Don’t you love Victorian jewelry? From the delicate, romantic engraved and enameled pieces of the early Victorian period (1837-1860) through the larger heavier pieces of the grand period (1860-1880) and the quieter, more severe pieces popular in the late Victorian era ( 1880-1901) Victorian jewelry recalls the time when a gentlemen might commission a special bracelet, necklace, locket, or hair comb to express his feelings and hopes.
The Victorians developed an intricate code for jewels that a woman might read like a book. If she knew the code. A diamond meant constancy, an emerald meant hope. Amethysts were a sign of devotion, and rubies signified passion. By reading the first letter of each gem’s name, a lady receiving a piece of jewelry set with a diamond, an emerald, an amethyst, and a ruby— in that order— would get the message “DEAR.” How clever is that?
This sent my writer’s imagination into overdrive. Suppose a Victorian heroine received a beautiful bracelet from an unknown giver, set with a diamond, an amethyst, a ruby, and another diamond? Only, she doesn’t know the code. Thrilled with such gorgeous gems, she goes in search of the donor, unaware that her life is in danger. Now there’s the plot for one of my future novels!
The wearing of certain pieces of jewelry sent more than a message about a woman’s wealth. Her jewels, or absence thereof , spoke to her level of refinement.In Europe especially, young girls wore only pearls, crosses, chains, or mourning jewelry. Diamonds and gems were reserved for married women of a certain age. Older women, and those in mourning were not to be seen wearing anything that sparkled.
Cameos like this one are among my favorite pieces of Victorian adornment. During Victoria’s time, they were made of gold, silver, stone, shell, and mother of pearl. Today, we most often see reproductions featuring a woman’s profile, but in the Victorian age, the most popular cameo was called Rebecca at the Well, depicting the famous scene from the Old Testament, in which the young maid meets her future husband at the well and fulfills a prophecy.
Pendants, lockets, hair ornaments, hair pins, rings, bracelets, earrings, chokers, brooches….I love them all. What’s your favorite?