Just as the histories of art and fashion are defined by distinct stylistic eras, so too is the history of jewelry. Jewelry trends tend to reflect the social and economic changes of the times, which is why vintage and heirloom jewelry pieces make wonderful historical artifacts as well as eye-catching fashion statements.
Let’s take a look at the major periods of modern jewelry history and the historical influences that helped define them.
The Georgian era, which is named for George I, II and III of England, stretched from 1714 to 1837. Styles from this time period were typically opulent and regal — in other words, fit for a king. Outlandish men’s fashions were a sign of the times and included bright-colored, tight-fitting clothing, jackets with large lapels, flamboyant hairdos, walking sticks and red high heels — yes, high heels for men.
Georgian jewelry mirrored the lavish styles of the time, and fine jewelry — all of which was painstakingly crafted by hand — was worn almost exclusively by the wealthy during this period. Diamonds were the stone of choice, although jewelers were beginning to experiment with colored gemstones. Short necklaces, chokers, cameos, brooches and lockets containing portraits of the wearer’s beloved or a deceased loved one were also popular trinkets of the time.
Queen Victoria ruled England from 1837 to 1901, which is why this period is known as the Victorian era. Jewelry was one of Victoria’s favorite things, and her exquisite taste helped guide the public preferences of the day. One might even say that the styles of the Victorian period closely mirrored the phases of Victoria’s life.
Early in the Victorian era (also known as the Romantic period), cheerful designs such as hearts, bows, flowers and birds were abundant. During this time, Victoria wed Prince Albert, and together they had nine children. Upon Albert’s death, Victoria went into mourning and black jewelry made of onyx, enamel and jet soared in popularity. In later years, jewelry styles became more carefree and whimsical again, with stars, dragons, griffins and crescent moons becoming common motifs.
ART NOUVEAU ERA
The Art Nouveau (literally “New Art”) era may have been short and sweet, lasting only from 1890 to 1910, but it still managed to propel artisans out of the hum-drum and into the incredible. Thinking of themselves as artists rather than just jewelry-makers, Art Nouveau jewelers crafted exquisite pieces that emphasized pale colors and undulating curves. Breaking from tradition, jewelers experimented with beautiful enameling techniques as well as with different gemstones and materials.
Orchids, irises, lilies, ferns, snakes, dragonflies and butterflies were all popular shapes found in jewelry at this time. Diamonds took a back seat to moonstone, amethyst, opal, amber, citrine, peridot and freshwater pearls. Designers also branched out with the use of materials such as horn, shell and copper, all in the name of artistic vision.
The Edwardian era (1901-1920) is named for King Edward of England and is best known for its use of diamonds, pearls and platinum, as well as its exquisite filigree designs. By applying threads of gold, platinum and other precious metals to setting surfaces, Edwardian jewelers gave their jewelry an intricate, lacy look. This fit right in with the feathered hats and lace and silk dresses the ladies of this era wore. The Edwardian period also embraced romantic motifs such as tassels, bows, laurel wreaths, garlands of flowers and scrolls.
ART DECO ERA
During the Art Deco era (1920 to 1935), the economy was booming, jazz was the most popular music of the day and all those old Victorian restraints were being cast aside. Jewelry reflected these social changes, and bright colors, geometric designs and masculine themes were all at the height of fashion during the Roaring Twenties.
Said to reflect the confident, free-thinking spirit of the times, the modern round brilliant cut diamond was created during this period. Jewelers also began using white gold — which was more affordable than either platinum or yellow gold — so more people could afford diamond jewelry and engagement rings.
Retro jewelry, also known as “cocktail jewelry,” refers to a style of jewelry that became popular from 1930 to 1950. You might think that in times defined by the Depression and a world war, jewelry might become more minimalist and restrained. But no — jewelry in the Retro Era was bigger, bolder and more exciting than ever.
Hollywood was in its heyday, and women yearned for a bit of the drama and glamour they saw on the silver screen. World War II also brought women into the workforce, where they had to adapt to masculine, straight-fitting business attire. Naturally, women were subsequently drawn to jewelry that allowed them to express their femininity. Styles tended to be oversized, over-the-top and full of bows, ruffles, ribbons and flowers.
For a close-up look at how these eras have influenced today’s jewelry, as well as a beautiful selection of heirloom pieces, visit Eiseman Jewels at NorthPark Center in Dallas.