History of Antique Jewellery

ANTIQUE JEWELLERY HISTORY – Georgian Jewellery:  1714-1837

Georgian jewellery is very rare, often featuring nature-inspired designs such as leaves and birds.  Georgian jewellery was handmade, making the quality of each piece of jewellery variable.   Georgian antique jewellery frequently includes precious stones and these would be set into foiled closed backed settings to the reverse, set in silver to the front. Jewellery has always been worn for many purposes; the reasons for wearing jewellery are more complicated than a basic desire for self adornment. 1672-1732:  Pinchbeck jewellery was introduced as an imitation of Gold. Invented by Christopher Pinchbeck, it was a mixture of alloy, copper and zinc.  Pinchbeck sold in large quantities and was eventually taken over by gilt metal.  (Gilding is a process by which a base metal is plated or coated with a thin layer of gold). 1701-1773:  Paste jewellery was introduced as a substitute for Diamonds. Paste was invented by Georges Frederic Strass, paste is a high lead content glass and was cut to resemble Diamonds.  Diamonds were purchased and worn by aristocracy, whilst paste jewellery was purchased and worn by the middle class. People have worn antique jewellery as a memento of loved ones living or dead.  Jewellery was also worn as an expression of faith or as a talisman to ward off evil and disease. It was a belief that certain stones had magical powers.  Topaz cured madness and increased wisdom.  Sapphire cured diseases of the skin. Memento mori, meaning remember you must die.  Memento antique jewellery appeared in the 16th century and was decorated with enamel, skeletons, skulls, worms, coffins and crossbones. By the 17th century memento jewellery and the above symbols were being used not to warn of mortality but to commemorate the death of individuals.  By the second half of the 17th century memorial rings were being provided to distribute to friends and family after a funeral.  Samuel Pepys in his will made arrangements that upon his death 128 rings were to be despatched after his funeral. Antique jewellery; Memorial rings, lockets, pendants and slides (worn on ribbons around the neck or wrist) contained backgrounds of hair or silk with symbols of skulls and crossbones under crystal.    By 1730 Antique jewellery with unsightly crossbones and skulls were followed by more neo-classical miniatures.  Antique jewellery; Rings, pendants and brooches were decorated with sepia paint on ivory showing grieving women by urns, broken columns and tombs decorated with cherubs and weeping willow trees. By 1781 silhouettes were cheaper than painted miniatures, these were set in jewellery; Rings, pendants or brooches.  Also the miniature of a single eye was used in jewellery, some set with a glistening diamond tear drop. 1813 Berlin Iron jewellery was founded at Gleiwitz in the Prussian province of Silesia. In Berlin in 1804 a factory was established producing iron objects both decorative and functional. Trade increased during the period 1813 -1815 as a response to a plea by the Prussian authorities for members of the aristocracy to donate gold and jewels for the war effort against Napoleon.  In exchange for gold and jewels they were given Iron Work crosses, brooches, necklaces and bracelets some bearing the inscription “Gold gab ich fur Eisen” (I gave gold for iron).  The response was endless with over 41,000 items of Berlin Antique Ironwork jewellery being produced in 1814 alone.  

ANTIQUE JEWELLERY HISTORY - Victorian: 1837-1901

The early Victorian era showed a great change in the development of Antique jewellery, culminating in the Romantic Movement.  Nature had a big influence on the design of Antique jewellery at this time.  Designs included flowers, buds and bunches of grapes,  leaves and serpents etc.  Antique Mourning jewellery was still common in the early 19th century. 1847 – Louis Francois Cartier at the age of 28 after an apprenticeship with a master watchmaker took over his master’s Jewellery business located at 31 Rue Montorgueil, Paris. In 1874 Cartier's son Louis Alfred took control of the business.  1904 Louis Francois Cartier died. 1899 Cartier moved to its jewellery shop to Rue de la Paix, Paris. 1851 – The great exhibition held at the Crystal Palace in London, provided a good opportunity for the Antique jewellery industry to create interest and manufacture.  1860 – The Antique jewellery trend changed and the Greek, Etruscan and Egyptian styles became favourable.  March 1861 Queen Victoria’s mother died, also November 1861 Queen Victoria’s husband the Prince Albert died at the age of 42.  The Queen went into deepest mourning for the rest of her life.  Black was to be worn by all those in mourning.  Once again the Antique jewellery trend changed to jet, cut steel and berlin iron.  In the later stages of mourning tortoise shell and ivory jewellery was worn.  Cut Steel Antique jewellery was constructed from clusters of small faceted and polished individual studs riveted to a base plate.  As cut steel became more popular in demand brooches, necklaces, hair pins, chatelaine, bracelets and buttons were produced. Cut steel was produced in the small market town of Woodstock north of the town Oxford.  Berlin Ironwork was constructed from hard grey metal, a factory established in Berlin in 1804 was known as the Royal Berlin Factory.  Jewellery equated to a small fraction of total production which included keys, purses, buckles and boxes to a massive scale of objects such as gates, grills, balustrades and bridges.  Jet is a type of brown coal, a fossilized wood of ancient tree.  The vast majority of Jet came from Whitby located on the coast of North Yorkshire. 1860’s/ 1870’s the art of gemstone polishing had become advanced in that colourful stones such as turquoise, garnet and coral could be cut to fit various settings in jewellery. 1864 – Peter Carl Faberge a Russian Jeweller joined his father’s business.  1872 Faberge took over management of his father’s business.  1882 Carl and his younger brother Agaton had great success from the Pan-Russian Exhibition held in Moscow.  It was here that the Tsar Alexandaer III  took an interest in Faberge’s work and in 1885 he became the Tsar’s Court Goldsmith.  Faberge went onto produce gem set Easter eggs for the Tsar’s mother and wife.  Faberge made many objects, from fine Antique jewellery to silver tableware.  Fabergé’s company enjoyed huge success; it became the largest in Russia with 500 employees and branches in Moscow, Odessa, Kiev, Saint Petersburg and London. 1880 – 1901 Due to the prosperity and economic growth vast quantities of Antique jewellery were manufactured to satisfy the insatiable market.  


