Jewelry History


This period covers the reign of four kings in England: George I (1714-1727); George II (1727-1760); George III (1760-1820); remembered as "crazy George." He was replaced by his son, George IV (1820-1830). George IV was appointed Regent in 1811 (his father was not considered well enough to rule) and proceeded to live an extravagant lifestyle. The Pavilion at Brighton was built at this time. From 1830-1837 England was ruled by frugal William IV, however, there is no "William" jewelry.

Jewelry from this early period is highly collectable and difficult to find unless established collections are liquidated. Mid-to-late 18th century focuses on fashion in portraits and miniatures utilizing diamonds and paste some containing lead and glass. (1750-1850) Most jewelry available on the market falls in the Late Georgian period, George III (1760-1820), George IV (1811-1830) through William IV (1830-1837). Jewelry from this time tends to be restrained (unless you were French), light in weight and sentimental. The Georgian style flourished in the 1830's. Rose cut diamonds, seed pearls, black and white enameled accents and spectacular high-relief lava cameos are typical of the style and designs which were most common. Mounts and frames were often of high karat gold and ornamented with Greek key designs, acorn and leaf patterns and other neo-classical motifs.


Victorian jewelry was produced during the reign of Britain's Queen Victoria, from 1837-1901 and reached its peak in the latter part of the century. The styles of the Victorian era favored floral adornments, fine filigree work, blue and black enamel accents and mesh chain with a "woven" pattern. Dark-colored stones such as onyx and bloodstone were popular and platinum became the predominate metal of choice for mounts and better pins. Gypsy mounts were used for faceted stones and cabochons became more widely used. Stickpins, filigree bar pins, sport motif jewelry, crescent shapes and insect pins were all popular in the late Victorian era. This period can be divided into three different categories.

EARLY VICTORIAN: (1837-1859)

This period is sometimes referred to as THE ROMANTIC PERIOD. Jewelry continued to reflect sentimental motifs, but unlike the Georgian Period, jewelry increased in size. Since gold was scarce jewelry tended to be lightweight, constructed from very thin sheets of gold that were die struck, chased and engraved to give the illusion of size and heft. You will see foil backed stones and micro-mosaics in glass in this period. In the late 1800's there is a resurgence of very "romantic" jewelry that is delicate, sentimental, and is also referred to the ROMANTIC PERIOD. We refer to this period (1837-1859) as EARLY VICTORIAN.

MID VICTORIAN: (1860-1879)

The other designation that refers to this era is THE GRAND PERIOD. This is an apt description as jewelry from this period is grand in scale and quantity. It was large, massive, over-done, and worn in quantities. Often you will see large corsage ornaments, tiaras, bib style and dog collar style necklaces.

LATE VICTORIAN: (1880-1901)

Sometimes these late years are referred to as THE AESTHETIC PERIOD because of the revivals of styles (Egyptian, Gothic, Renaissance, Algerian, Classic, etc.—whatever could be revived, was) were all at their peak.

Around 1895, there was a surge of romantic jewelry that was sweet, small, constrained and sentimental. Also around this time (1895-1915) ART NOUVEAU and Arts and Crafts came into their own.


1822—George IV wears Scottish jewelry, but the true revival and interest in Scottish Jewelry begins when Queen Victoria obtains Balmoral. Later she requires Scottish dress to be worn at the opening ball of the 1851 World Exposition.

1827—Unearthing of tombs in Italy begins the Etruscan Revival.

1845-47—excavations of Nimrud and Nineveh begin the Assyrian Revival.

1859-69—Suez Canal and discovery of Queen Ah-Hotep's jewels (1859) are impetus for Egyptian Revival.

1850's—John Ruskin's writings and lectures and the writings and actions of William Morris (who helped establish a communal artistic group) fostered interest in all of the "decorative" arts and began the Arts and Crafts movement.

1922—Howard Carter, a famous archeologist, discovered the tomb of King Tutankhamen and sparks an Egyptian design period.

