The Romantic Era 1837-1860

Portrait of an Early Victorian Woman

Portrait of an Early Victorian Woman, unknown artist

The Early Victorian period of 1837-1860 is also known as ‘The Romantic Period’.

Greatly influenced by the idyllic marriage and courtship of Queen Victoria, the styles of this era reflected this romantic sensibility.  As in the Georgian era, sentiment, symbolism and meaning were still vitally important.  If the era could be defined in one word, it would be ‘feminine’.  Nostalgia for the Middle Ages abounded and Renaissance themes were popular.  Women took over men as the primary wearers of jewelry. Gems were now almost always worn opened backed (a jour).

Jewelry in the early part of this period was still handmade. However, in 1852 hand operated presses for stamping and cutting settings were developed and jewelry suddenly could be made less expensively. Some of this less expensive jewelry included gilt and glass gems.  Pinchbeck was still in use until the 1840s when it was replaced gradually with electroplating. The new use of electroplating, beginning in 1840, caused a new and sudden wave of costume jewelry, making it possible for people of all levels of wealth to wear styles which would have once only been for the upper classes. A new middle class was emerging in this era and the jewelry of the day catered to this market; in terms of jewelry it was a very dramatic shift.  1854 marked a big change for gold standards. Prior to 1854, hallmarking was allowed for 22 karat and 18 karat.  Tricolor gold and silver were also used.  After 1854, 9, 12 and 15 karat gold were legalized, in order to encourage international trade. Suddenly, jewelry could be worn by a shop assistant, a housewife or a Princess; the more rapid fluctuation in fashions reflected this new universality.

Generally, it was only considered appropriate for married women of a certain age to wear diamonds and gemstones.  Unmarried women were expected to wear mourning jewelry, chains, crosses and pearls.

A mid 19th century amethyst and diamond necklace

A mid 19th century amethyst and diamond necklace
Christie’s Sale 8127

Techniques, materials and types

Victorians on their ‘Grand Tour’ collected micro-mosaics and lava cameos from Italy. Cameos of all kinds were very popular.  Swiss enameled plaques also became popular. The craze for Scottish Jewelery was also begun by Queen Victoria in this period. Gold etching was popular.  Colorful gemstones and diamonds (with rose cut or early brilliant) were loved.

Coral was very much in fashion until around 1865.  Seed-pearls were extremely popular, particularly with flower motifs, and were often worn as bridal jewelry. Amethyst, topaz, turquoise, chalcedony, garnet and ruby were popular. Agate, onyx, glass, carnelian, emerald, amber, peridot, ruby, sapphire and pearls were loved. Bog oak, cut steel, ivory, tortoiseshell were also used.

Elaborate and fantastic pieces were created entirely out of human hairJet and French jet (made with glass) were also worn.

Motifs and Influences

Serpent jewelry was at its most popular in this era, due to Victoria’s engagement ring having this motif.  Snakes meant ‘eternity’.  Hearts, anchors and crosses were prevalent. Naturalistic themes were also strongly dominant and many pieces show motifs of flowers, leaves, berries, fruits and berries. The symbolism of flowers was very important to the Victorians and particular flowers motifs would be worn and given because of the meaning behind them.

Archeological digs uncovering ancient civilizations inspired a plethora of new ancient-inspired design in jewelry. Sir Austen Henry Laynard published Nineveh and its Remains in 1848.  Assyrian styles became popular, including the lotus flower which became a popular Victorian motif for at least the next forty years.  When the French conquered Algeria in 1830, Algerian influences began to influence European jewelry; festoons, cords, knots and tassels were common.

Acrostic jewelry was also worn. Roses, lilies, chrysanthemums and fuchsias were fashionable flowers. Sentimental and mourning jewelry was worn during this period (although mourning jewelry wasn’t to become a rage until the ‘Grand Era’ 1860 – 1885).

