the early 1800s. Several schools with influential sponsors such as the pope and Napoleon endeavored to resurrect the art of stone and shell cutting. Cameos were very popular through out the Victorian era and became larger and more ornate during the 1860s. Although the head in profile remained a prominent design many cameos featured scenes, the most common of which was called Rebecca at the well and usually depicted a girl and a bridge. Cameos could be carved in one color in black shell or onyx or lava or molded from gutta percha or horn. These were very appropriate for mourning jewelry and might be incorporated into a locket with a compartment for a coil or lock of hair.

Just as Victoria's tastes influenced the aristocracy of the day, so did that aristocracy dictate the fashions of the masses - with disastrous results for the jewelry trade in the latter years of her reign. Following the death of her mother and then of Prince Albert in 1861, the wearing of glittery jewelry during the day fell rapidly out of fashion. The mourning jewelry became more in demand than ever. The Queen, herself, never wore anything but full mourning attire until her own death in 1901.

Mourning jewelry and clothing of the Mid Victorian era followed a strict protocol. There were rules that regulated the length of time to wear black and exactly when color would be reintroduced into a person's wardrobe. (It invited public censure if one didn't adhere to these guidelines.) The jewelry allowed under these rules followed the color rules. Black materials, Jet, Onyx, Gutta Percha, French Jet, and Bog Oak were commonly used for mourning jewelry because of their flat black appearance. Faceted stones were not worn until color returned to the clothing. After a year of full mourning (requiring all black jewelry and clothing), half-mourning colors such as gray, mauve, or purple were allowed back into the wardrobe. Garnet, cut steel, amethysts, moss agate and marcasite were acceptable in half mourning. Some women were never long out of half mourning as disease swept through Britain and the Eastern Seaboard of the United States in the early and mid 1800s. And, of course, the Civil War caused many deaths as well.

The effect of Victoria's growing moral severity and pompous conservatism nearly bankrupted some of the finest jewelers of the time. A group of them eventually appealed to Princess Alexandra, the young wife of soon-to-be King Edward, to help reverse the trend by consenting to be seen in public wearing lavish pieces of the day. Edward and Alexandra had a significant impact on the fashions and jewelry of the late Victorian period which blossomed into the Edwardian period. She was very fond of pearls, multiple strands of large pearls and he of peridot, turquoise and diamonds. Edward also liked horseracing and horse shoes and whips and stirrups encrusted in pearls and diamonds began to appear and these themes gradually began to mark the jewelry as Edwardian rather than Victorian.

Another tremendous influence on Victorian design, and perhaps the most significant, was the opening of trade relations with Japan in 1853. By the 1860's numerous examples of Japanese craftsmanship inundated the English community and soon the "Japonaisse" style was incorporated into every form of design from jewelry, clothing and fabric to paintings, furniture, decorative arts and even architecture. Well into the next century, Japanese motifs - stylized fans, naturalistic themes (flowers, cattail weeds), dragons and insects - were expressed in jewelery using the ancient Japanese enameling and metal inlay techniques of Shakudo, Shibuichi and Satsuma.

New discoveries, new ideas, and current events were reflected in the jewelry of the time. Discoveries from the ancient sites of Herculaneum, Pompeii, Egypt, Greece, and Absyssia created a demand for jewelry created in their ancient designs. Egyptian Scarabs and Sphinxes were popular design elements. Micro-mosaics and Petra Dura mosaics also became fashionable after these styles were discovered in ancient ruins.

To create these treasures, tiny stone or glass tiles called tessarae were arranged into a setting and polished. In the best Micro-mosaics, up to 1,400 tessarae are used to a square inch. Landscape, architectural, and portraiture scenes were created using this method and are very detailed and fragile. (Avoid buying damaged pieces - they are extremely difficult to repair.)

Pieta Dura designs are made by inlaying pieces of hard stone to create a scene or design. The pieces used are much larger than those in Micro-mosaics and the designs are usually simpler. Newer examples of both of these techniques are still being made but the quality is lower - the tessarae are larger, cruder, and don't lie in their settings as smoothly as older examples.