Antique Jewelry Care

Antique Jewelry Care
Antique and vintage jewelry requires extra care in its storage, cleaning and wear. Below you will find some tips to preserve your pieces in the best condition possible.

1) Never use ultrasonic cleaners as these type of machines can cause damage to delicate pieces.

2) Store in a cotton lined box or soft pouch, away from direct sunlight.

3) Store in dry, humidity free areas without extremes of heat.

4) Keep pieces separated so they do not scratch each other.

5) Never store in air-tight, plastic bags.

6) Put perfume, lotions and other cosmetics on before you put your jewellery on.

7) Bleach and chlorine can cause damage so never wear when cleaning the house, showering or swimming.

8) Use a soft polishing cloth to prevent tarnishing of silver jewellery.

9) Be cautious when using chemical dip solutions as they can strip away patina and cause damage.

10) Make certain that any foil backed jewellery (i.e. Georgian or early Victorian pieces) stay dry. Always remove before washing your hands etc. Even a little bit of moisture can damage these kinds of pieces.

11) Lockets containing photos and hair should be kept away from all water.

12) If you notice any loose stones or if the prongs seem to catch on things take it to the jewellers for evaluation.

13) Always make certain that all jewellery is completely dry before being stored.


Most metal based antique jewellery can be cleaned with warm water, mild detergent and a very soft toothbrush. A soft silver polishing is an excellent choice, as well as a soft dry brush. A loupe or magnifying glass can help you see the dirt and grime in hidden places. If you do feel the need to use a chemical, a very small amount of Windex sprayed onto a cloth, never directly onto the piece, can be used with caution.

Extra care should be taken with the following materials:

1) Pearls are very sensitive to oils, chemicals and moisture. Never get your pearls wet. Store them as flat as possible.

2) Turquoise, Lapis, Malachite are porous and should be kept away from all oils and chemicals. They are also easily scratched.

3) Butterfly Wings are easily damaged and should be kept dry and away from moisture and all chemicals. Any contact with water or chemicals can ruin a butterfly wing if it gets inside the casing.  To clean the casing, use a dry polishing cloth.

4) Cut Steel is easily damaged by moisture of any kind and will rust.  Use a soft brush to clean.

5) Micromosaic or Pietra Dura should be kept dry and stored separately.  Clean with a soft, dry brush and watch out for loose stones.

6) Cameos should be gently cleaned with a soft, dry cloth.

7) Portrait Miniatures can be gently wiped with a soft cloth.

8) Ivory, Coral, Tortoiseshell and Amber are all particularly sensitive to direct sunlight, oils and chemicals.

9) Enamel can be chipped so always store with great care. Use a silver polishing cloth to clean.

10) Hair Work is prone to breakage. Always store with great care and never attempt to clean hair work jewellery.

© 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.

The Romantic Era 1837-1860

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

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


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.


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


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, gold set with pierced pearls and foiled garnets
Italy, c. 1820 – 1860


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


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, orange-brown tourmaline, in a gold mount
England 1800-69

Sources / further reading:

Arts & Crafts Movement Jewelry

I do not want art for a few any more than education for a few, or freedom for a few.
William Morris


Gaskin, Georgie Cave, 1868 – 1934 (designer)
Brooch, Silver wire, opals, glass imitating emeralds
V&A Museum

The Arts & Crafts Movement (1860-1910) was a philosophical, political, cultural and design movement that was the human soul’s response to industrialism.  It stood for economic and social justice, for a return to simplicity and connection with nature.  It was nostalgic for the time of the small-holder, for the freedom of the individual artisan before workmanship became centralized in factories. In a time when everything, including jewelry manufacture, was becoming more and more mechanized and therefore homogenized, The Arts and Crafts Movement looked to traditional craftsmanship and the virtue and beauty of the hand-made.  When it came to design, The Arts & Crafts Movement looked to the romance of medieval times, to naturalistic forms and to European folk culture.

