Welcome to our knowledge section, which contains some basic background information about antique and vintage jewellery history, periods, styles and hallmarks to help with your collecting. If you have any specific questions or comments, please email us on firstname.lastname@example.org
We curate and classify the following periods as Antique:
- 1714 – 1837 Georgian Era
- 1811 – 1820 Regency Period – when the Prince Regent ruled instead of his father George III who was deemed unfit
- 1837 – 1901 Victorian Era
- 1901 – 1914 Edwardian Era (although Edward reigned until his death in1910, the period is often extended beyond this date until the beginning or end of the First World War)
- c1880 – 1915 Art Nouveau
- 1920 - 1939 Art Deco
We curate and classify Vintage Jewellery in decades, from 40s to 70s, and very occasionally stock a few more recent costume pieces if we feel they’re particularly special.
Georgian Jewellery (1714 – 1830)
In the Georgian era, most things including Jewellery were hand made by craftsmen. The real age of industrial production did not start until the late 1700s, and so even if items contain an element which has been produced on a larger scale – such as a clasp or fixing, nearly all items will have been completely handmade. Gold of this era is 18 or 22 carat and stones are most likely to be set into silver and have a closed back.
Starting with the ornate Rococo style of the early Georgian period, motifs transitioned from Gothic Revival during the mid-Georgian era, to Neoclassical during the transitional 'Regent period' of George IV. Popular jewellery styles of the period were both elaborate and intricate, forming ornate arrangements such as 'chandelier' style earrings, rivière necklaces with their 'flowing river' of diamonds, and multi-strand festoons or three-strand en esclavage necklaces' forming swagged concentric rings. In keeping with the excesses of the times, diamonds were a favourite gemstone of the early Georgian Era. Gemstones were used in ornate repoussé settings, forming a raised metal pattern by working from the back side of the piece. Other complex Georgian accessories were the cannetille, chatelaine, and stomacher. The stomacher was an elaborately decorated triangular pane, filling in the front opening of a woman's bodice. Cannetille work was another popular Georgian style of metalsmithing, being made up of lacy, open filigree consisting of tightly wound twisted gold wires, forming a coiled spiral that resembles spun gold. A chatelaine is a decorative clasp worn at the waist, with a series of suspended chains.
Key popular items from the latter Regency period were brooches, pearl necklaces, earrings and bracelets. Often pendants would be tied or suspended on ribbon rather than chains which became the vogue from the Victorian era onwards. Large diamond deposits were also discovered during the Georgian era and new developments in technology made it possible to cut these to give them sparkle for the first time.
Victorian Jewellery (1830 – 1901)
The early Victorian years from 1837 to around 1860 were referred to as the ‘Romantic Period’ marked by the Queen's marriage to Prince Albert in 1840. Romanticism was a social shift away from the aristocratic, social, and political norms of the Enlightenment period, stressing the importance of dreams, emotions and sentimentality as inspirational source material for artistic expression. The Romantic era also brought about a new fascination with nature, adding Eden-like symbols such as the serpent, grapes, flowers, and birds to the 'romantic' motif.
Victorian era fashion and design blended an eclectic array of stylistic motifs such as Elizabethan, Classical and Gothic revival, Greco-Roman, Neoclassical, Orientalism, Rococo and Romanticism, all tailored to fit the new vision of an "ideal woman" as pure, unadulterated, and subservient.
After Queen Victoria and Prince Albert had purchased Balmoral Castle in the Caledonian woodlands of Scotland in 1848, Celtic motifs began to permeate English culture. By the end of the Romantic Period, brooches and pendants containing polished agate gemstones called Scottish Pebble Jewellery had become very popular.
So called "hair jewellery" or "memorial mourning brooches" became a staple of the period, with Queen Victoria giving gifts of jewellery made from her hair. Mourning brooches were made by weaving small locks of a loved one's hair into detailed "hair art." The locks were mounted on an agate or mother-of-pearl backing and then covered with domed glass. Human hair was also woven into elaborate designs and patterns used on pins, brooches, and bracelets.
After a twenty year run, the Romantic era ended suddenly with the death of Queen Victoria's husband, Prince Albert in 1860. A new period of mourning known as the Mid-Victorian or "Grand" Period, lasted from 1860 to 1885. Darker stones such as jet and black onyx began to appear in jewellery, symbolic of the national mood.
After Queen Victoria was crowned as the Empress of India in 1876, 'Orientalism' brought about a newfound fascination with the Far East, as Eastern and Indian motifs worked their way into European art and jewellery design.
The Late Victorian period (aka the Aesthetic Period) extended from 1885 to Queen Victoria's death in 1900. As the prolonged malaise of the Grand Period waned, a new spirit of lightness swept over England like a cool breeze. Fun was back in vogue, and a sense of whimsy was brought on by the influence of the Queen's daughter-in-law, Princess Alexandra.
Global expansionism of the British Empire was the hallmark of this period. With the discovery of the Kimberley Diamond Fields in North Cape, South Africa, Queen Victoria would usher in a new era that was resplendent with diamonds. This period reached its zenith with the Queen's Diamond Jubilee in 1897, three years before her passing.
