Empress Ellisabeth, by Franz Winterhalter, 1865
The mid-Victorian era 1861-1880 is also known as ‘The Grand Era’.
The era began in 1861 with the death of Prince Albert, which plunged Queen Victoria into mourning for decades to come. Mourning jewelry became very fashionable and was mandatory in court. Mourning attire became a formalized code and mourning itself became almost like a cult. It seems there was a general obsession with darkness and grief, at least in mainstream Victorian culture. Meanwhile, in the United States, the Civil War had begun, increasing the somber mood internationally. In 1865, the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln truly deepened the world-wide fashion for mourning. After the gaiety and youthful sensibilities of ‘The Romantic Era’, the culture now leaned towards somberness, formality and ostentation.
Of course, as always, along side the mainstream, there were other attitudes at play. For every stereo-type we have of the ‘Grand-era’, the opposite was also true. Naturalism, which had become a formal movement in 1850, was still developing and flourishing behind the scenes. The taste for nostalgia and mystery seemed stronger than ever. Whilst prudery and modesty were the order of the day, fashion created what is arguably the most exaggerated female form ever seen in history. With the new jewelry production methods, the taste for novelty could be satisfied with increasingly whimsical and fun motifs. Although the mid-Victorians have a reputation for being repressed and patriarchal, creativity, femininity and sensuality flourished, along side the arts and invention.
The Bunch of Lilacs, 1875, James Tissot (1836-1902)
Notice the simple black ribbons she is wearing at her throat and wrist. Coupled with the colorful dress it is unlikely that this lady is in mourning; rather she is wearing the fashion for black accessories that was popular at that time.
Styles were altogether ‘larger’ during the Grand Era and the larger dresses with bustles, hoops and petticoats created a form which called for larger and bolder jewelry pieces. Societal rank, age, occasion and dress determined what jewellery could be worn and when. One manual on etiquette said that pearls, diamonds and emeralds were for full evening wear only.
It was also an era of enormous changes on many levels. A revolution in costume jewelry (also known as ‘secondary jewelry’) happened during this period as machines were increasingly being used for jewelry production. The rise of costume jewelry was economically fueled by a new law in England in 1870 that allowed women to keep their own earnings (and therefore spend it on jewelry). The taste for bigger and bolder designs could be satisfied as a result of the new machining methods. As a new middle class emerged, jewelry shifted towards more dispensable and affordable creations. Although Empress Eugenie remained a constant style icon it seems that styles were changing at a much faster pace now, and new designs and reinventions of older designs seemed to emerge with each new season.
TECHNIQUES, MATERIALS AND TYPES
Gold and metal
Gilt metal was replaced by low karat gold and Doublé d’or (also called ‘rolled’ gold or ‘filled’ gold) for costume and lower-priced jewelry. Sheets of brass with a layer of this gold and filled with base metal could be machine stamped (die stamped) into any variety of shapes and sizes. Pinchbeck was replaced by this new process and was no longer used. There was also a series of gold discoveries world-wide which made gold more affordable. These less expensive low karat and rolled gold pieces were rarely marked. Book chain was created with the new stamping machines.
Hollow work and enamel
The new stamping techniques allowed for the creation of pieces that were referred to as ‘hollow’ work. Hollow work were often engraved and filled with black taille d’épargné enamel (or black-enamel tracery.) Niello, a somewhat similar enamel technique, was also used.
As seems to have been true in almost every era, pearls were highly valued and worn by the upper classes.
This lady below appears to be wearing a rope length string of pearls, doubled to create a princess and opera length.
Portrait of Emilia Włodkowska, 1865 by Jozef Simmler
Diamonds were more plentiful since they had been discovered in South Africa in 1867 and there was more focus on the gemstone itself with less visible settings. Diamonds were used alone or as a backdrop for colored stones. Tiffany, the largest jeweler in the United States, popularized blue sapphires and tourmalines. A very large deposit of Australian opals was mined in 1871 and the opal at last became popular. Garnets, sapphires, citrine and topaz were popular stones. Empress Eugenie loved emeralds and they became almost as valued as diamonds.
