Today’s post is sponsored by Christie Stratos and her book Anatomy of a Darkened Heart.
Spray ornament, maker unknown, about 1850. Museum no. M.115-1951. © Victoria & Albert Museum, London
The 19th century was a time of great changes in jewelry. The increasingly industrialised society, the growing middle classes, and the increase in available materials, resulted in a lot of changes in jewelry use and wear.
Symbolism in jewelry
At the start of the 19th century, jewels were rare, mostly worn by upper classes, often heirlooms, and deeply symbolic. A piece of jewelry would be made or bought to commemorate a birth, a wedding, or a death. An example of this are mourning rings (simple pain rings with a name and two dates), jewelry with hair of a loved one worked into it, or cameos with a loved one’s profile on it. Seed pearl jewelry became fashionable during particularly as gifts to a bride. This jewelry, made from hundreds of tiny pearls imported from China or India, remained popular into the early twentieth century.
Working Title/Artist: Necklace Department: Am. Decorative Arts Culture/Period/Location: HB/TOA Date Code: Working Date: 1845-50 digital photography by mma, DP110369 touched by film and media (jn) 5_11_05
In Christie’s book, you can find another example of jewelry having a symbolic meaning:
“A painted eye motif on ivory set in ornate gold. A brooch the child could wear at her neck, over her heart, throughout her life. A symbol of Mr. Whitestone’s infidelity.” (paperback version, page 20)
“The lover’s eye in Mrs. Hinsley’s eye color was bad enough, but the pearls represented tears – everyone knew that.” (paperback version, page 21)
Normally a lover’s eye is a gift between lovers or something worn in mourning for a lover, but in this case it’s a baptism gift to a baby. It’s a message to the baby’s mother to tell her – in front of mutual friends – about the affair her husband is having. It’s interesting because the gift says everything instead of the gift giver saying anything. While the jewelry has its own symbolism, it’s also very telling of indirect methods of communication in that time period (1840-1861).
In the first decades, classical styles were used for jewelry designs. Grecian and Roman styles were favoured for styles, because they were seen as in good taste and lasting style. Archaeological discoveries stimulated these styles even more. An interest in botany and flowers was also seen in jewelry designs, with jewels resembling flowers and leafs.
By the late 1850s, styles started to change. Following along with Victorian fashion, jewelry became more exuberant, more intricate, and larger in size. As for flowers, certain colours were used to convey messages.
Around this time, jewelry became accessible for more people so it was easier to buy a piece for any occasion. Newfound sources of gold and silver (mostly in America) and diamonds (mostly in Africa) made for lower prices. The process of making jewelry became more efficient, and easier to make jewelry (like round brooches, die-stamping, faux ancient coins) helped lower jewelry prices even more.
Arts & crafts jewelry
Pendant-brooch (detail), designed by C.R. Ashbee and made by the Guild of Handicraft, about 1900. Museum no. M.31-2005. © Victoria & Albert Museum, London
The last decades of the 19th century saw the rise of the Arts and Crafts movement. This movement felt an unease with the industrialised world and rejected the machine-led factory system. The movement longed to go back to a more simple time, where jewelry was made by hand. This would improve both the item, and the workman’s soul.
Arts and Crafts jewellers avoided large, faceted stones, relying instead on the natural beauty of cabochon (shaped and polished) gems. They replaced the repetition and regularity of mainstream settings with curving or figurative designs, often with a symbolic meaning.
If you want to look at some beautiful pieces, go here:
This post was brought to you by Christie Stratos, our sponsor for this month! Christie is an author of historical fiction, writing mostly dark psychological historical fiction. Her latest book is Anatomy of a Darkened Heart (Book 1 in the Dark Victoriana Collection). If you liked the excerpt, you can buy the book Anatomy of a Darkened Heart on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, or buy a signed version from the author herself.
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