The Three Victorian Eras of Jewelry: In Detail

Emil Brack, Planning the Grand Tour Photo Source: Time to Eat the Dogs
Emil Brack, Planning the Grand Tour
Photo Source: Time to Eat the Dogs

by Angela Magnotti Andrews

During the Romantic Period, jewelry reflected the sentimental nature of the times with mementoes, love tokens, and souvenirs from foreign travel. Italian cameos were brought back to Britain from Italy and Greece as souvenirs from the “Grand Tours” of the upper classes. Victoria’s love for all things Scottish popularized many Highlander influences in jewelry and fashion, particularly brooches with a grouse foot set in gold or silver and tartan clothing. These trends lasted well into the 1860s, a time when culture and travel were extremely important to British culture.

In 1861, the death of Prince Albert launched Victoria’s mourning period. From that day until the day of her death, Victoria wore only black clothing and mourning jewelry. The light and airy romantic designs of the early period dramatically transformed into the heavier, bolder, and brighter designs of this later time. Upon the death of the prince, the practice of wearing day jewelry and night jewelry became in vogue.

It was considered improper to wear glittery jewelry during the day, so daytime jewelry became smaller and more subtle, following a classical trend with stones such as agates, shells, amethyst, and jasper (Hand 2004, 9). Colorless faceted gems, such as diamonds, were strictly reserved for nighttime wear. As the period progressed, the use of colored stones declined even further, which had a huge impact on the jewelry industry and almost caused the failure of many designers of that time (Hand 2004, 10).

The final period of Victoria’s reign, the Aesthetic Period, was marked by the introduction of Darwin’s theory of evolution which led to a demand for animal motifs in jewelry (Hand 2004, 11). Fashions again changed, becoming a celebration of the greater liberation of women. Softer colors and designs became popular, reflecting the greater emphasis on feminine concerns. Of course, new discoveries and new trade lines opened up during this era, and the jewelry and fashion of the day reflects these discoveries. During this period in particular, silver, diamonds, and sapphires grew in availability and popularity.


1. S. Hand, “Victorian Jewelry: Personal Adornment from the Age of Romance to the Age of Aesthetics,” Old Sacramento Living History Program (2004): 9-11, last modified 2011,

2.  Kate Dwyer, “History of Victorian Jewelry,” Victoriana Magazine, accessed May 4, 2012,