In the 1860s, silver was discovered in Nevada and suddenly pieces which had always been produced in gold were now often made in silver. Once again, the trend towards more affordable jewelry continued.
Pique reached a peak in 1860, with machine made pique emerging in 1872.
The craze for coral jewelry continued. It was believed to promote health and well being and was still given to children to wear for protection.
Hair work jewelry was also extremely popular.
MOTIFS AND INFLUENCES
There were now rigid dress codes for mourning. Jet was, of course, the most common material used for mourning jewelry; according to many formal mourning attire codes, it was practically mandatory. Less expensive alternatives to jet also flourished; these included black glass called French jet, vulcanite, (a hardened rubber), bog oak, (which although brown was still very dark,) gutta-percha, black onyx and black enamel. Many jewelry pieces from the era had serious and somber designs. Heavy and dark stones such as amethyst and garnet were frequently worn in mourning pieces. Tortoiseshell was also worn. Black accessories were not only worn by those in mourning, but also were worn as fashion statements.
The Renaissance and Middle Ages Revival, which had begun in earnest in the 1850s, continued. A key figure of the the Neo-Renaissance style throughout this era was Carlo Giuliano. He embraced the Renaissance aesthetic and adapted its designs to suit the Victorian woman. Enamel work, colorful gemstones, pearls and fleur-de-lis links were common in Renaissance Revival styles.
With the trend for the wealthy to take a ‘Grand Tour’ of Italy, ancient and traditional Italian styles and techniques were at the peak of popularity. With all the new archeological discoveries, ancient influences abounded. Cameo experienced a revival. Ancient mosaic techniques were popular. Ancient styles of all kinds, but particularly Etruscan, were very popular. Egyptian motifs for earrings and brooches included lotus blossoms, scarabs, falcons and the heads of Pharaohs. The Italian goldsmith Castellani was the master of Etruscan and Egyptian jewelry.
Stars and astrological motifs
In the 1860s, stars were probably the most popular motif of all.
Insects and naturalistic motifs
Realistic insects included all manner of flies, beetles, wasps, dragonflies, butterflies, bees and spiders. These were often set with multicolored gemstones and could be worn prolifically in unexpected places, such as on veils, hats, sleeves and shoulders. Mr. William d’Arfey in Curious Relations writes that in the late 1860s, ‘Bonnets and veils were covered with every kind of beetle; that at least was the beginning of the mode, but it soon extended itself from rose-beetles with their bronze and green carapaces to stag beetles… Parasols were liberally sprinkled with ticks, with grasshoppers, with woodlice. Veils were sown with earwigs, with cock-chafers, with hornets. Tulle scarves and veilings sometimes had on them artificial bed-bugs…’
Other naturalistic motifs included flowers, plants and birds. The ‘language of flowers’ continued.
Garter and buckle motifs
The garter motif and the related buckle motif continued.
The serpent motif continued.
Novel styles became more common during this period, such as this fashionable ‘manchette’ or cuff bracelet below. Fish, lizards, bells, birdcages, household tools such as hammers and other everyday objects were worn, often as dangling earrings.
England, c 1860
Gold with turquoise and pearls
‘Manchette’ or cuff bracelets became fashionable in France in the 1850s and 60s and then spread to England. In a letter to her daughter, the Princess Frederick William of Prussia, in 1861 Queen Victoria described a wedding anniversary gift of ‘a beautiful bracelet which he got at Coburg- from Gotha- a large elastic gold bracelet like a cuff – and so pretty’.
The gold on this bracelet is textured to look like cloth. A buttonhole and button are formed of the turquoise and pearl fashionable in the period.
