Victorian Jewellery & Symbolism
Victorian jewellery is immensely popular today. The superb craftsmanship, artistry, beauty and charm ensure that this genre is highly collectible. Queen Victoria (1837 - 1901) reigned for sixty four years and during this era fashions of jewellery changed considerably, usually as a response to trends that Queen Victoria started.
It is helpful to divide the Victorian era into three parts:
Early Victorian or “Romantic”.
Middle Victorian or “Grand”.
Late Victorian or Aesthetic periods.
In early Victorian Britain the deep affection Queen Victoria and Prince Albert had for each other influenced many aspects of life and art. Religious and sentimental jewellery was very much in fashion. Hearts, crosses and hands crafted from gold and silver are a feature of this time. The natural world was also represented in the shape of serpent bangles and rings. Rather than representing the snake in Adam & Eve, Victorian serpent jewellery was inspired by the engagement ring Prince Albert gave to Queen Victoria.Victorian bracelets adorned with birds, trees and floral motifs are still very popular today.
Queen Victoria's Serpent Engagement Ring
The 18 ct gold ring was in the shape of a snake. The head was set with rubies which formed the eyes, diamonds for the mouth and a large emerald was set in the middle of the head. The significance of the emerald is that it was Victoria’s birthstone (May). It is said that Prince Albert designed the ring. In the Roman era the serpent symbolizes everlasting love and this engagement ring took on this very romantic sentiment.
It may seem strange to us now, in the twenty-first century but engagement rings were not commonly given until the Victorian era. Queen Victoria is said to have the ring on her finger when she was buried.
The Grand period has many features of the Romantic era except that dark gemstones, jet and mourning jewellery feature after the death of Prince Albert at Windsor Castle in 1861. Often Late Victorian era lockets contained a lock of hair from a loved one. Hair Art developed from a lock of hair wrapped in a ribbon to elaborate designs which feature the most intricately braided hair. This was known as sentimental jewellery. Some people also refer to this as mourning jewellery when the hair belongs to the dearly departed.
Queen Victoria was a trend setter and although mourning jewellery can be tracked back to the Middle Ages it was not until the 1860s that this type of jewellery became very popular. Gold inlaid with black enamel, Whitby jet and hair were the materials most commonly used to craft pieces that would honour the memory of loved ones. The industrial age also enabled the production of more affordable jewellery and so it was not only the wealthy who could follow the fashions Queen Victoria inspired.
What does Aesthetic Movement mean?
The Aesthetic Movement was a reaction to the Victorian practical, moral considerations and constraints. It was a celebration of art, beauty and its sensuality. The exact date of its start is difficult to pinpoint but 1868 is the approximate date. As well as jewellery, music, literature, fashion and interior design were all influenced by this movement. The emphasis on self-expression allowed artists and artisans to create the most delightful and beautiful jewellery and art.
Hearts, of course symbolise love, compassion, charity and joy. A crown on top of a heart means “ruler of my heart”. Two hearts entwined means “Forever in my heart”.
A charming Victorian bracelet, crafted from sterling silver. The simplified linear forms and Japanese bamboo make this piece such a typical example of Aesthetic Movement jewellery / jewelry. In the middle of the bracelet a swallow is flying home. This symbol is said to be a good luck charm that will give the wearer a safe journey and return home. The bracelet is marked 'STERLING SILVER' on the clasp and in two other locations on the bracelet. The original sterling silver safety chain gives an added layer of security.
Wrist size: This antique silver bangle will fit wrists measuring up to 6 1/2 inches.
The elegant Victorian Aesthetic Movement bracelet shown above is fully hallmarked sterling silver set with yellow and rose floral motifs. This piece was crafted by S. Bros. in 1887. The firm is well known for their exquisitely beautiful jewellery. One side of the bracelet is engraved with a captivating garland of flowers and foliage. At each end of the garland are rose gold hearts and panels. The bracelet is fitted with the original safety chain. The back is lovely smooth silver which is typical for this style of bangle. This exceptionally stylish bracelet will fit wrists and arms measuring up to 6 3/4 inches (17 cm) comfortably. The hallmarks clearly show the maker's mark (S.Bros.), date year (Gothic lower case n)1887, Birmingham Assay & lion passant.
Wrist size: This bracelet fits wrists measuring up to 6 3/4 inches comfortably.
Snakes represent everlasting love and wisdom.
Crescent moons celebrate the moon goddess and change, as the moon changes its form.
Horseshoes represent good luck and protection from evil.
Roses (Love, Hope & Joy) Stars (Spiritual guidance)
A rare and fabulous fully hallmarked Victorian sterling silver cuff bangle adorned with roses, celestial star motifs & tiny spheres. Around each rose a subtle rope design and tiny floral motifs which complete the composition perfectly. The piece is fitted with a large secure hidden patented clasp. English silver marks leave nothing to chance and the hallmarks on this bracelet are clear and easy to read - 'J D' (maker's mark), i (date year 1883), anchor (Birmingham Assay), lion passant (sterling silver). The underside of the clasp is inscribed 'PATENT No 1743'. In the Victorian era the rose symbolized love, honour, faith, beauty and timelessness. This solid silver cuff bracelet is a timeless piece that will retain its beauty. Absolutely delightful!
Wrist size: This bracelet fits wrists measuring up to 7 inches comfortably.
Stars are symbols for guidance of the spirit and a sense of direction.
Gradually, as the Aesthetic Era progressed the art became more focused on the beauty of art, rather than the deeper meanings for which Victorian jewellery and art is known. Eventually, the hidden meanings, symbolism and sentimentality waned in favour of the “Arts for Art's Sake” mentality. In essence, the creative arts only needed to produce beautiful literature, jewellery and curios. The Movement was also popular in Europe. Well known figures, such as Oscar Wilde encouraged others to express themselves in their art and literature.
Victorian gold is sought after all over the world. Old gold has a lustre that new gold can not compare with. In the twenty first century sustainability is a great concern and so gifting antique jewellery is a good choice to make.
Long before the Victorian era gem stones were attributed with healing powers and and Greek mythology is in inextricably linked with precious stones. Dionysus, is the god of the wine harvest, wine making, fruit, fertility, orchards and even ritual madness! Many variations of the myth exist. Dionysus had been insulted by a mortal and swore to slay the next mortal who crossed his path. He created fierce tigers to kill the next mortal he encountered. However, he came to bitterly regret his vengeful desire, as the next mortal he saw was a beautiful maiden named Amethystos, who was travelling to pay tribute to Artemis. Artemis, saved her by transforming her into the most exquisite crystalline quartz statue. Dionysus wept tears of wine which then stained the quartz purple. Amethyst is attributed with powers to prevent intoxication. The stone was once said to be a symbol of royalty and it was used to adorn regalia.
In the Victorian era amethyst was believed to bring the wearer emotional stability and inner strength.