Victorian jewellery is any type of antique jewellery dating from 1837 to 1900, essentially overlapping art nouveau and arts-and-crafts estate jewellery styles by several years. Buyers are often collectors, although many are purchasing items for private wear or for sale or display. Victorian jewellery is usually considered antique rather than vintage, as it dates past 1920, so most buyers should look in antiques and jewellery stores, on eBay, and online jewellery stores selling antiques and used items.
Victorian jewellery can be purchased in a variety of places including from estate auctions, vintage and antiques dealers, vintage jewellery stores, collectors, and online stores such as eBay. Often Victorian jewellery is labelled as 'estate jewellery' or 'antique jewellery', although some sellers might label their Victorian jewellery as 'vintage' as well. Checking for local antique dealers, looking online for sellers that ship to one's area, and checking eBay are all excellent methods of purchasing Victorian jewellery.
Victorian jewellery is divided into three basic categories according to its style and period of date. Often labelled as estate jewellery, these jewelleries can be found in a variety of qualities, quantities, and in different locations. Before purchasing Victorian jewellery, buyers should consider the value of the material, the rarity of the piece, the seller, what they intend to do with the jewellery (such as wear it, sell it, collect it), and of course, the age of the piece.
Victorian Jewellery Periods
Victorian jewellery is divided into three periods spanning the time between the start of the Victorian era in 1837 and the end of the Victorian era in 1900. Each period is marked by a distinct style or type of jewellery that was popular during that time, and often reflects different gemstones, symbolism, and idealisms. For example, much of early Victorian era jewellery actually resembles Georgian jewellery in nature, while latter Victorian is a great deal different.
Early Victorian: The Romantic Period
Early Victorian jewellery, also known as romantic Victorian jewellery, dates between 1837 and 1855, shortly after the ascension of Queen Victoria to the throne of England. Popular styles include nature themes, gold leaf, and intricate etchings in gold. Lockets, brooches, coloured gemstones, and diamonds were also quite popular during this period. Early Victorian jewellery is generally considered to be the lightest of Victorian jewellery, but also the most valuable because of its age.
Mid-Victorian: The Grand Period
The Grand Period of Victorian jewellery began after the death of Queen Victoria's husband in 1861. While early Grand Period jewellery is often similar to the Romantic period, latter jewellery reflects more sombre tones and gemstones, probably meant to reflect on Queen Victoria's mourning for her husband. In fact, much of the Grand Period jewellery still available on the market is sold as 'mourning jewellery'. The stones are often heavy and dark, with popular stones including jet, amethyst, onyx, and garnet, which are not as valuable as the gemstones and diamonds popular in the previous period. Colourful shells and mosaics were sometimes also present in this period of jewellery.
Late Victorian: The Aesthetic Period
The Aesthetic period of Victorian jewellery ranges from 1885 to 1900, although some controversy exists as to the exact start and stop of the period, with some jewellers believing the periods begins in 1875 and possibly ends as early as 1890. However, jewellery aged between 1885 and 1900 is the most common from this period. During the Aesthetic period, jewellers began to create very bright, colourful, and feminine jewellery using diamonds, coloured gemstones, and bright beautiful designs. Sapphires, peridots, diamonds, and spinels were very popular, as were hat pins, brooches, and star and crescent (or moon) designs. This period is also popular for a rise in fantasy themes including the use of dragons, griffins, and more being used in engravings.
Dating Victorian Jewellery
Victorian jewellery is often valued according to its age, so most buyers should look into dating it before making a purchase. General ideas to keep in mind include the different gemstones and designs used during different periods, and that different designs were used during the periods as well. Buyers can also consider certain information, such as the availability of stones and cutting methods, when shopping for Victorian jewellery.
Dating by Design
A glance at any piece of Victorian jewellery could actually tell the experienced buyer the period of the jewellery. As noted above, classic Romantic era jewellery often features nature designs such as leaves, vines, shells, birds, insects, and a general sense of whimsy. Latter periods are characterised more by solemn and grave designs. The Grand era features large dark jewels, sometimes engravings of the Queen, silver, and ornate French-style engravings and patterns rather than any designs following nature. The final Victorian period jewellery can be dated by finding insects, animals, mythical creatures, and birds, all of which were quite popular during the era.