Tiaras and Ferronieres and Hair ornamentation
Tiaras were revived in the Grand period. In the 1860s, tiaras were designed as wreaths of gold leaves or gabled point with sloping sides. Louis XVI styles with gemstone drops were popular. In the 1870s, the Tiara Russe, a diamond spike motif that later developed into a radiating motif was introduced. Brooches were pinned in the hair. Elaborate combs and bandeau were worn in the hair.
England, c. 1880
Christie’s Sale 2306
c. 1860, CAMEO AND ENAMEL DIADEM AND MATCHING BROOCH
Christie’s Sale 3002
Parures (complete jewelry sets) often had Archaeological Revival themes. Gold with enamel, garnets and other small gemstones, carved coral, cameos and tiger claws were popular. Entire sets made with precious stones were rarer. Demi-parures, with an adaptable brooch that could also be worn as a pendant and earrings that could also be worn as a choker were also in style.
France, c. 1860,
DEMI-PARURE with email and diamonds
Christie’s Sale 5624
Shorter necklaces, often with flexible tubular links and with a hanging pendant or trio of pendants were worn. The Léontine chain, (named for the actress) was popular; this was made of woven gold ribbon, with a watch hook on one end and a tassel on the other and was wrapped around the neck with the two ends joined by a slide in front.
England, c. 1875
Gold cross set with pearls and lapis lazuli, hanging from flexible gold chain
Wide gold bands were popular, often featuring a central star or claw set gem. The navette-shape (boat-set) with a trio of stones, as well as the cluster and half-hoop rings were popular. Gypsy-set rings, disguising a doublet stone or protecting a very valuable one were created around 1875. Snake rings with gem studded heads were still in fashion. Mourning rings would be lined with hair or black enamel.
England, c. 1870.
Ring, gold set with a cabochon sapphire in a serrated collet and with applied ornament.
By the 1850s, ears had once again began to be shown although revealing the ears wasn’t completely normalized again until the 1860s. Earrings were still only the ‘Shepherd’s Hook’ and the front closure kind. Motifs included archaeological revival with gold amphorae and granulation, twisted wires and rosettes. Hoops, spheres, crosses, flowers, drops, insects, stars and novelty motifs were favored.
England, c. 1860
Earrings, diamonds, gold and silver
Pendants were probably the most popular type of necklace in the era. They could be suspended from strings of pearls, from chains or from ribbons. Enameled lozenge-shapes and Renaissance style gem-set cruciforms, often with chains which also had matching enameled plaques. Sentimental lockets containing locks of hair, daguerreotypes and other mementos were universal. Chased silver lockets made their first appearance in the late 1870s. Lockets could also be gem-set or enameled and have monograms, stars, insects, buckles and serpents.
Diamonds and silver pendant.
Brooches and Pins
In the 1860s, round or oval brooches with a central cabochon or enameled dome in a decorative setting were popular. Often, brooches doubled as pendants and therefore brooches began to be orientated vertically instead of horizontally. Roman mosaic, cameos and portrait miniatures were frequently worn in brooches, as well as Celtic and Scottish style brooches. Naturalistic bugs, hummingbirds, feathers and flowers, set en tremblant, were worn as well as stars. Sporting and horse-riding motif brooches with saddles, stirrups, balls, clubs and horseshoes were considered appropriate day-wear jewelry.
- Brooch, England c. 1850-1865
Citrine set in stamped gold
Bracelets were made of gold curb, ship’s cable or flexible links. They often made a decorative buckle or a central gem-set. It was considered desirable to wear a lot of bracelets together; up to seven or either bracelets or bangles of different designs might be worn on each arm, often over gloves. Bangles were often wide bands with a motif, cameo, intaglio or plaque which could often be detached. Gem pavéd bracelets were considered very desirable. Hinged bangle bracelets were also worn and are probably the item most associated with use of taille d’epergne enamelwork.
Bracelet with brilliantand rose-cut diamonds and pearls set in gold with black enamel
Sources / Resources: