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Antique Jewelry Eras

GEORGIAN ERA (1714-1837)

Georgian jewelry, also known in Europe as "Louis Style" jewelry, dates from the reigns of King George I through IV of England.

The Georgian era was a grand and elegant time for adornment. Jewelry was almost entirely handcrafted - and jewelers worked with silver and gold to create beautiful, ornate mountings for diamonds, sapphires, emeralds, garnets, amethysts, citrine, and coral.

Rose-cut and table-cuts were the most popular diamond cuts of this era. Diamonds were typically set in silver with a gold interior. Unlike today, the stones were almost always entirely enclosed by silver. A reflective surface called a foil back was usually set beneath the stone. This foil back setting gives diamonds from the Georgian era a very different look from diamonds of today and it is one of the reasons diamonds from this era are so sought after. They have an almost otherworldly sparkle that is enhanced by candlelight.

Diamonds were very difficult to come by in this era, so many - including royalty, wore cut-steel, marcasite, rock crystal, and paste. Paste is the crème de-la-crème of rhinestones. Made of stretched glass, Georgian paste is exquisite and very valuable.

Other fashions included navette rings, Memento Mori jewelry (or hair jewelry), floral and scroll motifs, and hanging elements like exotic tassels.

Difficult to find - but oh so beautiful! Georgian Era jewelry encompasses some of the most rare and exquisitely beautiful antique pieces.

VICTORIAN ERA (1837-1901)

The Victorian era was one of the most sentimental jewelry eras and one of the longest, lasting from 1838 to 1900, during the years of Queen Victoria of England's reign.

During the Victorian era, jewelry was highly symbolic with ivy and hearts symbolizing love, two snakes signifying eternal love, and an anchor representing hope. Prince Albert, a widely popular prince and the great love of Queen Victoria's life gave her a snake ring upon their engagement.

During the Victorian Era, jewelry designs waxed and waned - some of the most popular trends are listed below:

Hair Jewelry

It was fashionable to bestow a lock of one's hair on a loved one, who could hide it in the compartment of a brooch, watch fob, ring, or locket. It was also popular to weave one's hair into great lengths, creating bracelets, necklaces, watch chains, and even earrings. The Victorians believed hair jewelry was the ultimate in sentimental intimacy. Later, as the Queen and the country mourned the passing of Prince Albert, hair jewelry gained great popularity in mourning jewelry, as it was a way to hold a piece of one's deceased loved one close.


In the 1840s, people could sit for a photograph for the first time. Photographs, like locks of hair, could be shared with a love one. Always set under a glass, these daguerreotypes helped popularize the locket, as they were the perfect size for these beautiful pendants.

Scottish Jewelry

A descendent of the Stuarts, Queen Victoria was proud of her Scottish roots, popularizing the tartan. The Queen's love of Scotland, popularized Scottish jewelry, particularly bracelets and pins. These pieces are rich works of silver, embellished with moss agate, bloodstone, carnelian and cairngorm (a beautiful variety of smoky quartz).


The ultimate Italian souvenir was a beautifully carved cameo brooch. Gorgeously carved, cameos were made out of onyx, agate, and sardonyx stones as well as shell and even the lava of Mt. Vesuvius. The quality of stone was important but even more important was the beauty of the carving as these cameos were true works of sculptural art.

Mourning Jewelry

With the death of Prince Albert, came a long period of mourning, in which women found beautiful ways to express themselves even amidst grief. With it came stunning mourning jewelry; beautiful black jet beads and crosses, exquisite enamel, bloodstone and sardonyx rings.

Etruscan Revival

During the 1870s, Pompeii's tomb was excavated, creating a desire for Etruscan-inspired jewelry. With beautiful gold granulation work and accent stones of Persian turquoise, these pieces were often exotic and always beautiful.

These are just a smattering of the wonderful trends that made the Victorian era one of the richest jewelry eras. Coral, cut steel, stacked Bracelets, bookmark chains and long ropes of chain were also fantastic Victorian fashions.

ARTS & CRAFTS ERA (1890-1915)

The Arts & Crafts movement is interesting because it was both an artistic and a social movement.

Coinciding with, or rather reacting to the industrial revolution, the designer and socialist William Morris created a movement founded in the belief that industry dehumanized men and removed their creativity. Revolting against technology and the machine age, he advocated returning to a more holistic way of creation, by forming Medieval-type guilds.

In this philosophical spirit, he advocated hand-made jewelry that was created by one designer from start to finish. He emphasized the beauty of design over the wealth of the materials and chose to find beauty in imperfection.

He drew inspiration from nature—creating pieces that were natural, abstract, and sometimes symbolic. Eschewing diamonds and rubies, he mounted lapis, turquoise, moonstone, carnelian, blister pearls, amethyst, peridot, malachite, opal and ivory in silver, copper and brass. Enameling was also very popular.

Like most movements, it could not remain entirely uncommercial. Liberty, a London shop, commissioned designers to create beautiful pieces in the Arts & Crafts style with an emphasis on design rather than material. These pieces were made by machine and finished by hand. All are stamped with the name Liberty, and though not as authentic to the original ethos of the Arts & Crafts movement, they are still, fantastically beautiful works of art.

ART NOUVEAU ERA (1895-1910)

The Art Nouveau movement, or New Art Movement, came into being right on the cusp of a new century. Like the Arts & Crafts movement, it emphasized craftsmanship and design above all else, often eschewing precious stones for materials less conventional.

Influenced by the Symbolist movement, the Pre-Raphaelites, the poetry of William Blake, religious mysticism and eroticism, Art Nouveau jewelry was characterized by curving, undulating lines, asymmetry, elements of fantasy and the female image.

Combining nature and design, the jewelry of the Art Nouveau movement was populated by lush plants, birds, snakes, poppies, orchids, irises, dragonflies, butterflies and women with long flowing hair.

The Art Nouveau artists loved to mix metal and use less conventional materials like enamel, ivory, bone, shell, glass, horn, moonstone, peridot, opal, amethyst, citrine and freshwater pearl.

Lalique was one of this period’s preeminent designers and none wore it as well as the famous actress Sarah Bernhardt.

EDWARDIAN ERA (1901-1915)

The Edwardian era began when Prince Edward became King Edward VII in 1901. Known as the Belle Epoque era in France, it was one of the most feminine, beautiful and opulent jewelry eras.

In fashion, women wore feminine clothing accented with feathers, bows, lace and silk. Their jewelry was made to compliment.

This is when platinum truly came into vogue, as jewelers finally recognized platinum's beauty and versatility. Filigree became a favored motif as jewelers crafted platinum into mountings that looked like delicate lace sparkling with diamond and pearls for a sumptuous white on white look.

Also popular were negligee, choker, and sautoir necklaces, as were designs featuring jeweled ribbons, tassels, circles and stars. Unlike the Arts & Crafts and Art Nouveau movements, the Edwardian era was all about the highly precious-- featuring Old Mine-Cut and Old European-Cut diamonds and beautiful creamy pearls.

This period ended with the beginning of World War I.

ART DECO ERA (1920-1937)

The genesis of the Art Deco movement originated from The Exposition des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels in Paris, France.

The Art Deco era eschewed the feminine designs of the Edwardian era for the bold geometric designs of a modern world. In this industrial age, more and more people were driving cars, flying in planes, and generally leading a more modern life. This change could be seen in the artistic movements of the time: Bauhaus, Cubism, Empire Neoclassicism, and Futurism.

It was also an era that looked to the rest of the world for inspiration. Like Picasso and many other artists, jewelers drew inspiration from the Ancient Aztecs, Egyptians, Tribal Africa, American Indians, and Asia, as well as Greek and Roman architecture.

Jewelers also looked to society for inspiration. The 1920s were a time of great change. World War I had just ended and women had a new place in the world. They had the right to vote and many had moved into the workplace for the first time.

It was also the era known as “The Roaring Twenties," the era of F. Scott Fitzgerald and The Great Gatsby. Women wore high-hemmed, sleeveless tunic dresses to dance the Charleston. With their arms newly exposed, women wore bracelets, bangles and watches. Some wore bracelets high on the arm. Others piled them on the wrist. Beautiful line bracelets were all the rage, encrusted with diamonds and accented with synthetic rubies, sapphires, and emeralds. Also the cocktail watch was in, as was anything cocktail, to those rebelling from the strictures of the prohibition movement.

