Jewellery in the Victorian era – from tiaras to brooches to lockets

The Victorian period was something of a Golden Age for jewellery. Spanning from 1837 to 1901, it saw an incredible range in jewellery techniques and styles. A boom in international connections, due to Britain’s global empire, brought new influences from all over the world. A rising middle class encouraged mass production of jewellery on a scale never before seen, while the glittering wealth of the aristocracy supported an incredible luxury jewellery industry.

While some Victorian jewellery styles, like bangles, have stayed popular over the last century, others have almost completely vanished. Here are just a few Victorian jewellery favourites that hardly ever appear in modern high street stores:

Tiaras

Once a staple of debutantes and courtiers, tiaras have now all but vanished – even the Royal Family hardly ever wear them anymore! Tiaras are perhaps the ultimate in luxury jewellery, instantly calling to mind the grandest fashions the world has ever seen. They still make an appearance at beauty pageants and occasional high-society events, but they have definitely lost their place as the premier item of jewellery. They enjoyed popularity into the Art Deco era, but disappeared after the Second World War. Today, the closest to a tiara that you’re likely to find in modern jewellery stores is a bohemian festival crown!

An exception here has to be made, of course, for one leading tiara wearer: the Queen, whose incredible collection of tiaras is absolutely awe-inspiring.

Victorian jewellery

Brooches

No self-respecting Victorian lady would ever have been seen without a brooch! Their popularity continued well into the twentieth century, but today they are found almost exclusively in antique shops. Occasionally, brooches do appear in high street stores, often attached to a particular item of clothing rather than sold on their own. More often, they are Victorian or early twentieth-century antiques.

One way in which brooches are flourishing is in the handmade jewellery market, where it has become popular to transform antique brooches into beautiful new pieces of jewellery. Brooches are also popular with certain groups of people – just think about all the pins that an alternative music-loving teenager might own!

Mourning Jewellery

One strange Victorian tradition which definitely did not survive up to the present day is the practice of wearing mourning jewellery. The Victorians had very strict rules about what should be worn when a member of the family died, and this included very detailed guidelines on jewellery choices. Black jewellery became hugely popular, sparking massive sales of jet jewellery, which has never quite regained the same level of popularity. Acceptable jewellery colours would then gradually change as the mourner moved into less strict later stages of mourning.

Mourning jewellery could also include personal mementos of a lost loved one. This might be a lock of hair, or an early photograph. Families might also produce matching items of memorial jewellery to hand out at funerals or memorial services. Skeleton, coffin, and skull motifs were extremely popular, often intended as macabre comments on the ever-present nature of death.

Unsurprisingly, mourning jewellery is far less popular today, as people choose rather less macabre pieces to wear!

Lockets

Out of all the vanished Victorian styles, lockets are probably the style that you’re most likely to see in modern shops. While they have a long history, they enjoyed particular popularity during the Victorian period, perhaps linked to the craze for mourning jewellery. Lockets could be found on necklaces and bracelets, and even rings sometimes had opening compartments.

Which of these vanished Victorian designs do you think should make a comeback? Do you still wear any of these styles, even if they are harder to buy in shops?

19 Mar 2017

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