The Victorians were a funny bunch. For all their stiff upper lip, lie back and think of England attitude, they were also sentimental in the extreme and there is no better way to witness this than in their jewellery and, boy, were they mad about jewellery.
Queen Victoria’s reign lasted 50 years, the longest of any monarch. She became queen in 1839 and died age 82 in 1901. She absolutely loved jewellery and, without a doubt, influenced what was fashionable throughout her reign. Which makes me wonder if this sentimentality could be because of her deep and romantic love for Prince Albert? Or was it because the Victorians were unable to express their feelings verbally and, therefore, this expression found a way through the jewellery they wore?
We know that after Prince Albert died she never came out of mourning dress and was to make black jewellery du rigueur amongst widows at the time. This black jewellery was made from Jet, a fossilised driftwood from Whitby on the Yorkshire coastline.
Victorian sentimentality found form in the shape of love tokens such as; hearts, lockets and other such novelties; very often with a lock of your loved ones hair, or painted miniatures.
These love tokens were often hand engraved, sometimes with the letters AEI which stood for: “Amity, Eternity, Infinity” or MIZAH meaning:”Lord watch between me and you, when we are absent one from another”. Charm bracelets were very popular and could be found crammed full of these momentos.
Hand in hand with this sentimentally was symbolism. Pearls signified tears, lilac meant the first flush of love, butterflies meant soul and rebirth and dogs signified devotion. Emeralds showed hope and rubies passion. Apples equalled peace. An engraved crown with a heart over it meant: “you are the ruler of my heart”. Four leaf clover: “be mine”.
Animals and insects were also very popular amongst the Victorians. I love that Prince Albert gave Queen Victoria an engagement ring carved in the shape of a snake, a popular symbol of love and eternity. And strangely, also, setting your children’s milk teeth in a brooch or setting a tiger’s tooth in gold to show off hunting skills. Flowers were another popular setting for stones and again all had meaning. Forget-me-Nots were given as a love token.
Diamonds were very popular among the Victorian aristocracy as they were extremely expensive at the time but more popular and widespread were amethysts, coral, garnets, turquoise, seed pearls and opals.
I love Victorian jewellery. I guess it resonates with me in the same way the Ancient Egyptian jewels do: symbolism in colour and motifs. Both of which you can see the influence of in my work.