Gemstones and Date
Another thing that buyers can check for includes the gemstones used in the jewellery. Some gemstones are almost exclusive to their period, which makes the jewellery easier to date. For example, sapphires and Ceylon sapphires were not used outside of the middle Victorian period, and diamonds were actually quite rare until they were discovered in Africa in 1867. Early Romantic jewellery is often made of thin gold in sheets puffed and formed into larger shapes, partially due to the gold strike in the United States during the time. Because the metal was rare, jewellers were forced to create as much volume with the least amount of metal as possible. Hair pins, seed pearls, serpentine designs, pink coral, and gold leaf are all indicators of Romantic period jewellery.
Grand period jewellery is easy to distinguish for its dark colours of gemstones, abundance of silver, and frequent mimicry of older styles including Egyptian, Etruscan, Classical, Renaissance, and more. Bangles, bracelets, monograms, brooches, hairpins, lockets, and other whimsy jewellery were all very popular and readily available during this period.
Considerations include that any jewellery marked 9-15 carats was probably made during this period or later, as jewellery guilds did not allow anything below 18 carats to be marked as 'gold' before 1854. The final period of jewellery in the Victorian era can easily be distinguished by the broad array of animals of all shapes and sizes, as well as the popular return of the diamond as one of the most influential precious stones. Ceylon sapphires and alexandrites can also be used to identify late Victorian period jewellery.
Other considerations include that platinum was not used until late in the 1870s after the development of the diamond saw. Pin brooches with visible pin tips are mid to late Victorian, while C-style clasps are nineteenth century or older. Screw hooks, short fishhooks, and long fishhooks on earrings are all indicative of Victorian era, although many have been replaced on the jewellery still available today. The cut of a gem can also be used to authenticate and date Victorian jewellery. Rose cut and table cut gems with fewer surface cuts are generally earlier Victorian era, while more cuts such as highly faceted stones are more likely to be late Victorian or even Edwardian.
Buying Victorian Jewellery on eBay
eBay is a great place to purchase Victorian jewellery from any era, mainly because it is easy to find all kinds of jewellery and buyers do not have to travel or search for auctions or stores that might have Victorian jewellery. Usually, Victorian era jewellery is labelled as 'Victorian', although some sellers might simply label the year (such as the 1850s), or label the piece of jewellery as 'vintage' if they have no real knowledge of jewellery. Many sellers, however, check with a jeweller to verify the age, value, and material of the jewellery pieces before selling them on eBay as Victorian.
Victorian jewellery is sometimes available in glass, so buyers looking for cheaper options should look for 'glass', while anyone looking for a specific stone such as diamond, gold leaf, sapphire, or other popular Victorian stone should look for that. You should consider talking to the seller before making a purchase, and if the item is close enough, you might be able to arrange a viewing or to pick up the jewellery pieces rather than having them shipped.
Victorian jewellery is any jewellery created between the years of 1837 and 1900 (although some extend the period to 1901 with the death of Queen Victoria), and is separated into three distinct periods according to the fashions of the time. The early Victorian Romantic period was the first and often features gold leaf, animal designs, and the use of light gemstones. The middle Victorian period or the Grand period marks England's period of mourning after the death of Queen Victoria's husband, and mostly reflects in silver jewellery with dark coloured stones such as onyx. The final period or the Aesthetic period featured a return to brighter gemstones, features more diamonds as they were discovered in South Africa, and often features animals.
Buyers can search for Victorian jewellery at local antiques shops, jewellery stores specialising in antiques, online stores with similar merchandise, and eBay. Most buyers of Victorian jewellery purchase them for collecting purposes, although much of it can be worn or resold as well. Considerations to keep in mind include the metal, the gemstones, the age, and the date of the piece when buying Victorian jewellery.