Art Nouveau flourished through the mid 1880’s and spread through Europe to America then began to fade prior to World War 1. Art Nouveau jewellery was influenced on naturalism, involving unusual designs within a symmetrical frame encompassing enamel, gemstones, pearls, leaves and foliage. During the 1880’s Samuel Bing in Paris and Arthur Lasenby Liberty in London both ran specialist galleries in decorative arts. Liberty went on to launch designs by Archibald Knox.  In America Tiffanys were introducing new designs, whilst in Europe Rene Lalique established his reputation at the Paris Salon Exhibitions of 1895/96/97. In 1884 a German Ernest Murrle, settled in London and was the founder of Murrle Bennett & Co a competitor to Liberty.  Further names who influenced the Art Nouveau Antique jewellery circuit were Sibyl Dunlop, Theodor Fahner, Dorrie Nossiter, Child & Child (Walter and Harold Child), Georg Jensen and Charles Horner.  

ANTIQUE JEWELLERY HISTORY - Edwardian: 1901-1910

1901 - The eldest son of Queen Victoria became King Edward V11.   The Edwardian period was turbulent; antique jewellery was influenced by the complex array of the social, artistic and economic climate. Styling of this period became elaborate as craftsman could produce such intricate and fine antique jewellery.  Antique jewellery designs included formal jewellery; Tiaras, brooches, rings, earrings, pendants, bracelets and necklaces many set with precious and semi precious gemstones.  


After 1918 the wearing of delicate diamond jewellery had changed.  During the war women had worked alongside men and ladies had moved onto be mature and businesslike.  Therefore antique jewellery became uncluttered with clean lines, defined lines, strong curves and geometric shapes.   Baguette cut diamonds as well as black and white jewellery featuring onyx were in demand.   The double clip was used a lot in the form of a brooch.  The Brooch could be taken apart and used as two identical dress clips.  1922 – In Egypt the discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb influenced the period with the use of turquoise, scarab beetle, coral and coloured crystal within the construction of antique jewellery. Art Deco not only affected the design of jewellery. Changes were made in fashion, interior design, industrial design, architecture, film, visual arts, painting and graphic arts.  During the 1920’s desirability for Art Deco design peaked in Europe and continued strongly in the United States of America through the 1930s and surged after the Paris exhibition of 1925.

ANTIQUE JEWELLERY HISTORY - Vintage 1940’s, 1950’s, 1960’s, 1970’s.

The 1940's was the era for amazing plastic jewellery, deep carved Bakelite, Lucite and Casein jewels, chunky beads were present.  Bakelite was the first plastic made from synthetic components; beads both small and large in bright colours were used to create chunky jewelry. 1950’s & 1960’s – Murano glass jewellery  was produced in large quantities in Italy for the export and tourist market. Jewerly; Coloured paste, diamantes, glass beads, and simulated pearls were produced in many colours and sizes these were used to make affordable costume jewellery. Masses of costume jewellery including cocktail rings, dress rings, beaded necklaces along with bangles and bracelets were produced in heavy decorative styles. 1950's – An era that was fore fronted with American designers producing parures and suites. Signed by designers like Weiss, Coro and Trifari.  Europe was headed by Christian Dior. 1960's – The 'Flower Power' era.  Jewellery was colourful and bold with enamel flower brooches and matching earrrings in strong bright colours. 1970's- Britain still had a steel industry and jewellery was manufactured from Stainless Steel. Rings, cuffs link sets and big bold pendants are reminders of that Industry and era.