Jewellery of the Great Exhibition, 1851

Jewellery of the Great Exhibition, 1851

The Great Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations (aka ‘The Crystal Palace Exhibition’) opened on May 1st in 1851. It was the first and most well known of many subsequent world fairs. It showcased the peak of achievement and modern technology from the British Empire as well as many other countries. It was considered a celebration of industry, arts and culture and was one of the most colourful events of the Victorian Romantic Era. 

The exhibition took place in a purposefully designed building in the Hyde Park area of London. The building was made of glass and iron and resembled a giant greenhouse. Although some doubted its safety, it was considered by most to be an architectural marvel. It became known as ‘The Crystal Palace’ and had an area of about 19 acres or 772,284 square feet.

The exhibition itself must have been a true wonder to behold. It brought sights normally reserved for the elites to the average person. There were literally miles of amazing things to see – from manufacturing machinery to engines and steam hammers and boilers. There were inventions and discoveries, musical instruments, furniture, fine textiles, pottery, laces, clocks, toys, colourful glass and much more.

The jewellery and the precious materials which were displayed at the exhibition drew much attention and went on to influence a whole generation of designs with repercussions to this day.

Below is an overview of some of these displays. This is not meant to be a conclusive list but, rather, an impression.

The Great Diamonds

On proud display were two of the greatest diamonds ever discovered. The 280 carat Koh-i-Noor, meaning the ‘Mountain of Light’, was, in 1851, the world’s largest known diamond. It was acquired in 1850 as part of the Lahore Treaty. Also on display was the Daria-i-Noor, one of the rare pale pink diamonds in the world. It was 177 carats.

These stupendous diamonds must have been a breathtaking sight for the average Victorian who would not necessarily have been exposed to diamonds in their everyday life, let alone ones of this size. The effect must have been to spur on a greater desire for diamonds in the general populace.


A.W.N. Pugin’s Medieval Court

The designer A.W.N. Pugin presented a ‘medieval court’ complete with fixtures, furnishings, art and fine textiles.


Pugin’s ‘Medieval Court’.

As part of this breathtaking display he also presented a range of jewellery resplendent with gothic and ecclesiastical motifs, blue and green enamel work, pearls, turquoise and cabochon garnets in medieval style settings along with quatre-foils and other architectural inspired details. This line of jewellery appealed to the romantic nature of the Victorians who were in love with a perceived lost history, the novels of Sir Walter Scott and the notion of honour and courtly love. Pugin’s range caused an explosive revival in enamelling techniques and medieval influenced styles.


Pugin Brooch A. W. Pugin, born 1812 – died 1852 V&A museum

George Waterhouse’s Celtic Revival

The early 8th-century Tara Brooch, discovered in 1850, was the finest known Irish penannular brooch. It was exhibited by the Dublin jeweller George Waterhouse along with a display of his fashionable Celtic Revival jewellery. These Celtic Revival designs would have appealed to the romantic nature of the Victorians and their reverence for the perceived beauty of the deep past.

This line of jewellery went on to inspire generations of Celtic influenced styles. Queen Victorian presentation of gifts of Scottish Jewellery at the Exhibition’s  Opening Ball gave further impetus to this trend.


Drawing of the Tara Brooch

Wedgewood Cameos

Wedgewood, of course, is famous for his jasperware cameos. Even though they began to be produced in 1769, they were showcased at the Great Exhibition and catapulted to popularity as a way to bring relatively inexpensive cameo jewellery and the neo-classical styles to a those who had previously only been able to admire from afar.


Wedgewood Cameos.

Sunar Indian Jewellery

Gold ornaments and silver enamelled handicrafts fabricated by the Sunar caste from Sind, British India, were given much attention. These exotic and ornate pieces went on to inspire a taste for Indian influenced jewellery and ornamentation that continues to this day.


Sunar ornaments.

Gutta Percha

It was at the Great Exhibition that the rubber gum based material Gutta Percha made its debut with a diverse range of products displayed by The Gutta Percha Company. Gutta Percha was one of the first natural plastics, a lightweight, adaptable material which became popular for jewellery in the 1850s and throughout the 1860s and 1870s.

The Crystal Place catalogue of 1851 had this definition, ‘The Isonandra Gutta, the source of the gum, known as gutta percha, one of the most useful substances introduced into the arts during the present century.’


