The world of nature was a very popular motif in Victorian jewelry. Bouquets of flowers, branches, leaves, grapes & berries were fashionable as well as insects & animals. The British government did not require jewelers to use any hallmarking system during the 19th Century, so a characteristic of jewelry made during this time was a lack of a maker's mark or quality stampings. Before 1854, most of the jewelry produced was 18k. After 1854, 9k, 12k and 15k were made legal in order to compete with international markets. This information is a great aid in circa dating.
Large brooches were in vogue, and worn at the neck during the day, or at the low for evening wear. Adornment of the hands and wrists became increasingly important, with Victorian rings and large bracelets designed to make the hand look dainty and feminine. Hair was worn, parted in the middle, in an elegant upsweep, which lent itself to the reappearance of earrings. Earring backs are very useful in dating historical jewelry. Post backs which are fashionable today were not seen in the 1880’s. Dangled earrings that had wire hooks or lever backs were common. Screw back earrings were not seen until the 1890’s and the clip was not patented until the 1930’s.
The most widespread gemstones used in jewelry during the Early Victorian Period were diamonds, amethysts, cabochon garnets, crystal, emeralds, ruby, ivory and tortoise shell. pink and golden topaz, turquoise, chalcedony, coral, seed pearls and cameos. Cameos were fashioned out of many elements, including shell, lava and coral. By 1886, opals had lost much of their unlucky reputation and were being used in the newest Victorian designs, Jet, Onyx, Vulcanite and Bog Oak were common materials utilized for mourning jewelry.
On both sides of the Atlantic, lockets became a very important fashion accessory. They held the memory of a dear one close to the heart. They could contain locks of hair or early examples of photographs (daguerreotypes), kept in secret compartments. Victorian lockets were often suspended from "book chain" necklaces. Book chain necklaces had a dual purpose. When these flat chains were removed at night, they could be used as a bookmark.
Silver jewelry became very popular in the late 1800's. The discovery of silver in Virginia City, Nevada in the 1860's greatly reduced the price of silver and provided a source for the metal needed to create many of these designs, which reflected a growing middle market. Engraved bangle bracelets, monogram and name brooches and sentimental lockets developed a more whimsical character in the late 1880's. Acorns, anchors, monograms, hearts, bees, bells, birds, swans, stars, sphinxes and daisies were all in vogue.
Alexandra of Denmark, wife of King Edward the VII, is credited with the popularity of the choker style necklace of the Victorian Era. She hid a small scar on her neck, which was likely the result of a childhood operation. By wearing choker necklaces and high necklines, she set fashions which were adopted for decades.
A chatelaine is a decorative belt hook or clasp worn at the waist with a series of chains suspended from it. Each chain is mounted with a useful household appendage such as scissors, thimble, watch, key, vinaigrette, household seal, etc. Sometimes a bag or purse is often hung from the waist as well. The Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine reported in 1874 that chatelaines were worn at balls, having hooks suspended from them to hold fans. The 1878 Exhibition reflected their acceptance in formal wear. An extensive range of gold and silver, steel and electroplate fittings and appendages came on the market.
Ladies watches were not on the wrist, but would often hang suspended from a slide chain or a pin. The slide chain was often adorned with pearls or other gems.
Hair ornaments and hat pins were also popular and came in the same motifs as other jewelry. Be wary of today’s plastic combs and try to keep hair ornaments as authentic looking as possible. As you develop your eye for what looks authentic and what looks reproduction or modern, picking accessories will become easier.
Victorian fans are their own piece of art and were a necessity for Victorian women. Handpainted on silk, they depicted scenes of English gardens or faraway places. Often the stems were made of ivory, bone, mother of pearl or other such precious commodities. They were then finished with lace, a tassel and a loop, they could be hung from a chatelaine hook.
Eyewear was commonly wire spectacles with round lenses. Yellow/amber and brown-tinted spectacles were prescribed for people with syphillis in the 19th and early 20th centuries because sensitivity to light was one of the symptoms of the disease. Possibly were used outside of that, but research is scarce.
luxury item that depicted wealth and was often used as part of an ensemble but was detachable for cleaning. Lace capelets, collars, cuffs & jabots were prized accessories. In the late 19th century a jabot would be a cambric or lace bib, for decorating women's clothing. It would be held in place at the neck with a brooch or a sewn-on neckband. It was fashionable for men’s wear in earlier decades.
Lace was also used as a parasol cover and was also detachable. Photo to the left shows an antique carriage parasol with an
intact lace cover. Folding carriage parasols were dainty and delicate. Parasols in general were a staple for the upper class woman who wanted to protect her ivory skin from the sun. In the 1890’s and 1900’s as hats became larger, parasols fell out of fashion.
Gloves were also often made of lace but could also be made of kid, silk, velvet or suede and were often embroidered. Our method of measuring the length of gloves comes from France. We refer to 4-button, 8-button, etc. to designate how far the glove extends beyond the wrist. Gloves were fastened with buttons placed about an inch apart, so a 4-button glove extends up the arm from the wrist about 4 inches.
An exception would be if you were wearing long gloves with the buttons at the wrist. In this case, you should slip your hands out of the gloves, and tuck them up into the sleeve of the glove for the duration of the meal. Don’t wear jewelry over gloves, with the exception of bracelets. In Victorian times, ladies had a “language of gloves”, which was similar to the secret language of the fan or parasol.
Submitted by Margarita Rose