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 second part, the Middle Victorian period, from 1860 to 1885.
The Middle Victorian period is seen as a very glamourous time for Victorian jewellery. Hairstyles were higher up and ear lobes were more exposed. Long dangling girandole earrings were fashionable again, of similar popular shapes to those seen in the Georgian period, such as graduated pears and chandelier drop styles. Gemstones were often set into silver and gold was carved, producing luxurious earrings that could sparkle in a new light given that the settings were now open at the back.
In the 1870's and 1880's diamonds were becoming more accessible as the African diamonds mines were discovered in the late 1860's. Prior to this, the only sources for diamonds were India and Brazil. Diamonds would be set alongside and encircling colourful gemstones, enhancing their beauty. Amethysts, garnets, turquoise, pearls and coral, were all enjoyed by Queen Victoria, which in turn spurred their popularity among her subjects. In 1870 a major opal source in Australia was found and opals then experienced resurgence in demand due to the Queen's fondness of the fascinating stone.
An archaeological revival occurred due to discoveries of ancient artefacts; once again jewellery was inspired by ancient Greece and Rome. Yellow gold would be finely worked into granulation, filigree, and wirework producing dangling, ornate earrings, often set with coloured stones and micro-mosaics. Castellani created some beautiful jewellery which really epitomized this era of Etruscan revival.
At the same time we see motifs of scarabs, snakes and blue enamel being used in jewellery, as an Egyptian revival also took hold inspired by finds from excavated ancient tombs. Carlo Giuliano embraced these ancient motifs and also themes from the simultaneous Renaissance revival, which also made its way into earrings. Images of scrolls, gargoyles, and highly decorative enamel work featured, sometimes combined with the continued influences of naturalistic Japanese art. Enamel was prominent, and new highly skilled mixed metal techniques from Japan such as ‘Shakudo' work were seen. This inspiration was mainly due to new and increasing trade with the East. Another technique seen was ‘pique' on tortoiseshell, which was developed in England in the 1860's involving highly skilled hand inlaid gold or silver into ornate designs, also sometimes featured in earrings.
Ancient coins, intaglios and cameos were set into earrings, and were often mixed with other styles of the period, for example, our cameo suite by John Brogden, which also displays the penchant for fringe earrings. Fringe earrings were composed of small articulated rods which would dangle and flow with movement, often graduated, sometimes of chains or tiny cones. These fringes would usually be set below a higher motif.
Small novelty jewellery of flowers, tools and everyday items were fashionable, along with crescents, stars and hoops. The Victorian people also enjoyed realistic insect motifs, of beetles, spiders and flies.
Jewellery in this period of 1860 - 1885 was varied, and we see many differing influences in the earrings from this time. The unifying elements were the use of gold with colourful stones and diamonds, combined with both old and new techniques which allowed earrings to move and work the light in a particularly glamorous way. At Berganza, we have some beautiful examples of antique Victorian earrings that are incredibly wearable and unique.