ART NOUVEAU: 1895-1915

Art Nouveau jewelry exhibits the free-flowing style which was in vogue for the time. Pieces from this time period are highly collectible. Meaning "New Art", it represented figural images, flowers and insects. Enameling was very popular for adding vibrant colors to jewelry in this period. Yellow gold came back in vogue and the trend was generally a lighter and more flowing sense of design, rather than the heavier look used in the Victorian era. Pearls, opals, amber and coral were popular choices of what was considered to be the "softer stones" of the period.


This period is often an overlap of the Victorian era. The reign of King Edward III jewelry reflected light: white, airy, elegant. It is as if with the death of his mother, an imaginary balloon lifts everyone's aesthetic spirits. Somberness is left behind and a lightness of design and materials infuses jewelry. Platinum goes from being an accent to being the primary metal. The new white metal is a mystery to the buyer and a challenge to the bench jeweler. Millegrain settings and a combination of platinum over gold were often used. The transition from all gold jewelry to gold-backed platinum jewelry to platinum is a matter of marketing and jeweler's skills. By the end of the Edwardian period, platinum is the metal of choice. Draped garland ornaments and guilloche enamels were popular. European cut diamonds, tourmalines, amethyst and garnets were primary stones of the period. The invention of synthetic ruby was developed in 1902 with synthetic sapphire following shortly thereafter in 1911.

ART DECO: (1910-1930)

Examples from the Art Deco period are some of the strongest and most desired pieces in the market. The Bauhaus, a school in Germany that combined crafts and the fine arts, was famous for the approach to design that it publicized and taught. It was founded with the idea of creating a "total" work of art in which all arts, including architecture would eventually be brought together. The Bauhaus style became one of the most influential currents in Modernist Architecture and modern design. It operated from 1919 to 1933. The period is characterized by geometric styles and design and hit its peak in the mid-1920's. The artist's eye transforms the harsh, cold realities of progress (apparent in machinery of war) and creates forms that reflect speed, simplicity and power. Colors became more prominent in the Deco period—rubies, emeralds, and sapphires were brought to the forefront and strong color contrast was combined with abstract and geometric design. Pave and channel set mounts gained in popularity with white gold and platinum being the metal color of choice, although you will find gold plating as well. In vogue were large bold pieces including colorful beads, line bracelets, and fabulous diamond clip brooches that celebrated women's new role and new freedom. During this time period you will find an Egyptian Period which includes pieces such as scarabs, pyramid designs, hieroglyphic patterns and other motifs. Most commonly used materials included turquoise, enamel, coral and lapis lazuli.

RETRO PERIOD: (1940-1950's)

A second war changes available materials and pushes women further and further into positions of power. Jewelry and fashion reflect these changes as pieces are produced with simple lines and large three dimensional styling which often used rose and green gold mounts and links. It was a return to "bold" romanticism as seen in new interpretations of such favorite forms as flowers, sprays and bows. Ruby and diamond combinations were in fashion and baguette cuts were popular. Star rubies and sapphires and other cabochons were in vogue. Pearls fell out of favor due to the difficulty of the market and World War II. The Cartier "tank" styling became popular as exhibited in the design of gents and ladies rectangular wristwatches.

POST RETRO PERIOD: (Late 1950's-1960's)

Yellow gold, pearls, cluster rings, charm bracelets and big, bold pins were the jewelry of the times. Trends were toward pieces which could be worn "every day" and not just for special occasions. Chains, bracelets, "Tiffany" solitaire rings and gent's rings and accessories were all being marketed on a larger scale.

**Note that labels designate styles and periods. Many styles over-lap during periods of time and nothing precisely begins and ends as we might wish in our attempt to classify antique jewelry. The above designations of Periods/Styles must be considered only a GUIDE to learn about vintage and antique jewelry.

Reference Materials:

Compete Price Guide to Antique Jewelry-First Edition
Richard E. Gilbert and James H. Wolf

Antique Jewelry History Seminar N.A.J.A. Annual Conference
Karen Lorene

Thomas Elliott, G.J.G (GIA)
North American Gemological Laboratory, LLC
13400 NE 20th St
Suite 19
Bellevue, WA 98005
425-637-0075 off
425-283-0449 fax