The Victorian era began in the last decades of the old world, and stretched through the Industrial Revolution into the modern world. Vintage Victorian jewellery is highly popular with collectors because it is still mostly affordable, although this is not true of some of the exquisite works of the early Victorian era. What sets the Victorian era apart from the rest, was the use of grand gemstones, fine metals, and ornate settings, worked into elaborate designs that inspire the imagination. Most pieces were not worn every day, and the most expensive pieces were saved for festive occasions like a formal ball. True vintage Victorian jewellery is sometimes sold in antique stores, or through estate sales, but customers can purchase great deals from multiple sellers at the same time through eBay. When it comes to purchasing Victorian jewellery, buyers need to purchase pieces that are appealing, in good condition, and that represent some the Victorian Age's best features.
Overview of the Victorian Period
By tradition, the Victorian period lasted throughout the reign of Queen Victoria, from 1835 to 1900. She was the style-setter, and the jewellery makers were almost always inspired by what she wore. In her youth, the jewellery was smaller and more romantic. After the death of her husband, the jewellery became heavy and sombre. In her twilight years, the jewellery became reflective and sentimental. Therefore, the Victorian era is typically divided into smaller time periods that reflect the different jewellery styles.
Early Victorian Jewellery 1835-1860
The Early Victorian age is sometimes also called the Romantic period. It began in 1835 when the young queen ascended the throne and lasted until 1860, the year in which her mother died. This was an era of burgeoning prosperity and immense hope. The young queen married her paramour Prince Albert, bought Balmoral Castle in Scotland, and hosted the Great Exhibition of Industry of All Nations. All of these events affected Early Victorian jewellery. Many of the pieces during this time were hand-made, like those of the previous Georgian period.
Victorian Engagement Rings
In Victorian times, engagement rings were usually comprised of a woman's birthstone instead of a diamond. The very first Victorian engagement ring was given to Queen Victoria by Prince Albert, and features a snake wrapped around a large emerald, her birthstone, and eating its own tail. This was a symbol of eternal love and the most sought after Victorian rings bear this snake design.
Cairngorm Quartz Gems
Victoria's purchase of Balmoral Castle, renewed the entire country's interest in Scotland and Scottish designs. Many jewellery makers began producing pieces that featured Cairngorm quartz. This golden gem with a smoky cast, was only found in the Cairngorm mountains. Today, it is no longer mined, and so this gem is a fabulous way to date any jewellery piece that uses it to the Early Victorian era.
When the Industrial Exhibition opened in London, the jewellery makers were ready. They created pieces meant to impress the world while highlighting the overwhelming romantic sense of the country at that time. There were booths full of metallic flowers, their petals lined with gems and painted with enamel. Visitors loved the beauty of these pieces, and when many people think of the Early Victorian period, it is these bejewelled flowers, birds, and other natural motifs that typically come to mind.
Many different metals were used for jewellery making during this time, but gold was the most popular. Here, buyers sometimes run into a problem because many gold pieces from the Early Victorian era were unmarked. This is because only 22ct gold was used, a very high standard indeed by today's measurements. Close to the end of this period, in 1854, 12ct and 15ct gold was made legal, and metalsmiths began marking their work. This is a sure-fire way to date authentic gold pieces from the Victorian era.
Middle Victorian Period 1860-1885
The Mid-Victorian era is also known as the Grand period, and has produced some of the hallmark works of this time period. When people think of Victorian jewellery, it is the Mid-Victorian era that usually comes to mind. Gemstones of this time were particularly large, and their settings were incredibly ornate. Strangely enough, these striking beautiful works of art were created during a time of sadness. Victoria's husband died in 1861, and she threw herself into a state of mourning. The rest of the country followed suit.
Mourning jewellery is a hallmark of the Middle Victorian period. During the Victorian era, family members mourning the death of a loved one wore all black for an entire year, and this dress code extended to jewellery. Large, dark onyx, jet and vulcanite gems were the focus of many mourning jewellery pieces. Despite their sombre tone, their craftsmanship is excellent, making these pieces very much in high demand today by collectors everywhere.
