Victorian Jewelry: Unexplored Treasures

Victorian Jewelry: Unexplored Treasures

by Ginny Redington Dawes, Corinne Davidov

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An authoritative and gorgeously illustrated survey of Victorian jewelry that focuses on “secondary” jewelry, characterized by bold, playful, romantic and modern designs.

The many styles of Victorian jewelry presented in this volume are selected from the best collections in the United States and abroad, and shown here in specially commissioned,


An authoritative and gorgeously illustrated survey of Victorian jewelry that focuses on “secondary” jewelry, characterized by bold, playful, romantic and modern designs.

The many styles of Victorian jewelry presented in this volume are selected from the best collections in the United States and abroad, and shown here in specially commissioned, exclusive color photographs. The photographs showcase the glorious color and style of the rich variety of materials, including Scottish Agate, malachite, and granite, the amazingly modern niello, and the stark black beauty of Whitby jet.

For more than half a century, during the reign of Queen Victoria, England and Europe produced some of the most delightful flights of fancy that jewelry has ever taken. Long ignored because of the intrinsic worthlessness of its various materials, today these pieces are increasingly prized for their beauty and workmanship. Surprisingly, this period in jewelry–making did not follow the fussy, overly ornate style that characterized the Victorian era, but rather promoted bold, playful, romantic and “modern” styles. Some of the most unusual pieces were constructed with materials including hair, lava, coal iron, and aluminum. The text gives authoritative and fascinating historical context to the uses of these materials and designs. Many of the most sought–after pieces are made of silver, and popular designs include stars, anchors, hearts, bows and outstretched hands.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"…These pieces were long ignored because of their low value and cheap materials—but today are prized for their workmanship, which Victorian Jewelry: Unexplored Treasures reveals in chapters of history following designs, materials, and lovely secondary pieces. Styles presented here have been selected from collections around the world and are displayed through specially commissioned color photos just for this book." — California Bookwatch

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Abbeville Publishing Group
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10.50(w) x 9.00(h) x (d)

Read an Excerpt

Victorian Jewelry

Unexplored Treasures

By Ginny Redington Dawes, Corinne Davidov, Tom Dawes

Abbeville Press

Copyright © 2005 Ginny Redington Dawes
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7892-0868-2

Excerpt from: Victorian Jewelry

Chapter 1: Fashion History

The Victorian period began in 1837 with the coronation of England's Queen Victoria. Only eighteen years old at the time, she already had a tremendous presence. Her charisma was to grow with every year of her reign, which ended with her death in 1901.

Victoria was undoubtedly the greatest influence of her time, and what she loved, her country loved. What Victoria loved was Albert, sentiment, and jewelry, in that order!

With her betrothal, the whole of England fell in love, and the atmosphere and the early Victorian period (1837–1860) was as romantic as it ever was to be. Styles and dress and jewelry reflected this romanticism: diaphanous lightweight gowns, delicate gold and gemstone parures (matched sets), strands of seed pearls, and small lockets. Because of Victoria’s love of nature, and of the Scottish landscape in particular, naturalistic themes abounded, with delicate floral–spray brooches, hair combs of tortoiseshell in the shape of branches, and bracelets made of silver and stones from Scottish mountain streams. Victoria was a religious monarch, and many pieces of jewelry made during her reign has religious significance: crosses for faith, anchors for hope, hearts for charity, and serpents for eternity. Sentimental symbolism was at its peak, and jewelry made from a loved one’s hair became more popular than ever.

The early Victorian period produced a passion for the Middle Ages. There were medieval costume balls and jousting tournaments, in France as well in England, in which the participants actually wore antique armor. Jewelry of the period reflected this enthusiasm for medievalism, and Gothic Revival finery proliferated.

The early Victorian period also coincided with the height of the Industrial Revolution, and more goods were being made accessible to more people than ever before. The Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace in London opened in 1851 and, for the first time in history, the world viewed a multinational display of expertly crafted goods. (It must be pointed out that although many people associate Victorian jewelry with England, much of it was produced on the Continent, particularly in France.) Jewelry made from unusual nonprecious metals, such as cut steel and aluminum, came to the fore and convinced European nobility that all that glittered was not, and did not need to be, gold.

The mid–, or high, Victorian period (1860–1885) had a distinctly different flavor from the sentimental romantic period. Victoria’s down–to–earth, solid sensible value inspired a similar way of thinking. Dresses became larger and more dignified (the crinoline, or hooped petticoat, was in vogue during the 1860s), and jewelry followed suit. The design influences were architectural and archaeological. Neoclassical motifs such as shells and rosettes were used with increasing frequency. Necklaces and earrings sported fringe and Etruscan beading or granulation. Very few new designs were created, makers seemingly content to borrow from the Greek and Etruscan classics, influenced by Italian master goldsmiths such as Castellani and Guiliano.

This was also the heartbreaking period of Prince Albert's untimely death and Victoria's inconsolable mourning. The nation grieved along with her, and mourning clothes and jewelry came into style. Only jet was worn at court following Albert's death, which stimulated the Whitby jet market and engendered the manufacture of the many jet substitutes: bog oak, gutta–percha, “French jet,” and tortoiseshell.

In the 1870s, the new Aesthetic Movement gained favor. Inspired by the art and philosophy of the Pre–Raphaelites, it promoted jewelry and fashions that had a sparse new simplicity. Naturalistic designs abounded, but now a decidedly Oriental flavor. The popularity of japonaiserie, as it was called, was considerable, and thousands of brooches, lockets, and bracelets with asymmetrical designs flooded the market.

The mid–Victorian period ended with a relaxation of the mourning code and the rise of the silver jewelry industry. Heavy lockets and chains and wide, hinged bangle bracelets were favored for daytime wear, as was the silver love brooch, and inexpensive mass–produced item that appealed to the working classes. The end of this period saw the beginnings of sport or novelty jewelry that women wore with their riding habits or golf costumes.

The late Victorian period (1885–1901) saw women moving out of the home and into the world. Traditional notions were rejected and young women embraced the modern age wholeheartedly. They became more active, more aggressive, and more socially and politically aware. They repudiated high Victorian taste, and, as a result, fashions changed dramatically to lighter, simpler, more tailored garments. And as for accessories no more hearts and flowers. Simple, minimal jewelry in materials such as a niello and gunmetal were the order of the day, precursors of the new Edwardian era just around the corner.


Excerpted from Victorian Jewelry by Ginny Redington Dawes, Corinne Davidov, Tom Dawes. Copyright © 2005 Ginny Redington Dawes. Excerpted by permission of Abbeville Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Ginny Reddington Dawes, formerly a singer with a rock and roll band, is an accomplished songwriter and the composer of many well–known advertising jingles.

Corinne Alster Davidov is a painter whose works have been widely exhibited, here and abroad. Both authors are avid collectors of Victorian jewelry, and private dealers tuned into up–and–coming trends in collectibles. This is their second collaboration; their first was The Bakelite Jewelry Book, from Abbeville Press.

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