A Brief History of Jewellery Through the Ages
Jewellery has a long history dating back over a hundred thousand years, and can give us a great insight into many cultures of the past.
Most ancient jewellery pieces are now kept in museums, but jewellery from as far back as the Georgian period is still available to buy today, from antique retailers such as Royal Antique Jewelry.
The Georgian period covers the reigns of four kings all (surprisingly) called George, from 1714 to 1837. The jewellery from the Georgian period is extremely rare, and as such it is very expensive to buy.
Obviously there were no methods of mass production during this period, so all pieces of Georgian jewellery are hand made.
This incredibly labour intensive approach meant that all pieces were incredibly detailed. The ornate metalwork is a hallmark of jewellery of the period.
A trick often used in Georgian pieces to give their gemstones a little bit of extra sparkle was to use a foil backing underneath them to enhance them.
If you do own or are planning to own any Georgian pieces be very careful if you come into contact with any of these backing foils are they are very fragile, especially if they come into contact with water.
The designs themselves are usually based around nature and precious stones (diamonds, rubies, sapphires and emeralds).
While most pieces almost exclusively used diamonds until 1750, other gemstones started to rise in popularity after this point.
Things such as flowers, bows, leaves and foliage were all common themes of Georgian jewellery.
While you may find it hard to track down Georgian jewellery, the results are usually impressive, with extremely intricate hand-crafted designs unlike those you see in the post-industrial age.
The Victorian era covers the very long reign of Queen Victoria, so jewellery actually changed quite a bit during the period, as it covers the rise of the British Empire and the Industrial Revolution.
Queen Victoria herself was a very big fan of jewellery and her personal preferences fuelled the public opinion of jewellery, especially the rise of ‘mourning jewellery’ after the death of her husband Albert in 1861.
In the early (Romantic) Victorian period, shell cameos experienced a resurgence as an affordable but beautiful jewellery piece, and were often brought back from the “Grand Tours” that the wealthy used to undertake around Europe to experience art and culture.
As the Industrial Revolution kicked into full gear, more mass manufacturing techniques took hold, and jewellery became more affordable, meaning it was no longer limited to the rich.
Following Albert’s death, the middle (Grand) Victorian period was characterized by mourning jewellery as Victoria wore only black clothing and jewellery for the rest of her life.
The rest of the country followed her example and black jet, the fossilized driftwood found off the coast of Whitby, became very popular. Although, toward the end of the Victorian period (the Aesthetic period), colours started to come back into fashion.
The Edwardian period saw a return to classical trends, with expensive diamonds, rubies and emeralds all arranged in designs which reflected the general over indulgence of the time.
The last period to be named after a monarch, the jewellery of the period followed the example of its playboy king, Edward VII.
Taking inspiration from the aristocrats of the 18th century, the rich upper-class loved over the top jewellery.
Advances in platinum meant that it also increased in popularity and pieces soon came to be made solely from platinum.
Platinum is much stronger than gold and as such it allowed for more complicated ‘lace-like’ designs.
Art Deco 1915-1935
The Art Deco style is perhaps best known as being used in the architecture of New York City such as in the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building.
It is characterized by bold geometric designs, as well as bright colours and lavish ornamentation.
Shapes such as circles, squares and triangles were all woven together in unique ways to create new decorative patterns.
It is one of the more recent and more popular eras of jewellery and reflects the optimism of the interwar era, with many of the designs from the Art Deco era still being seen in today’s jewellery.
One of the more popular styles was black onyx juxtaposed with white diamonds.
Art Deco ended around 1935 but it also had revivals in the 1960s and 1980s.
The history of jewellery stretches back much further than these four styles, but the great thing about these are that they are readily available to collectors with a little bit of searching.