Silver jewellery also became prominent during the Grand Victorian era. It was more affordable than gold, and manufacturers discovered that they could use mass-produced silver pieces of jewellery through industrial machines. This led to a large influx of silver jewellery on the market, purchased mainly by the middle class, and modern buyers can still get these pieces at very affordable prices.
Late Victorian Period 1885-1901
The final years of the Victorian era were a reflective time. While Victoria herself was no longer the fashion trendsetter, people began to reminisce about the early days of her reign. Therefore, jewellery became brighter, and focused on many of the same motifs used in the Early Victorian era. The Industrial Revolution forever changed the way jewellery was made, making many pieces more affordable.
Light and Bright Gemstones
Gone were the large and heavy pieces of the Grand Victorian era. In their place, jewellery makers started using smaller gems on lighter settings. Gemstone cuts also changed as technology became more precise. The rose-cut, which was primarily used on diamonds before this time, then faded away and was replaced by more modern shapes. Popular gemstones from this time include the lush purple amethyst, golden green peridot, and sky blue sapphire.
The Bad-Luck Opal
In earlier times, Victorians believed that opals brought bad luck, and were therefore rarely worn. However, the discovery of a large opal reserve in Australia during the Mid-Victorian era, led to Queen Victoria herself to start wearing opals. By the Late Victorian period, opals appeared on many different jewellery pieces, and their stigma of bringing bad luck all but vanished.
Solitaire Wedding Rings
Perhaps it is fitting that the closing years of this remarkable era saw the rise of the classic solitaire diamond wedding ring. They were used for both weddings and engagements, gradually replacing the older custom of using a birthstone as the stone in the engagement ring. New diamond cuts allowed for this gem to truly shine in its setting of gold or silver, producing a lasting fascination with diamonds that continues to this very day.
Buying Victorian Jewellery on eBay
Collectors and casual buyers alike, can find a large selection of Victorian jewellery stretching across all of the three major Victorian time periods on eBay. While some of the rarest pieces, especially those from the Early Victorian era are quite expensive, many are actually quite affordable. They are certainly easier to purchase as opposed to jewellery from the Georgian period, and as time goes by their value will only rise. Therefore, finding an exquisite piece of Victorian jewellery should appeal to wearers and investors alike.
Searching for Victorian Jewellery on eBay
Any first time buyer on eBay can easily get overwhelmed by the vast selection of Victorian pieces available. A simple search for 'Victorian jewellery' returns thousands of results, so you would need to limit your results in order to sift through the listings. Try selecting a certain type of jewellery, such as 'Victorian earrings'. If the results are still too high, add extra terms such as 'diamond Victorian earrings'. If you follow this strategy, you can find many results including pieces that will surely meet your needs.
Reproduction Victorian Jewellery on eBay
Because this era is so popular, many of these pieces are reproduced on the mass market. While reproduction jewellery is cheaper than the original, it is also worth far less. Furthermore, many pieces of reproduction jewellery do not have the same quality as the original Victorian pieces. Gold brooches are a great example since Victorian gold was mainly produced in high carat amounts. Reproduction pieces typically use either gold plating, or lower carat gold as their foundation. By knowing the Victorian metal and gem working style, buyers can even avoid reproduction pieces mislabelled as originals.
The Victorian Era forever changed jewellery making and jewellery styles. In the beginning of this era, pieces were still produced by hand and were prohibitively expensive for anyone except the wealthy class. The Industrial Revolution allowed machines to create jewellery, producing many mass market pieces that buyers can still find today at reasonable prices.
Overall, the Victorian era is divided into three separate time periods, each one with its own unique style. Buyers may find that they prefer metal or gems from one time period over another, or that they simply like the designs produced in the Early Victorian as opposed to the Mid Victorian. Understanding the jewellery pieces of each time period helps buyers decide which items they want to purchase, and which ones are more valuable. eBay's selection is unmatched, and buyers can spend hours browsing through the Victorian collection before finding a must-have piece of vintage Victorian jewellery.