Gutta Percha Brooch

Primitive Jewellery

There were many pieces of jewellery on display crafted by pre-technological peoples from far-flung locations. These exotic materials and simple designs certainly went on to have a great influence on the styles of the era.


Shell Necklace, Displayed at the Great Exhibition, 1851. Oyster Cove, Tasmania, before 1851. Trustees of the British Museum.

Devaranne’s Cast Iron

Devaranne is recorded in 1828 as a manufacturer of cast-iron wares and in 1850 as owner of a cast-iron foundry. In 1825 he was asked to supply cast-iron wares for a Parisian firm of goldsmiths. He showed cast-iron jewellery at the Great Exhibition in 1851 (Art Journal illustrated Catalogue, 1851, p. 37).


Devaranne Cast Iron Brooch.

Nature Motifs

Also in evidence were many floral and nature themed motifs as the Victorian movement of ‘Naturalism’ emerged as a counterbalance to the growth in industry and technology.

The Art-Journal Illustrated Catalogue said, ‘The taste for floral ornament in jewellery has been very prevalent of late and it’s a good and happy taste, inasmuch as an enamelled leaf or floret of brilliant colour is an excellent foil to a sparkling stone. We have scarcely seen the designs for jewellery at any period more tasteful, elegant, and appropriate than they are at the present day.’


Plate 24. Group of jewellery selected from the costly and elegant assortment exhibited by Messrs. Hunt and Roskell. Jewellery in the Great Exhibition from the 1851 Illustrated London News.

As an interesting side note – William Morris, the renowned British Arts and Crafts philosopher and designer, is reported to have visited the Great Exhibition and been appalled by what he saw. He found the technology ‘dehumanising and ugly’. The exhibition was, no doubt, an impetus for him as he developed his anti-industrialisation philosophy and iconic designs.

For many others, The Great Exhibition of 1851 was a source of inspiration that continues to this day.

© Pippa Gaubert Bear and Elder and Bloom LLC, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Pippa Bear and Elder and Bloom with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Other Reading / Sources


Art Nouveau Design Houses

Art Nouveau Design Houses

Here is an overview of four prominent Art Nouveau jewelry design houses:


1888 until present

Founded by Lalique, Rene (1860-1945)

Probably the most famous Art Nouveau Designer of all, Lalique’s jewelry designs are renowned for their delicate plique-à-jour enamel work and use of the female form.

Rene Lalique also sold designs to the great jewelry houses of Boucheron, Cartier and Verver.


KOCH, GERMANY 1879-1987

In 1883 Koch received the title of ‘Jeweler of the court’ and worked for European Royal families such as the Czar of Russia or the King of Italy.


Founded by Pierre Vever (1795 – 1853)

Known for fine, gem-set Art Nouveau jewelry and hair combs. One of Vever’s most famous designers was Eugene Grasset (1841-1917).

Henri Vever “La Bretonne” Pendant, circa 1900. Lang’s Jewelry University. 

FOUQUET, FRANCE, 1852-1936.

Founded by Alphonse Fouquet and taken over by his son, Georges Fouquet in 1895.

Known for naturalistic and sensuous Art Nouveau styles.

The company worked with the renowned artists and designers Charles Desrosiers, Alphonse Mucha and Etienne Tourette.

Fouquet Abalone Pearl and Plique-á-Jour Enamel Brooch with Chatelaine, 1901.
Photo Courtesy of Christie’s.


Sources / Further reading:à-jour


Copyright © 2017 by Pippa Gaubert Bear and Elder & Bloom. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this website’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Pippa Bear and Elder & Bloom with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Myrtle Bridal Tiaras

Myrtle Bridal Tiaras

“A plant of immortality, myrtle was an emblem of love and desire; poets, especially love poets, were crowned with it, and doorposts were wreathed with myrtle in nuptial celebrations.” – Deirdre Larkin, The Art of Illumination. 

