The term refers to several eras and styles that span over the decades of the 18th and 19th centuries. The standard periods of jewelry design included within that timeframe are Georgian, Victorian, Arts and Crafts, Art Nouveau, Edwardian and Art Deco and Retro, which we’ve described below in more details. Oro Spot offers classic jewelry pieces that reflect these styles. See our selection of vintage Brooches/pins, Earrings, Rings and Pendants.
Georgian jewelry (1714-1837)
The period refers to time of political upheaval during the reigns of four subsequent English kings named George. Georgian jewelry was symmetrical, regal, elegant and balanced, and all pieces were handcrafted. Colored stones and diamonds were mostly set in silver and backed with a reflecting foil to create the beloved “fire” effect, best seen under candlelight. Floral themes, Greek motifs and miniature portraits of loved ones were commonly featured, along with the period’s signature design – the girandole (three dangling drop-shaped ornaments suspended from a central bow) – often seen in earrings. Short necklaces with a row of gemstones and multiple cameos connected by rows of draped chain, were also very much in vogue.
Victorian Jewelry (1840 – 1890)
The Victorian period, named after the British ruler Queen Victoria, embodies a range of styles, forms and materials. The emergence of middle class sparked a demand for jewelry in the mass market. The period is usually divided into three stylistic subsections.
The Romantic Period (1837-1855)
The marriage of Queen Victoria popularized symbolic jewelry associated with love, femininity and sentiment. Hearts, clasped hands, anchors and serpents (a symbol of eternity and ever-lasting love) became fashionable motifs. Frequently used gemstones included blue zircon, pink topaz, turquoise, amethyst, peridot, citrine, aquamarine, garnet, ruby, sapphire and emerald. Organic materials such as coral, horn, ivory and tortoise shell were also popular in carved pieces and cameos. Brooches, pins, large bracelets and bangles with scroll-like reliefs are among the signature items of that time.
The Grand Period (1856-1880)
With the death of Queen Victoria’s husband in 1961 followed by 25-year mourning period, much of jewelry reflected the grave mood, featuring solemn designs and dark stones, such as onyx, amethyst, garnet and jet (fossilized coal). Another trend – called Revivalism – emerged as a tribute to Antiquity and Renaissance. Egyptian scarabs, Romanesque cameos and ancient mosaic techniques became very fashionable, while gold replaced platinum as the most popular precious metal. In general, jewelry of this period tends to be heavy, elaborate and dramatic.
The Aesthetic Period (1885-1900)
The final phase of the Victorian era is seen as a return to romanticism and to smaller, more delicate jewelry. Jewelers preferred feminine, bright gemstones such as sapphire or peridot. At the same time, the industrial revolution helped make jewelry more accessible to the masses; even diamonds became more affordable, thanks to new deposits discovered in South Africa. Prevalent motifs included stars, crescent moons as well as insect and reptiles. Imitation tortoiseshell and ivory made out of celluloid were increasingly used to produce hair combs, brooches and hatpins.
Arts and crafts jewelry (1894-1923)
The Arts and Crafts era was more than a design style – it was also a political and philosophical movement. As a form of rebellion against the Industrial Revolution, many jewelry designers returned to handmade craftsmanship, simple patterns and naturalistic forms made of uncut or cabochon-polished gemstones. Silver was preferred over gold, and lesser materials such as brass and copper gained popularity. Designs often focused on nature and were often abstract or symbolic in nature.
Art Nouveau jewelry (1895-1915)
Art Nouveau emerged as a reaction to the 19th century academic art, in favor of spontaneity and originality. Like other art forms, the jewelry of that period is characterized by long curving lines, the use of natural forms and motifs (such as orchids, butterflies, dragonflies or peacocks) and exquisite depictions of women portrayed as mysterious long-haired beauties. The style was also influenced by the Japanese art and its use of sinuous, free-flowing lines. Design was considered more important than the value of the materials, and semi-precious stones like opal, amethyst, citrine, peridot and pearls were widely used. Non-traditional materials, such as horn, bone, copper, shell, ivory, and glass were also popular. The Art Nouveau jewelry is especially famous for the use of enamel and enameling techniques such as plique-a-jour, which created a stained glass effect.
Edwardian jewelry (1901-1915)
This short but significant era marks the reign of king Edward VII, who succeeded his mother, Queen Victoria. Edwardian jewelry was inspired by Rococo, with its profusion of bows, tassels, and wreaths, creating what became known as the garland style. Jewelers liked to work with platinum, white gold and precious stones, to create intricate, filigree patterns. Diamonds and pearls were favored and often paired for the elegant white-on-white color scheme. The renewed emphasis on diamonds coincided with improvements in cutting methods, while new technologies made platinum more practical to use in jewelry making. Fashionable upswept hairdos and low necklines made necklaces a favorite accessory of the time. The popular negligee pendants featured two drops of unequal length suspended from a central element. Choker necklaces, tiaras, dangling earrings and filigree rings with white gold setting and a single diamond were also common.
Retro jewelry (1930s-1950s)
The period coincided with echoes of the Great Depression and the hardships of World War II. But this was also the golden age of Hollywood, and the big screen provided escape into the glamorous world accented with dazzling, larger-than life jewelry, which came to define the style. Cocktail rings, bracelets, watches and necklaces often showcased massive aquamarines, citrines, amethysts, peridots and tourmalines in sculpted, three-dimensional cuts. Sapphires and rubies (both natural and synthetic) were most often used as small accents for the larger gems. Charms came into vogue during this era and were worn in large quantities on link bracelets. With the scarcity of platinum during the war, gold became the metal of choice. Jewelry designers experimented with new alloys, mixing yellow gold with other metals to produce shades of rose and green. The ribbon bow was the most popular motif, along with ruffles, flowers, ballerinas and birds. Patriotic themes and colors were also widely used.