The movement began in Britain, and was led by the great writer, thinker and artist William Morris (1834-1896).  William Morris was the single most influential designer of the nineteenth century. Standing outside the mainstream of Victorian thought and sensibility, William Morris and his followers brought a breath of fresh air, light and youth to the stuffy, grandiose, morbid and dark design sensibility that pervaded that time.  It is marvelous to contrast the subtle, sensual, fresh, colorful work of William Morris and his peers with what had come before; his designs must have truly been revolutionary. Indeed, having nothing whatsoever to do with ‘mourning’ and Queen Victoria’s grief that was imposed on her populace or with ostentatious displays of wealth, The Arts & Crafts Movement was, in many senses, anti-establishment.

Two other strong influences on the Arts and Crafts Movement were the writers John Ruskin (1819-1900) and Augustus Pugin (1812-1852). The movement, which began as British, soon spread across Europe and to North America.  Each country had their own specific interpretation of Arts & Crafts with their own influential designers and writers. It would be lovely to delve into the details of each and discuss each individual country’s interpretation of Arts & Crafts, but I will leave that for the future.

Of course, The Arts & Crafts Movement and The Art Nouveau Movement have a great deal in common and some might well argue that The Arts & Crafts Movement was just part of The Art Nouveau Movement.  However, if you examine the jewelry of each movement, you will find that, although related, they do have strong stylistic distinctions. But it has to be said, rather than being necessarily always distinctive in style, Arts & Crafts movement jewelry is always distinctive in being part of a unique philosophy.


Arts and Crafts jewelery designers were often painters or architects who then later turned to jewelry design and were often self-taught.  Some Arts and Crafts Movement designers (to name but a few) were:  Arthur and Georgie Gaskin, Nelson and Edith Dawson, Andrew Fisher, Henry Wilson and C.R. Ashbee.

Materials, philosophy and techniques

No man is good enough to be another’s master.
William Morris

Arts and Crafts designers believed in simplicity and allowed the method of construction to be seen in the object.  They believed that the ideal was for one individual artisan to finish one piece from start to finish.  They believed in ‘truth to material’ meaning the quality of the material was entirely important and leaving the material in as close to natural state as possible was vital. But that did not mean they used expensive materials, Arts and Crafts designers gravitated towards less precious metals like brass, copper, silver and aluminum.  They loved leaving the hammer marks and demonstrating the hand-made process.  Gemstones were understated and chosen for their beauty, rather than as a display of wealth.  Cabochon cuts were more common than faceted stones and were often bezel set.  Pearls were loved by Arts & Crafts jewelers, with an emphasis on less perfectly rounded specimens.  Lapis, turquoise, carnelian, ivory, tourmaline, opal, peridot, moonstone and malachite were some of the other materials that were loved.  Craftsmanship and artistry was considered more important than value of the materials.  Enameling was of course hugely popular with Arts & Crafts movement jewelers, and many pieces displayed marvelous, sumptuous colors that are clearly reminiscent of Renaissance enamel work. Arts & Crafts enamel work was simpler, using Limoges enamel techniques (where enamel is painted across the whole metal like painting a picture), than Art Nouveau, which favored the more sophisticated plique-a-jour.


Henry Wilson, (1864-1934)
Necklace, 1905, Gold, enamelled, opals, pearls, emeralds
V&A Museum

Designs and Motifs

If you cannot learn to love real art at least learn to hate sham art.
William Morris

The past is not dead, it is living in us, and will be alive in the future which we are now helping to make.
William Morris

The Arts & Crafts movement looked to nature, to tradition, to flora and fauna.  Several Arts & Crafts Movement workshops and guilds were set up in the countryside of Britain and elsewhere and explored old techniques and methodologies.  The Gothic Revival (1830–1880) was greatly influential to Arts & Crafts design, and the romance and naturalism of the medieval past was dear to the heart of the designers. Motifs included winged scarabs, flowers, birds, leaves, peacocks and ivy. Celtic and Etruscan design was strongly influential. The sailing ship was also a recurrent and distinctly Arts & Crafts motif.

Cloak clasps, brooches, hair ornaments, rings and pendants, bracelets and cufflinks were more common.  Earrings were rarer.

Arts & Crafts designers had much in common with the ‘Pre-Raphaelites’ who also rejected mainstream Victorian sensibilities and looked to the past for inspiration. Rosetti and Mallais were two Pre-Raphaelite painters who liked to feature Arts & Crafts jewelry pieces in their works.