The tradition of wearing myrtle headpieces for weddings dates back to ancient times. Myrtle was revered by the ancient Greeks, Romans and Hebrews and myrtle wedding garlands were popular throughout medieval Europe. The practise experienced a renaissance during the Victorian and Edwardian eras with the Naturalistic Movements and, later, the Art Nouveau Movement. With the explosion in romanticism, finely crafted myrtle tiaras and corsages became an established and widespread tradition throughout Europe, particularly Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

Myrtle has long been considered to be Aphrodite’s flower and a symbol of devoted love. It is also considered to be the chosen flower of Venus. The Three Graces are frequently depicted wearing myrtle flower crowns. The ancient Greeks and Romans bathed in myrtle scented waters, often when preparing for marriage. They wore them for other special events and also received them as athletic prizes and other honours. They were made of gold foil and were delicate and fragile. The ancient Hebrews associated myrtle with romantic love, procreation and marriage.

The sweet scent of myrtle is thought by many to be the very fragrance of romance itself.  It is a symbol of devotion and fidelity. In the Victorian Language of Flowers, myrtles’s simple and enduring meaning is ‘love and marriage’.  In English tradition, a marriage is said to always follow after the myrtle blooms. In Wales, the traditional gift for a bridesmaid was a sprig of myrtle.


Fabric Myrtle Tiaras

In Germany and Austria, delicately made waxed fabric myrtle and leaf garlands were the most frequent choice for weddings. Tiny green leaves, interspersed with delicate white flowers, are arranged by hand on a pliable wooden or waxed card framework. Here at Elder and Bloom, we refer to these treasures as ‘Woodland Garlands’. They are popular with brides wanting a bohemian, natural or outdoor woodland themed wedding whilst simultaneously honouring history.


Silver Myrtle Tiaras

The intricately made silver myrtle tiaras were worn to celebrate a couple’s 25th anniversary. (In Germany this was known as the ‘Silber Hochzeit’.) Usually these are made from a base metal or low karat silver alloy or sometimes silver plated brass or other alloy. More rarely, we will find one of these tiaras made from real 800 silver, sometimes stamped by the jeweller. They nearly always come with a matching boutonnière or corsage for the groom to wear. Sometimes they come with two corsages, one for the bride and one for the groom. Today, they are worn by discerning brides seeking meaning, rarity and beauty.

Golden Myrtle Tiaras

Golden versions, usually created from gilded base metal and sometimes from gilded 800 silver, are even rarer. These were worn for the fiftieth anniversary (in German, the Goldene Hochzeit), again with matching boutonnière for the groom. These create a stunning and remarkable accessory for a modern bride, with  additional depth of meaning as they were worn to celebrate truly enduring marriages.


Other Myrtle Tiaras

Other versions of myrtle tiaras were made from finely crafted silver or gold paper or possibly green paper leaves with delicately crafted white flowers. Wax versions were popular, especially in France. Sometimes, myrtle crowns can be found combined with a rose motif (another symbol of love and passion) or with a daisy motif (the daisy has long been associated with purity and innocence and is therefore appropriate for bridal wear). Just once, I was lucky enough to find a myrtle crown adorned with small gems.


Additional Information

Myrtle Crowns are often found framed with commemorative satin hearts, photos or gilded memorabilia, showing the dates and names of the wedding couple. At other times, they are found in small glass presentation domes on a quilted, satin base. Examples from the Art Deco era are sometimes found in hinged presentation boxes. Earlier examples can be found in round cardboard boxes, sometimes with the name of the original jewellers stamped on the bottom.

The earlier examples of these crowns were hand-wrought and the later versions were, although mass produced, still exquisitely crafted. These rare tiaras have proven very popular with contemporary brides and collectors drawn to the elegance, fineness and mystery. Valued for their heirloom qualities, they are sought after by those wanting to honour their European heritages. For a bride, they fulfil the requirement to wear something ‘old’ and create a talking point that fascinates their wedding guests.

I have been collecting and selling these exquisite pieces for many years. It brings me great joy to seek them out and then pass them on to enthusiastic customers. The beauty and craftsmanship of these historic pieces never ceases to amaze me.

To be put on the waiting list for the next available crown, please contact me at

Be sure to look through the ‘Galleries’ to see more examples of these crowns.

Copyright © 2017 by Pippa Gaubert Bear and Elder & Bloom. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this website’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Pippa Bear and Elder & Bloom with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Further reading / resources:

the three graces


Mizpah is from the Hebrew “watchtower”.  It comes from a passage from Genesis in the Bible: “And Mizpah;for he said, The Lord watch between me and thee when we are absent one from another”.  The word mizpah and sometimes the accompanying passage were engraved on many jewelry items during the Victorian era.   Often, the engraving would be subtle and only visible upon inspection.  But more often, the words would be the main feature of the jewelry item.  Mizapah jewelry can be found in both gold and silver or other metals. Antique Mizpah jewelry is considered to be highly collectible.

