Jewelry Eras & Period Pieces

Victorian Era- (1837 to 1901). Encompasses a variety of styles that were popular during the rule of England’s Queen Victoria. These styles typically include one or more of the following:

  • Ornate matching sets of gemstone-set jewelry
  • Gemstones such as diamonds, emeralds, coral, amethyst, garnet, turquoise, and tortoise shell
  • Sentimental or romantic symbols
  • Ornamental locks of human hair
  • Mourning jewelry made of jet and other black materials
  • Cameos

Some Victorian jewelry idealized past cultures by reviving Greek, Roman, and Egyptian jewelry styles, among others. Other revival themes included Gothic, Renaissance, and Archeological (inspired by ancient Assyrian, Greek, Etruscan, Roman, and Egyptian styles). Source: GIA

Art Nouveau Era (1890-1914). Jewelry based on a decorative arts movement characterized by free-flowing lines and nature motifs. Introduced in the 1890s, the flowing style of Art Nouveau was a departure from the historic revival styles that had dominated nineteenth-century decorative arts. Art Nouveau, French for “new art,” was inspired by the vitality of the natural world and a new appreciation for Japanese art. Art Nouveau jewelry often includes one or more of these features:

  • Curving lines
  • Realistic portrayals of nature including butterflies, birds, and inter- twining foliage
  • Fantastic creatures such as dragons and other mythical beasts
  • Gems such as pearls, opal, moonstone, aquamarine, tourmaline, rose quartz, chalcedony, chrysoprase, and amethyst
  • Use of glass, either molded or as enamel
  • Designs of women transformed into mermaids, winged sprites, or flowers

Jewels in the Art Nouveau style combined realistic interpretations of plants and animals with creatures of fantasy and myth. Raised to the level of fine art by such designers as René Lalique, this sinuous and sensual style disappeared completely with the onset of World War I in 1914. Source: GIA

Edwardian (Garland) Era (1900-1915). Jewelry fashionable among upper classes in Europe and the US that showcased high quality gems and precious metals.

Between 1900 and 1915, during the reign of England’s King Edward VII, the upper classes of Europe and the US wore jewelry as a way to demonstrate their wealth. They favored lavish jewelry inspired by the eighteenth-century French court. Their jewels were made of the finest, rarest and costliest gems and precious metals. This jewelry style is known as Edwardian, but it’s sometimes called Garland because it typically featured garlands of flowers tied with ribbons and bows. Edwardian or Garland style jewelry can include these features:

  • Pearls and diamonds
  • Delicate platinum mountings
  • Colored gemstones including ruby, sapphire, emerald, opal, and cat’s-eye chrysoberyl
  • Motifs like garlands, ribbons, bows, crescents, starbursts, Greek keys, laurel wreaths, wings, feathers, crowns, oak leaves, swallows, and butterflies

Source: GIA

Art Deco Era 1920s and 1930s. A style prominent in the 1920s and 1930s that featured geometric patterns and abstract designs in contrasting primary colors.

The Art Deco style emerged after World War I and dominated the decorative arts and jewelry from 1920 through the 1930s. It was a strong reaction against the ethereal sensuality of Art Nouveau and the delicate elegance of the Garland style. Art Deco jewelry suggests post-war practicality through its strong geometric patterns in bold contrasting colors. Art Deco features include:

  • Bold, contrasting colors
  • Strong, geometric patterns
  • Sleek, streamlined look, emphasizing the vertical line
  • Gemstones including diamonds, black onyx, lapis lazuli, rubies, emeralds, sapphires, jade, turquoise, and topaz
  • Carved or cabochon-cut colored gemstones
  • Primary colors in rich combinations and strong contrast

The outbreak of World War II in 1939 ended the Art Deco period. Gems were in short supply during the early 1940s, and platinum was reserved for military use. The jewelry produced during and immediately after the war used materials, such as gold and diamonds, that were still available during these lean years. Jewelry from this period is known as Retro. Source: GIA

Retro Era (1935-1950). Jewelry period from 1935 to 1950 characterized by sculptured curves in yellow or rose gold and floral, bow, and mechanical motifs.

The Retro style rounded Art Deco’s sharp angles and muted its bold colors. It features sculpted curves sparingly set with small diamonds and rubies. Jewelry of the late 1940s reflects post-war prosperity in a more opulent use of colored stones and increased femininity of design motifs. Common themes and styles in Retro jewelry include:

  • Floral and bow motifs in colored gems
  • Animal figures of enameled gold and gems
  • Jeweled brooches, lapel clips
  • Bold, sculpted curves of rose gold set with small diamonds and rubies
  • Designs inspired by mechanical objects such as bicycle chains, padlocks, and tank treads
  • Stylized natural motifs
  • Large motifs fabricated using thin gold sheets to conserve metal while giving a substantial look
  • Gemstones like small diamonds, rubies (often synthetic), and light-colored sapphires

Source: GIA

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