The Gothic style of art and architecture first emerged in the Middle Ages. The influence of the Gothic style was keenly felt throughout the next few centuries in architecture, art, and jewelry. Similarly, the Victorian era ushered in its own unique aesthetic. Victorian jewelry demonstrated sensuality, romanticism, chivalry, and love. With its intricate designs, the influence of Victorian jewelry appeals to women who seek to embrace their queenly attributes.
Fast forward to the 1970s and the emergence of the gothic subculture that combined the mystical, gloomy, and supernatural symbolism of the Gothic and Victorian eras with architectural elements and a sophisticated eye for the feminine. Fashion designers and enthusiasts alike began to embrace the gothic style soon after, spreading its influence far beyond the gothic communities to the mainstream.
Today, Victorian influence is keenly felt in specific styles, such as its namesake and corporate and romantic gothic jewelry, which give empowering and cutting-edge aesthetics to wardrobing choices. The intricate lines and sophisticated patterns lent by Victorian jewelry in modern designs allow for intense expressiveness while being subtle.
What is Victorian Jewelry?
Victorian jewelry originated in England during Queen Victoria's reign, which lasted from 1837 to 1901. However, her unique style in art and fashion became influential and took hold well into the early 20th century. Her long reign was marked by significant turning points, not only in England but also worldwide. Such was the length of her reign that Victorian-era jewelry styles are divided into three, the Romantic Period, The Grand Period, and the Aesthetic or Late Period. Each of these periods contributed to how Victorian-influenced gothic jewelry today is inspired.
The Romantic Period (1837-1860)
The beginning of the Victorian period shows a movement away from the Georgian influences of rationalism to an embracing spirituality and mysticism. By the 1840s, her majesty's influence began to be felt through her courtship with Prince Albert and their marriage.
The most notable piece of jewelry that set off the Romantic Period in Victorian jewelry history is her engagement ring from Albert featuring an emerald, the Queen's birthstone, as its highlight. Engagement rings featuring the wife's birthstone became all the rage throughout the nation soon after.
The designs of Romantic Period Victorian jewelry were influenced by the clothing prevalent in the period. With women covered from head to toe and bonnets hiding throats and ears, necklaces and earrings were not as popular as before. Instead, rings and bracelets, which enhance the features of the hands and fingers, became the jewelry of choice. Since adornments were limited, the choice of stone sizes and jewelry designs were more pronounced, such as larger gemstone cuts and nature-inspired designs.
The intricate floral design and the choice of prominent stone of the Gothic Rose faceted cocktail ring bear elements that hark back to the Romantic Period of the Victorian era. Whether as an engagement ring for a bride born in July, because onyx is July's birthstone, or as an expression of confidence, balance, and harmony as symbolized by the stone, the Gothic Rose faceted onyx cocktail ring would be at home during this period as it is today.
The Grand Period (1860-1885)
The decade of the 1860s was tragic for Queen Victoria. Aside from the death of the Queen Mother, the decade also saw the death of Her Majesty's beloved, the Prince Consort. The decade also saw tragic events elsewhere, such as the American Civil War and the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. Mourning traditions in Victorian times were elaborate and strict. Full Mourning, which extends for a year, required mourners to be adorned with entirely black wardrobes and jewelry. For another six months, the "half mourning" attire still consist of clothing and jewelry in somber tones. With Her Majesty setting the tone, entire industries were dedicated to mourning fashion. In jewelry, prominent accent pieces made of black onyx and jet became a trend back in the day.
The era also saw an explosion of interest in scientific and archeological endeavors. Larger-scale excavation and exploration of ancient Egyptian monuments aroused interest in ancient Egyptian monuments. Exploration of other ancient sites, such as pre-Roman Etruscan tombs, spurred interest in the art of these ancient civilizations.
This era also saw the discovery of significant deposits of precious and semi-precious stones, especially within the Empire, such as opal in Australia and diamonds in South Africa.
Because of these developments, the era saw a widened variety of Victorian jewelry designs, with lines influenced by a broad range of cultures and more varied stone options due to the growing selection of widely available stone options.
During this period, the world was also in the midst of the industrial revolution. Manufacturing techniques, including those for making jewelry, improved and made "fine custom jewelry" affordable to the rising middle class. Intricately-crafted styles that were previously only available to the upper class could now be produced at a lower cost. However, the most intricate and grandest designs were still reserved for the upper class.
There is rarely any piece of jewelry today that calls to mind this period of the Victorian era than The Majestic faceted onyx necklace. The gleaming Brazilian onyx and its radiating patterns of nature-inspired ornate metalwork perfectly reflect the wearer's queenly attributes in a fashion that aptly represents the Grand Period of the Victorian era.
The Aesthetic Period (1885-1901)
The peak of the industrial revolution, the suffragette movement, and the rise of manufacturing and international trade to unprecedented levels due to the broader use of steam power for ships and factories are characteristics of the final period of the Victorian era. Manufacturing improvements also meant a rise in productivity, and the vast influx of wealth that trickled through to the masses meant seismic social changes. By this period, workers enjoyed resources and leisure time that wasn’t possible before. Women, most significantly, are not confined to the home anymore by obligation and social etiquette as they participate in roles that help them enjoy a level of independence they never enjoyed before. These trends also influenced fashion and jewelry designs. Jewelry became widely available to more people, not just the upper classes.
The clothing at the time became lighter, and jewelry became smaller and lighter too. Heavier headdresses were rarely used at this time, ushering the arrival of small stud earrings, which were visible with Victorian hairstyles at the time, exposing the ears more.
Influences of cultural movements elsewhere in the world were also felt in Victorian jewelry. The Victorian period was beginning to give way to the Belle Epoque era in France by the time Her Majesty’s term was ending. The art and cultural movement prevalent in the Belle Epoque era, Art Nouveau, with its fine intricate lines, soft curves, and shapes, accented by the vast choices of stones available, was beginning to be typified the jewelry design trends of this period.
The design elements of the Aesthetic period are manifested in the Gardens of Adelaide black diamond pendant necklace and the Budding Blooms diamond stud earrings. The ornate flowing patterns in the Gardens of Adelaide pendant necklace borrow heavily from Belle Epoque design cues with its delicate forms. The nature-inspired patterns made of vines and floral designs are accented by dreamy diamonds as if sparkling in a clear night sky. The Budding Blooms stud earrings hark back to designs of earrings of the age. Intricate patterns in a diminutive package of highly-symbolic natural shapes match the simplicity of wardrobe choices that were en vogue at the time.
Today, the influence of Victorian jewelry on Michelle Valadon's fine gothic jewelry designs is keenly felt. The exceptional designs and manufacturing techniques of Michelle Valadon's Victorian-era-inspired jewelry pieces set them apart from mass-produced jewelry. The fine lines, intricate patterns, and distinctly feminine themes perfectly embody the wearer's queenly attributes and are the ultimate way of expressing sensuality, beauty, and charm through jewelry. Each piece is a unique work of art that harks back to a glorious era of history and fashion.