Typical Mizpah brooch.

Typical Mizpah brooch in gold

Sources / further reading:

Astronomical Motifs

Astronomically influenced motifs in jewelry have been popular since the Georgian era. The revolution in science and astronomy during the 19th century in particular created a fashion for stars, star-bursts and crescent moon motifs that continue to be worn to this day.

Crescent Moons

The crescent moon became an especially popular brooch motif in the late Victorian era.  Crescent moon brooches were often set with diamonds but could be set with paste, garnets or other gems.  In that era, there was an explosion of novelty and whimsical new designs and crescent moons could also be topped with a a wide variety of other motifs. The term  ‘Honeymoon Brooch’ normally  refers to a brooch with a crescent moon and a bee motif but it has also come to refer to any brooch with a crescent moon topped with another motif.


The simple crescent moon was a popular motif in the late Victorian era
England, c. 1890
Gold set with diamonds
V&A Museum

A Victorian diamond bird brooch

Diamond Victorian brooch
Christie’s Sale 5890

A late Victorian diamond brooch

A late Victorian diamond brooch
Christie’s Sale 5891

A victorian diamond brooch

Victorian Diamond Brooch
Christie’s Sale 5894

Stars and star bursts


England, 19th century
Pique brooches
V&A Museum


England, late 19th century, Brooch, gold, moonstones, silver

V&A Museum


19th century diamond pendant
Christie’s 3026


Christie’s Sale 5968

A mid 19th century diamond bracelet/brooch/pendant

A mid 19th century diamond bracelet/brooch/pendant
Christie’s Sale 7463

A late 19th century diamond star brooch

A late 19th century diamond star brooch
Christie’s Sale 7463

A late 19th century ruby, diamond, pearl and enamel pendant

A late 19th century ruby, diamond, pearl and enamel pendant
Christie’s Sale 6423

Sources / further reading:


A daguerreotype was the earliest kind of photograph.  When they were first patented in 1839 in France by Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre they quickly became a craze internationally and people rushed to sit for their portrait.  These sittings would involve sitting in the sun for at least thirty minutes and the results would be a dark black and white image on a mirror-like background (they were made on a silver coated metallic plate).  These portraits were made into brooches, pendants, put inside lockets and inside rings.  Copies could be made and given to friends and families.  The daguerreotype replaced the cameo and painted portrait miniatures which had been so popular before. The daguerreotype was itself replaced in the 1850s by other photographic processes.



Watch locket, seed pearl surround, Daguerreotype of a gentleman, lady on the reverse
1855 (ca)
Jewelry, Daguerreotype
Private collection of Larry West
Courtesy of Larry J. West, © West Companies, Inc., 2005. [From the book: Tokens of Affection and Regard]

Often combined with hair work, daguerreotypes were considered perfect as sentimental keepsakes as well as to mourn the dead.  It’s hard to imagine the fascination they must have held for people who previously had only seen their own likenesses in mirrors.  Lockets worn as pendants with daguerreotypes, often with hair inside, soon became the most popular kind of jewelry.  Brooches and lockets could be bought ready made and the daguerreotype could be placed inside. Often, the jewelry piece had an inscription. The image was placed under glass and many different materials were used to create containers for it.  These included molded paper and gutta percha and composition.  In 1854, a composition case made of shellac, sawdust and color was patented. The jewelry was usually made from pinchbeck, brass or gold.

The mirror-like background of a daguerreotype is quite easily recognized so it is therefore quite easy to identify a piece.  Because of the relatively short period of time before the daguerreotype was replaced, and because of the quite time-specific fashions of Victorians, it is usually fairly easy to age a daguerreotype.  Of course, it must always be considered that the image has been placed in an older or newer piece of jewelry, so other factors should be taken into consideration when evaluating.



