Antique Earrings: The Romantic Period 1837 - 1860

Article from Berganza


Monday 13th October 2014

Queen Victoria reigned from 1837 to 1901, a total of 64 years. Across this period, there were three prominent jewellery trends. In this article we outline the first part, the Romantic period, from 1837 to 1860.

The Early Victorian period was known as the Romantic period in jewellery, from 1837 up to 1860. This was inspired by Queen Victoria's romance with Prince Albert and also her love for precious gems and jewellery. Her tastes dictated the fashion of the time, mirrored by the wives of members of the courts and wealthy women alike. She loved snake motifs and their romantic connotations of wisdom and fidelity. Serpents in jewellery became quite popular because of this and even featured on her engagement ring to Prince Albert. Precious coloured gemstones associated with love and loyalty such as rubies, sapphires and emeralds were set into rich opulent gold.

Earrings took somewhat of a backseat through the 1840s and 1850s, as the favoured hairstyle involved centre parted hair which was usually styled to loop over the ears. Tiaras would then decorate the head, eliminating a need for earrings. However, they were still worn by some and were usually mainly yellow gold set with colourful gemstones and long enough to be seen under the hair. Dormeuse or sleeper earrings were one of the main types of earring, which were usually a small stud worn at night to keep the ear pierced.

In the 1830's and 1840's craftsmen began to work the reverse of jewellery differently, by opening up the back of the settings. This created quite a different type of sparkle. Previously gemstones would often be foil backed and closed, to create more of a mirrored sheen, and by opening up the reverse of the settings, light was now able to work the stones in a very different way.

Different trends were seen throughout this time, for example Scottish jewellery set with agate and various coloured quartz became popular, once again inspired by the Queen's own collection, amassed on her visits to her Scottish estate. Also ‘Japonaiserie' was a fashion as Japanese art was becoming more widespread. This trend consisted of Japanese inspired motifs and naturalistic designs, often decorated with enamel or onto tortoiseshell. In 1851 at The Great Exhibition, the only earrings to be displayed were naturalistic in design and were quite small.

Sentimentality was rife, with jewellery often being used as love tokens. Cameos were enjoyed by the Queen and were carved into high relief onto various coloured quartz, depicting romantic scenes and mythological themes. Coral was used quite frequently up until the 1860's and was thought to ward off evil spirits. Seed pearls and mother of pearl also feature throughout this time, often used as frames for a larger gemstone.

After the passing of Prince Albert in 1861, Queen Victoria began her mourning and the country joined her. Jewellery was often set with jet and onyx, darker gemstones which reflected the mood of the country. Stars and crescent shapes were popular, often worked into motifs for the upper part of the earring. Mourning jewellery flourished at this time, which was in keeping with the sentimentality of the Victorian people and was also spurred by the passing of Prince Albert.

A combination of the developments in workmanship, combined with new trends and techniques, saw a resurgence of earrings in The Middle Victorian period after 1860. At Berganza we have a selection of fine jewellery and some beautiful examples of very rare antique earrings from the Romantic period of 1837 to 1860.

front view antique diamond stud
Antique diamond earrings, circa 1860.
Ref: 16495
Victorian rose cut diamond drop earrings berganza hatton garden
Early Victorian rose cut diamond drop earrings, English, circa 1850.
Ref: 22431
front view antique diamond cluster earrings berganza hatton garden
Victorian diamond cluster earrings, English, circa 1850.
Ref: 22688
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