Dresses were often backless and women wore long sautoirs as well as strands of pearls down their exposed back. With the trend for short bobbed hair, many women wore long dangle earrings.

The jewelry was visually clean and geometric with bold, architectural shapes as well as striking contrasting colors. Diamonds were often paired with black onyx, bold rubies, and deep blue sapphires. The stones were set in platinum, palladium, and white gold for the "white look." Other popular stones were emeralds, coral, ivory, jade, mother of pearl, and quartz crystal.

RETRO ERA (1937-1949)

The genesis for the Retro era came from a French collection of jewelry exhibited by Van Cleef & Arpels at the 1939 World's Fair in New York. Shortly after the collection showed, war broke out in Europe, and the collection remained in the United States for the duration of the war. This collection became the inspiration for the short and fantastic era which has come to be referred to as Retro.

Coinciding with the years of World War II, the Retra era, like many other jewelry eras, reflected social changes going on in the world, some on a metaphorical level and some on a very practical level.

One of these very practical changes was the restriction set on the jewelry industry by the war. While most of us think of platinum as a fine metal for fine jewelry, it was also used in war industries and so the United States disallowed the use of platinum, iridium, and rhodium with “Conservation Order M-162." After the predominant use of platinum and white gold for the last forty years--yellow, rose and green gold came back in to fashion with a vengeance.

America was discovering a new prominence in the world and Hollywood was its royalty. And the era's jewelry reflected this. Bigger was better, with massive, bold, three dimensional designs. Some designs were angular, and geometric reflecting a glorification of the machine. Other designs were feminine--beautiful bows with articulated folds of fabric.

Almost eighteen million women joined the work force during World War II. All of sudden women were wearing trousers and earning their own paycheck. Leading many to eschew more feminine designs for something a little bit stronger. Women, often for the first time, were purchasing their own jewelry with their own money and they had opinions about what they wanted to wear. With fabric restrictions resulting from the war, jewelry was often the chief decorative motif in a women's arsenal.

And jewelers worked hard to fulfill their every dream. Working with beautiful yellow, rose, and green gold as well as fantastic large citrines, aquamarines, and amethysts from mines discovered in Brazil, they created bold cocktail rings, chunky bracelets and delightful earrings worn close to the ear.

Though a short era, only lasting the years of the war, the Retro era's striking originality and massive beauty remains as fantastic today as it did sixty years ago.

MIDCENTURY ERA (1950-1960)

Midcentury Jewelry (or fifties jewelry) is an iconic jewelry era and one growing in popularity.

The Mid 20th Century began with the end of World War II and a growing prosperity in America. This is when America truly came to the fore in jewelry design, inspired by Paris. Christian Dior had just launched the “New Look” in France with an emphasis on feminine women’s wear with nipped-in waists, wide skirts and décolleté necklines. The jewelry of this era was designed to suit this “New Look” with its classic glamour, beauty and size.

The diamond was the Mid 20th Century's “It” jewel. In 1948 De Beers coined the phrase “A Diamond is Forever”. And in 1953 Marilyn Monroe cooed, “Diamonds are a girl’s best friend”, lauding Harry Winston, who designed fantastic necklaces, earrings and rings--gorgeous pieces, dripping with diamonds and gemstones in almost invisible settings.

Though diamonds continued to be set in platinum and white gold, yellow gold was also very popular for beautiful massive gemstone cocktail rings as well as fantastic gold chains, both foxtail and twisted ropes.

Other trends were earrings, both those worn close to the ear or dangling to the shoulder, as well as cultured pearl necklaces, preferably choker length, and ropes of heavy beads. Sets were popular, both fine and costume, and women loved jacket pins.

While the majority of America looked to the beautifully classic and feminine there was a simultaneous modernist movement with jewelry artist looking to the Bauhaus, Dadaist, Surrealist and Cubist movements to create wonderful avant-garde and abstract jewelry.