Man’s oval ring with a Daguerreotype of a lady inside, agate cover
1850 (ca)
Jewelry, Daguerreotype
Private collection of Larry West
Courtesy of Larry J. West, © West Companies, Inc., 2005. [From the book: Tokens of Affection and Regard]


Oval pendant, Daguerreotype portrait of a lady with a chubby child
1850 (ca)
Jewelry, Daguerreotype
Private collection of Larry West
Courtesy of Larry J. West, © West Companies, Inc., 2005. [From the book: Tokens of Affection and Regard]

I think what I find particularly fascinating about the early daguerreotypes is the innocence and awe that seems to often be captured in their faces. The other part that I find so touching is how people would wear each other as decoration regardless of their physical beauty; our era tends to perceive only pretty women and children as decorative, but to the Victorians affection for another human trumped those kinds of considerations.  There is almost something intimate about viewing these pieces, as though we can really step back in time and connect on a more personal level with that distant generation whose rich legacy makes us who we are.  Perhaps it is for these reasons that daguerreotype jewelry is collected and treasured to this day.

Sources / further reading:


The word ferronière means ‘blacksmith’s wife’ in French, and comes from the painting you see above.

Ferronières, generally associated with the Middle Ages, were also extremely popular during the early Victorian era, especially between the years 1830 to 1845.  With the early Victorian’s love of all things Renaissance,  ferronières must have seemed the height of nostaglia to the women of that era.  Generally, a ferronière consisted of a delicate cord or chain with a solitary gemstone in the middle of the forehead.  With the long hair-styles, parted in the middle, this would have been a very romantic fashion that would have also been quite affordable as it only required one gem for a simple version.

In the beginning ferronières were just worn at costume balls but the fashion soon took off and were even considered appropriate for day or night time wear. This is something I find quite remarkable as to me they really seem like something a fairy tale princess would wear, not something an ordinary woman going about her daily business would wear.  I think their popularity really illustrates the romantic and playful nature of the era. I suspect, although I am just surmising here, that it was only quite wealthy or young women who wore a ferronière during the day time, as it’s quite hard to imagine a practically minded woman going to all the shops and doing their errands wearing one.

Regardless, they are an absolutely lovely fashion and I hope to see them make a comeback as I would love to wear one.  Their are many surviving ferronières whose cord has broken or eroded over time, so don’t assume that a single dangling gem is an earring part or pendant, it could also be a ferronière, particularly if it is quite small.

1837ca. Mathilde Gräfin Lynar by Eduard Magnus (location unknown to gogm)

ca. 1837 Mathilde, Gräfin Lynar by Eduard Magnus

The ferronnière experienced another revival during The Art Nouveau period.

Sources / Resources:

The Grand Era – 1861-1880

File:Empress ellisabeth 1865.jpg

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.

File:Tissot lilacs 1875.jpg

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.


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.

File:Simmler Emilia Włodkowska.jpg

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

Hair work jewelry was also extremely popular.



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.

Renaissance Revival

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.

Archeological Influences

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.

Serpent motif

The serpent motif continued.

Novelty motifs

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.
V&A Museum


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
Diamond Diadem.
Christie’s Sale 2306


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
V&A Museum


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.
V&A Museum


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
V&A Museum


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.


England, c.1860.
Diamonds and silver pendant.
V&A Museum.

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
V&A Museum


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.


England, c.1875
Bracelet with brilliantand rose-cut diamonds and pearls set in gold with black enamel
V&A Museum

Sources / Resources:

The Language of Flowers

“For the flowers have their angels… For there is a language of flowers. For there is a sound reasoning upon all flowers. For elegant phrases are nothing but flowers.” – Christopher Smart,  c.1759

To the people of the 19th century, every plant and flower had a particular meaning; wearing a natural motif on a jewelry piece had deep significance. They really took the expression ‘say it with flowers’ to heart.  It has been said that sometimes secret messages were even conveyed to potential suitors by wearing a particular piece of jewelry and feelings that could not otherwise be expressed were communicated, although there is no specific evidence for this.  It seems unlikely, as these meanings were widely published and known so it would be hard to keep it secret from everyone else also.  However, giving a gift with a particular plant or flower would be sending a message to the recipient, generally of love or friendship.  What I find so moving and truly touching about the language of flowers, is that the Victorians felt there were so many different kinds of love, affection, friendship and nuance of feeling that our normal range of words were not enough; they required an entire symbolic vocabulary to say what they felt. To the Victorians, matters of the soul, romance and human emotion were central and love of the natural world was an integral part of their existence.

