Jewelry in the Early Eras

The Georgian Era (1714-1837)

The “Georgian Era” got its name during the reign of King George I-IV from 1714-1840. After an improvement in the manufacturing of candles made them burn brighter and longer, a change in day and night jewelry came to be. Daytime jewelry consisted of pearls, garnets, moss agate and colored gems while diamonds were only to be worn at night to formal events. The true art of cutting gemstones and diamonds was not known yet, so closed backs were most common. Some backings were made of metal coatings, known as foiling, to enhance the stone’s brilliance. Silver and gold were used most as platinum hadn’t been discovered and white gold was not used in jewelry. The earlier portion of the 18th century featured motifs such as bows, flowers, and feathers while the later times featured arrows and geometric shapes. As a result of early 19th century wars, precious gemstones and certain metals were in short supply, making the jewelry that ended the era smaller and less significant.

Victorian Era (1837-1901)

During Queen Victoria’s reign, Great Britain became a major hub for jewelry. After the death of her husband, Prince Albert, the Queen and her people fell into a long period of mourning that brought dark and somber jewelry with macabre motifs.  At that time, most jewelry was used to symbolize their emotions and social class. Often set with dark onyx, gemstones and various motifs became most popular in pendants and pins. When the Queen’s mourning came to an end, the jewelry became lighter and featured more flowers, animals, insects, and stars. Elaborate cameos, lockets, and pieces set with seed pearls became popular and were often seen around the necks of women. Essentially, anything worn by the queen was trending soon after.

Art Nouveau (1890-1914)

The Art Nouveau period began in Europe later on in the Victorian Era and ended during the Edwardian Era, overlapping the two and encompassing both styles. The counter-cultural revolt against the mass production of jewelry brought pieces with soft curves and fluid lines that were not always symmetrical.  Natural themes such as butterflies, flowers, dragonflies and sensuous, nude women were very popular. The hand-crafted pieces showed off unique techniques such as enameling and the use of opals, moonstones, and amber that were not normally seen in jewelry from the previous period.

Edwardian (1901-1915)

After Queen Victoria’s death in 1901, her son, Edward, took the British throne. It was during this time that platinum began to appear in more jewelry because of its light weight and strength. The metal was easily manipulated and often used to create airy and highly detailed pieces. Milgrain, which creates a “beaded” look along the piece’s edges, became the newest trend after its invention. Diamonds also grew widely popular after only be worn at night during the Victorian Era.

Art Deco (1920-1939)

The Art Deco period first began in France and focused on geometric shapes, symmetry, and clean lines. The color used most in jewelry was the white of platinum and diamonds accented by colored stones such as sapphires, emeralds, and rubies. More flamboyant and dramatic pieces were a result of the First World War and the time following.  “The Roaring Twenties” brought motifs such as sunbursts that reflected their bold, bright attitudes and parties.

The term “Art Deco” comes from the 1925 “Exposition Internationale de Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Moderns” event. After the English had mispronounced it so many times, it was simply deemed “Art Deco”.

Retro (1940-1950’s)

Jewelry during the Retro period was big, bulky, and bold. Cocktail rings and statement necklaces inspired by the glitz and glam of Hollywood made their appearance. The demand for diamonds and platinum decreased as larger gems like amethyst, citrine, and topaz set in yellow gold became popular. Symmetry and yellow gold had again found its place in the jewelry world!

If you are interested in vintage, antique, and Estate jewelry like you just learned about, join us Friday, March 1, 2019 for the Downtown Iowa City Gallery Walk! We’ll have pieces from each era above.

See you there!