Symbolic Meaning of Motifs During Romantic Era

Dog – faithfulness / Butterfly – Soul / Daisy – virtue / Fern – attraction / Mistletoe – A kiss / Doves – domestic / Bluebells – reliability / Wishbone – Wish and Hope / Lilac – Constant Love or first feeling of love / Flaming Heart – passion / Forget Me Nots – Remember me / Arrows – Love / Crowned Heart – love / Ivy – Friendship / Clasped Hands – Lasting Love / Anchor – Hope

Necklaces

Necklaces were usually worn short and close to the neck although long gold chains were also worn.  Pave, particularly with snakes and naturalistic motifs, was popular.  Pendants and lockets with naturalistic motifs on ribbons or chains, as well as buckle motifs were common.  Lockets would usually be worn under clothing, close to the heart. Watches on long chains were worn.  Rivieres, often of amethyst or cameos or seed pearls or coral, were also worn.

Necklace

Necklace, silver and gold, pavé-set with turquoises, with rubies, pearls and brilliant-cut diamonds
England, 1835-1840
V&A

Hair and head ornamentation

In keeping with the love of all things Renaissance, Ferronières, were worn by women between the years of 1830 to 1845.  These truly charming jewelry items consisted of a chain or cord worn around the center of the forehead with a single dangling gem. Tiaras were also massively popular, with naturalistic motifs dominating until the 1840 when Gothic motifs began to dominate. As 1860 approached, hair ornamention of all manner became more and more popular.

Tiara

Tiara, brilliant-cut diamond set in silver, with rubies set in gold, and a gold frame
c. 1835, Europe
V&A

Brooches

Large brooches were popular.  Often, these could double as a pendant and had a loop for a chain.  They were worn at the neck during the day and at the décolletage for evening wear. Sometimes, they were worn on the shoulder or in the hair or even on the waist.  Sometimes, fresh flowers would be added. Naturalistic themes dominated, particularly flowers, in a corsage motif.  Sometimes the leaves were enameled green.

Brooch

Gold brooch set with turquoise and diamonds
c.1850, England,
V&A Museum

Earrings

Between the years of 1837-1840, long earrings were considered proper for evening dress.  Between the years 1840-1850, earrings were very rarely worn as the hairstyles of the time covered the ears (and in fact it wasn’t even considered modest to show the ear).  In the 1850s, hair began to be worn off the face again and smaller earrings began to make an appearance, although it wasn’t until the 1860s that they entirely came back.  As Godey’s Lady’s Book stated in 1855: “We give up the ear.  Pretty or not, it cannot afford to be shown.  Any face in the world looks bold with the hair put away so as to show the ears.  They must be covered.  The curving of the jaw needs the intersecting shade of the falling curl, or of the plait of braid drawn across it.  So evident is it to us that nature intended the female ear to be covered (by giving long hair to women, and making the ears concealment almost inevitable as well as necessary to her beauty)-that we only wonder the wearing of it covered, by hair or cap, has never been put down among the rudiments of modesty.”

Earrings

Earrings, gold set with pierced pearls and foiled garnets
Italy, c. 1820 – 1860
V&A

Bracelets

Bracelets were very popular during this era and were probably the most common jewelry item.  They were generally very big, at least over an inch wide and were often hinged or with linked lozenges. They were usually worn in matching pairs or in groups. Flexible, stretchy bracelets appeared as these could be worn higher up the arms. Serpent motifs abounded, often with pave and turquoise and other semi-precious stones.  Enamel work, often deep blue, was popular as well as diamonds for the wealthy.  Garter (jarretière) motifs were popular.  Hair-work and ribbons were common.  Mesh bracelets were also popular, often set with cameo or miniatures.  Often they would have very ornate clasps.

Bracelet

Bracelet, gold, gold filigree, dannetille decoration, pearls and turquoises
C. 1830-1850, England,
V&A Museum

Rings

Rings would commonly be figural carved in high relief, snake motifed, gem-set, enameled, buckle or floral motifed.  Cluster rings were also worn.  Rings would often be worn as love tokens and for mourning (with black enamel).

Ring

Ring, orange-brown tourmaline, in a gold mount
England 1800-69
V&A

Sources / further reading: 

http://www.langantiques.com/university/index.php/Romantic_Period_1837-1860

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_conquest_of_Algeria

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electroplating#History

http://blog.pamonfifth.com/era/

http://www.webtrify.com/romantic-era-jewelry/

http://www.collectorsweekly.com/fine-jewelry/victorian-edwardian

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