“Nature never did betray
The heart that loved her.”
― William Wordsworth

By the 1850s, naturalism could be genuinely called a movement in its own right. The movement could be said to have its roots in the 19th century fascination with botany and also the influence of Romantic poets such as Wordsworth. By the mid-century, the delicate and more naturalistic early jewelry designs had been replaced by more extravagant and glittery motifs of flowers and foliage. Flexible or coiled stalks called tremblers gave the effect of quivering and movement. These larger and more glamorous pieces were meant for grand occasions but could often be dismantled into separate, simpler parts.

Of course, not everyone agreed on which plants had which meaning and interpretations did vary according to time and place, but overall a pattern did emerge. Sadly, much of this beautiful symbolism has been lost to our memory, although the meaning still remains for us in flowers such as the rose, which everyone in our era knows signifies romantic love and the four-leaved clover, which we all know means good luck.

In this post I will illustrate some of the more common flower and plant motifs loved by the people of the 19th century and their generally agreed upon meaning; over time I will add more to this post as I find relevant pictures.  However, I am not going to list all of the separate meanings as there really are so many.  If you would like to know more I highly recommend that you look at ‘Language of Flowers by Kate Greenaway, 1846-1901.’  It’s a beautiful book and it lists hundreds of flowers and their meanings. There is a link to the read the entire book online in the sources at the bottom of the post. There are also two lovely French books if you read French.  The French loved the language of flowers as much as the English and it also was a form of communication loved by many other countries. What is interesting is that the French and the English seemed to more or less agree on the symbolic meanings.


True love.

The forget-me-not was one of the most important flowers to the Victorians.


London, c. 1855 -1873 Gold, enamel, pearls and hair compartment in the back.
This sentimental brooch with forget-me-not motif would have had a great deal of meaning for the wearer.
V&A Museum


Strength and longevity


Paris, c. 1820-1840
Brooch with gold, diamonds and turquoises.
Forget-me-not, rose and acorn motif. The acorn symbolized strength and longevity.
V&A Museum

The convolvulus

 ‘Bonds’ or ‘Extinguished hopes’

Brooch - Convolvulus

England, c.1835-1850
Brooch with turquoises and pearls with convolvulus flowers
V&A Museum

Lily of the Valley

Return of happiness

A late Victorian diamond spray brooch

A late Victorian diamond spray brooch
Lily of the valley motif
Christie’s sale 5896


Youth, innocence, freshness.  Quite often seen in bridal wear.



Sources / Further reading:

Victorian Scottish Jewelry


Victorian Specimen Agate bracelet in Sterling Silver and centered with a large faceted Citrine.

Another rage in the Victorian era was Scottish jewelry (or ‘pebble jewelry’ as it was also known).  This fashion was begun by Queen Victoria after she bought Balmoral Castle in the Caledonian woodlands of Scotland in 1848.

Balmoral Castle, the romantically situated Highland home so beloved by our Royal Family. Its position by the River Dee, facing the majestic range of Lochnagar, makes it one of the most beautiful of Royal residences

Balmoral Castle

Victoria had Stuart ancestry and she absolutely loved all things Scottish.  After the purchase of the castle, she began to avidly collect Scottish jewelry.  Fashion soon followed.  Scottish jewelery was often made with silver and set with stones such as agate, moss agate, carnelian, bloodstone, jasper, Cairngorm (this was the most popular stone and is also called smoky yellow quartz and, less correctly, smoky topaz or Scotch topaz).  Scottish jewelry was also made with enamel work. Brooches and pins were by far the most popular form of Scottish jewelry worn.  One of the things which greatly added to the popularity of Scottish jewelry was the relative inexpensive of the materials used.  Initially only made in Scotland, this style of jewelry was soon adopted by English jewelry manufacturers also.

By 1851, fashionable people were wearing tartans with matching plaid bracelets.  The fashion for Scottish jewelry and all things Scottish continued until 1861 when Albert died and it fell out of vogue.


Photograph of young Victorian woman wearing Scottish inspired fashion.  The bracelets on her arms might well be matching her dress. Circa 1851.

catphotoVictorian Scottish brooch with serpent motif, another Victorian fashion.  This piece is unusual in that it combines both fashions.  Set with a variety of native Scottish stones.

Victorian Scottish Agate Gold and Silver Bracelet


Victorian Scottish Agate, Silver and Gemstone Brooch

Fine antique jewelry Carnelian Brooch

Victorian Carnelian and Silver Brooch.  If not Scottish, inspired by Scottish design.