In terms of craft and materials, Industrialisation enabled the mass production of larger and cheaper pieces, and for the first time costume jewellery made an appearance. Gold became more available with its discovery in America and Australia. From 1854 onwards, 9, 12 and 15 carat gold started to be used to make more affordable gold jewellery which became distinctly fashionable. New sources of coloured gemstones were also discovered which resulted in another style change - the backs were more often left open in jewellery to give added brilliance to the stones. At the end of the Victorian era we see the start of the arts movements each with their own stylish influence on Jewellery: Arts and Crafts from about 1880 to 1910 and Art Nouveau from circa 1880 to 1915.
Art Nouveau Period (c1880 to 1915)
The Art Nouveau movement was one of the first departures from classical art and design, towards a new modernism. Art Nouveau flowed on naturally from the Arts and Crafts period and occurred during what was known in France as the "Belle Époque," or "beautiful era" period of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The movement was primarily influenced by the radical work of Czech artist Alfons Mucha; with Gaudi, Guimard (responsible for the Parisian ‘Metro’ work) and English illustrator Aubrey Beardsley being amongst other key protagonist of the style.
The Art Nouveau movement focused heavily on the themes of nature, fantasy, and the female form, with sensual flowing shapes that simulate organic growth that is reminiscent of the primeval Garden of Eden. Art Nouveau jewellery encompassed many distinct features including a focus on the female form and an emphasis on colour, most commonly rendered through the use of enamelling techniques including basse-taille, champleve, cloisonné and plique à jour ("open to light"). Motifs included orchids, irises, pansies, vines, swans, peacocks, snakes, dragonflies, mythological creatures and the female silhouette. Some of the floral motifs that were used in the Art Nouveau style were borrowed from English artist William Morris' 'Arts and Crafts Movement' of the late Victorian era.
The "craft" of jewellery design and metal-working was reborn in the elaborate and imaginative creations of the time. Jewellery designers such as Georges Fouquet and Lucien Gautrait, as well as glass designers Louis Comfort Tiffany and René Lalique combined Japanese motifs with popular natural elements to create elaborate Art Nouveau jewellery designs. The jewellers were keen to establish the new style in a noble tradition, and for this they looked back to the Renaissance, with its jewels of sculpted and enamelled gold, and its acceptance of jewellers as artists rather than craftsmen. In most of the enamelled work of the period, precious stones receded. Diamonds were usually given subsidiary roles, used alongside less-familiar materials such as moulded glass, horn and ivory. The famous Liberty & Co London store popularised the style in England.
Edwardian Jewellery (1901 – 1914)
The Edwardian era actually lasted until 1910 but the styles in Jewellery largely remained the same up until circa 1920. Edward VII and his attractive Danish bride, Alexandria, brought a cosmopolitan flair to fashions and jewellery during this exuberant time in history. The Edwardian style in jewellery embraced precious metals - gold (and rolled gold for more accessible purchases) with platinum being used for precious stone mountings. Jewellers used platinum and diamonds to create intricate and delicate filigree patterns that resembled lace. Light and airy designs became hallmarks of Edwardian jewellery.
Alexandria wore a choker type necklace called a "dog collar" which became popular during the Edwardian jewellery period. Pearls were quite fashionable, along with jewels for the hair, or "tiaras" combined with beautiful dangling earrings. King Edward enjoyed sports and encouraged the use of sporting motifs. He also helped make his good luck stone, the peridot, very popular. Other gemstones which were popular include diamonds, emeralds, rubies, garnets, aquamarines, opals and moonstones. Popular motifs included flowers, birds, hearts and stars.
Art Deco (1920 – 1939)
The Art Deco movement was founded by members of the French artists’ collective known as the La Société des Artistes Décorateurs, following the Paris Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels, held in 1925. Some of the founders such as Eugène Grasset and Hector Guimard were also instrumental in establishing Art Nouveau some twenty years earlier. Growing political tensions, the after-effects of the war, and a reaction against the perceived decadence of the turn of the century led to simpler forms, combined with more effective manufacturing for mass production of high-quality jewellery. The Art Deco style also borrowed from the other Modernism movements of the time, such as Bauhaus, Cubism, Empire Neo. The movement was originally referred to as ‘Style Moderne’ and it wasn't until the 1960s when English art historian Bevis Hillier first coined the name ‘Art Deco.’ The name Art Deco refers to the movement's effect on the ‘decorative arts’, meaning the more commercial artistic disciplines of architecture, graphic arts, and industrial design, but the name was also used in reference to the fine arts. As a stylistic motif, Art Deco managed to permeate every aspect daily life, from fashion, to consumer products and film. Of course, jewellery was no exception, and the Art Deco movement had a profound effect on jewellery design.
The Art Deco style is probable one of the easiest artistic styles to recognize, with its modern ultra clean lines, trapezoidal shapes, stepped edges, and arched corners. Jewellery from the Art Deco period took on an architectural appearance, with gemstones being cut in bold geometric shapes such as the emerald cut, pentagon, trapezoid, or triangle. Another characteristic of the Art Deco movement was to combine bold, contrasting tones like black and white. Diamonds and light coloured gemstones were mixed with dark materials of black onyx or Bakelite, for a striking appearance. Diamonds were also Pavé set into bold patterns to form a contrasting white field.
Because the Art Deco movement was an industrial movement, industrial looking white metals were commonly used in jewellery production. Popular metals of the period were silver, platinum, and white gold. In Europe, designers like Cartier, the House of Mauboussin and Van Cleef & Arpels were at the forefront of the Art Deco jewellery movement, whilst in the States, American jewellery designers like Harry Winston and Tiffany & Co. became known for their iconic Art Deco style.