Victoria was crowned in Westminster Abbey in June 1838, marrying Prince Albert two years later. Their romance and marriage inspired the nation and marked the beginning of the “Romantic Period”.
Consistent with this, there was an upwelling of sentimental jewellery. Queen Victoria’s love of jewellery and her position as the Empress of the most powerful nation on earth set her as the style leader for the best part of a century. Women of all classes wanted to wear fashionable clothes and jewellery. The industrial revolution brought with it mass production. The Czech republic’s techniques for machine cutting glass produced low-cost stones for the use in jewellery. Together this provided the environment for an explosion in jewellery production and innovation.
The pageantry of the royal wedding added impetus to the fashion for romantic jewellery. All classes owned Mizpah pins or love brooches. These were made of silver and engraved with initials or names of loved ones. The mizpah pins featured different motifs such as ivy leaves for friendship, bluebells for constancy, hearts for charity and tail-eating serpents for eternal love.
Queen Victoria revived the popularity for hair jewellery after receiving a lock of her mother’s hair on her 16th birthday. After Albert’s death, she carried a lock of his hair with her for the rest of her life. Hairwork was originally worn in the previous Georgian era, but was revived by Victoria in brooches, chokers and bracelets. The jewellery also had miniature paintings of loved ones decorating them.
When Victoria purchased the Balmoral Estate she made all things Scottish immediately desirable. Particularly, the agate jewellery of Scotland, set in silver, became very popular.
The death of Albert from typhoid in 1861 caused an immediate and abrupt change. Victoria went into a long period of mourning, known as the grand period, when she ordered by royal decree that only jet could be worn in court. Jet is a black, coal-like substance formed by heat and pressure on wood. The finest jet comes from the mines around Whitby on the east coast of Yorkshire and many hundreds of workers were involved in the industry carving jet for the nation in the second half of the 19th century.
Jet is lightweight, easy to carve and good for larger items. French jet was also used, being a black glass less fragile than Whitby jet. French jet could be used for intricate designs and could be connected with wires to produce designs such as flowers.
Victoria also made charm bracelets a popular item. After Albert’s death she wore a series of miniature lockets on a gold chain with portraits of her family in them.
The Victorians enjoyed wearing heavy necklaces and lockets made in silver, most popular in the 1880’s. In this period brightly coloured jewellery became unfashionable and, with the invention of the electric light, diamonds were in favour. Cecil Rhodes had discovered huge diamond fields in South Africa and the mining of these resources brought a plentiful supply. Eventually, despite Queen Victoria remaining in mourning, the nation tired of black attire and jet. Victorian women wanted better quality jewellery, not mass-produced. They began to go to individual artists and craftsman to fashion pieces for them. Thus began the Arts and Crafts movement.