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Understanding the 5 Major Eras of Vintage Jewelry

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Oct 16
2017

If you are planning to purchase a vintage jewelry piece or already have a vintage piece in your personal collection, take some time to get to know its history! Getting a sense of your jewelry’s roots will give you an even deeper appreciation for its elegance and beauty. You may even learn something!

Below is an intriguing summary of the 5 classic eras represented in vintage jewelry. Take a look and pick your favorite time period!

 

Georgian Era (Circa 1714-1835)

This period encompasses the reign of four kings of England– King George I, II, III, and IV. Georgian era jewelry was largely inspired by the designs of 17th century France. You can see this influence in the regal, grand designs and the use of large jewels and colored gems.

Jewelry was produced in great numbers during this period and everything was created by hand, typically with 18K gold and silver.

Georgian Era Trivia: Original Georgian era jewelry is very rare. Brooches and rings are the most common original pieces still in existence today.

Georgian Jewelry Characteristics

Jewelry pieces from this era have many recognizable features. Perhaps the most distinguishable is the shape of the stones used. During this time, stones were never cut in order to fit a specific piece of jewelry. You’ll notice many Georgian pieces have various shapes and sizes of stones on a single piece.

Georgian jewelry commonly included floral and ribbon-life motifs. Its gems were often set in closed-backed metal with foiling underneath. Typically, the designs were set in either a bow or teardrop shape.

Another popular trend of the Georgian era was memorial style jewelry. These pieces (typically pendants or brooches) were made with portraits of their loved ones painted on them.

 

Victorian Era (Circa 1835-1900)

The Victorian era is named after Queen Victoria. In 1837, Queen Victoria inherited the throne of England at just 18 years old. The Queen loved fashion and people held the clothing and jewelry she wore in high regard. Her fashion choices inspired the jewelry trends of the time. It was also during this period that fine jewelry began to become available to the emerging middle class.

In 1840, Victoria married King Albert and wore a stunning snake motif ring as a symbol of eternal love. The ring was set with a brilliant green emerald, which was her birthstone. In the Victorian era, it was very popular for birthstones to be used for engagement rings (not diamonds). However, toward the end of the Victorian period, diamonds again became popular.

Victorian Era Trivia: The first diamond solitaire engagement ring originated during this time period.

Victorian Jewelry Characteristics

Victorian era jewelry has two unique sets of identifiers. During the first half of the period, before King Albert’s death, jewlery was sentimental and romantic in nature with floral motifs and symbolic themes.

Jewelry from this time is creative and colorful, adorned with rubies and emeralds. Jewelry also began to feature gilded metal, rolled gold, and gold-plated techniques. Many of these pieces included pearls, citrines, and amethyst.

With the passing of King Albert came a surge in popularity of jewelry made from black materials. Various black materials were used to create bold designs, giving the broaches, necklaces, and bracelets a strong look.

Gold pieces were even commonly decorated with black enamel.

 

Edwardian (Circa 1900-1915)

In the early 1900s, high society was at the peak of its elegance and sophistication. The theme of this era can be categorized as platinum and diamonds…and more diamonds. In fact, jewelry designers of this period apparently wanted to use as many diamonds as possible in their pieces.

Brooches were still popular during this period as were long necklaces (called sautoirs). These necklaces were often composed of strands of pearls ending with tassels.

Edwardian Era Trivia: The use of platinum in jewelry originated in the Edwardian era.

Edwardian Jewelry Characteristics

The jewelry pieces of this era were light and delicate in appearance. A color scheme of white (diamonds) and metal (platinum) is very apparent throughout Edwardian jewelry. This was largely inspired by the fashion styles of the time, as during this period women commonly wore a lot of white and airy clothing.

Edwardian style engagement rings were so delicate in nature and the diamonds were often set in lace instead of metal. You’ll also see jewelry of this time utilize migraine, which is a small border of platinum beads around the edges of a piece of jewelry.

 

Art Deco (Circa 1915-1935)

With the start of World War I in 1914, the use of platinum within jewelry came to a halt. In fact, jewelry manufacturing in general all but disappeared! While the men were off at war, women had to take over their roles in the workplace. This marked the beginning of new place in society for women.

Then in 1920, women gained the right to vote, ushering in a whole new attitude– one that was clearly reflected in the jewelry trends of the time. Styles were edgy, yet feminine, and had a minimalist and modern appearance.

Though the Art Deco period only spanned a short amount of time, its impact on jewelry design can still be felt today.

Art Deco Era Trivia: Screw-back earrings appeared during this era and were used almost exclusively since pierced ears were considered taboo.

Art Deco Characteristics

Jewelry of this time can be identified by its emphasis on strong, geometric designs. Lines were straight and so were the shapes of gemstones. With the Art Deco period came splashes of sapphires, rubies, and emeralds to the diamond-centric jewelry of the previous period.

Women often wore stacks of sparkling bracelets on their wrists, long strands of cultured pearls, and straight, lean earrings.

 

Retro (Circa 1935-1950)

Jewelry design experienced a revival in the late 1930s. Women around the world were envious of the the glamour and fame of Hollywood. With it came the influence of Retro jewelry.

Some say the Retro era marked the end of minimalist looks. Women were working in greater numbers than before and fashion was taking on a stronger profile. Women began wearing big, bold, and dramatic jewelry.

Retro Era Trivia: Wide gold bracelets and clip-on earrings made their debut during this period.

Retro Jewelry Characteristics

Retro jewelry is easily recognizable by its use of bright yellow, rose, and green gold. We’re talking about big, bold, and three dimensional designs. Diamonds were largely out of style, however they would often appear as accent stones.

Gold and rose gold were the metal of choices during this period. Common designs included big ribbons and bows, flowers, and even animals.

 

See Our Collection of Vintage Jewelry

So, which classic jewelry era is your favorite? Interested in seeing some vintage pieces up close and in person?

Visit our store in downtown Baltimore where you can find everything from delicate diamond earrings of the Edwardian period to statement Retro brooches. Each of these estate and vintage pieces have been hand selected for their quality, elegance, and beauty.

If you have questions about dating your vintage ring, bracelet, or necklace, contact our team of experienced jewelers! We’d love to tell you the story behind its time period.

NEXT UP: What A Weekend! Recap of the 2017 Baltimore Art, Antique & Jewelry Show