Abbildung: Dante Gabriel Rosetti, Fair Rosamund (1861)

Dante Gabriel Rosetti, Fair Rosamund (1861).© National Museum of Wales.
The necklace she is wearing appears to be Arts & Crafts

It is perhaps ironic and a little sad that although the stated intent of the Arts and Crafts Movement was to bring the common man beautiful hand-made design, the cost of labor meant most Arts & Crafts Movement items were out of reach for all but the wealthy. Some would argue that The Arts & Crafts Movement was intrinsically an elitist philosophy although it aspired to be the opposite.

The Arts & Crafts Movement designers and artisans said that they believed in ‘the moral purpose of art’.  Truly, when you look at the amazing work they created and your heart and soul just lift and then you compare that to the machine made, poor quality, mass produced jewelry that is so prevalent today, I really believe they were right.  There is a moral purpose to art and Arts and Crafts Movement jewelry fulfills that purpose.


England, c. 1912
Necklace, gold with silver, moonstones, carnelians and labradorite
Reginald Pearson
V&A Museum


England, c. 1900
Pendant gold openwork, gold openwork, pearls, blister pearls sapphires, emeralds, rubies, moonstone, turquoise.
Henry Wilson
V&A Museum

Sources / further reading:



A single, simple jet bead, circa 1910

Jet is fossilized wood, specifically fossilized resinous driftwood, originally from the Monkey Puzzle Tree, pressurized between layers of shale in the Jurassic period.  It has a feel like no other substance.  Smooth and mat and velvety, almost warm to the touch, it isn’t like wood or like stone or like rubber…it is unique.  Once you have handled real jet you will never forget the feeling in the hand.   Jet is considered to be one of the  ‘organic gemstones’ (the others are pearls and coral and amber).  A common misnomer for jet is ‘black amber’. Another confusion is that jet is often used to describe the color black and not just used to describe the substance.  (So if someone says that have a ‘jet necklace’ check that they don’t just mean they have a black necklace). The first piece of jet jewelry dates from 17, 000 B.C in Spain so it has truly been in favor for a long time.  It was also popular in Ancient Rome and has also often been used for rosary beads. However, in more recent times jet truly came into vogue after the death of Prince Albert in 1861.   As mourning jewelry became so popular, jet became a very favored substance and was always part of Queen Victoria’s mourning dress.

19th century polished jet mourning brooch

In the 1920s, the flapper girls favored long strings of jet beads and found them excellent accessories for dancing.

Flapper girls, circa 1927

Since the town began production in 1800, the most sought after jet has been from Whitby in Northern England.  ‘Whitby Jet’ is prized worldwide and is still a thriving production center.  Jet is relatively soft and is easily carved.  There are some stunning carved designs of Whitby jet, particularly brooches, which came in a large variety of designs.  Jet is also easily polished.


Carved Whitby jet brooch, late Victorian.  (This brooch is showing some slight damage around the edges).


Carved Whitby Jet Brooch, circa 1870.  The word ‘Mother’ as well as first names were popular, probably to remember deceased loved ones.

There are many other substances which are often mistaken for jet.  Onyx may have a similar look but is much cooler to the touch and shinier.  French jet is not jet at all but is in fact black glass.  Vulcanite or ebonite, Gutta Percha, coal, bog oak, epoxy resins and other substances have all been used in the past to imitate real jet.  It is worth becoming familiar with all of those just so you can better identify jet. One test for jet is to rub it on some unglazed porcelain; real jet will leave a brown mark. However, once you have handled a few pieces you will find this unnecessary. Jet is the most valuable of all the previously named substances apart. It is considered highly collectible, particularly Whitby jet.

il_570xN.340892961 Carved jet beads, circa 1910


Carved jet simple leaf brooch, circa 1910, German or Austrian

Personally, I believe a simple jet bead necklace and some drop earrings are the most wearable and stylish ways of wearing jet in the modern era.


Simple faceted jet bead necklace, circa 1865, Germany


Carved ‘Jugendstil’ jet and red gold earrings, circa 1900, Germany

Further reading / sources:

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.