The Victorian era ran from 1837 – 1901 with the reign of Queen Victoria, it is romanticised as a time of great adventure and exploration by the steampunk community. It is also considered a time of great invention. The steampunk community will often over look the bad from this era and give it an overhaul to make it a better time to be a part of.
The Victoria era is actually divided into 3 separate eras. The first is the Romantic Period, which ran from about 1800 – 1860, so the Victoria Era is only part of this, and most people are thinking later in the century when they are thinking of the Victorian era have this idea of adventure and industry. This era is emphasized by its glorification of the past, its glorification of nature and the past. The Romantic period also saw the birth of the Romantic poets such as Wordsworth, Byron and Coleridge.
To match this period the jewellery often reflected this with nature being a large part of the designs. Animals and flowers were all over jewellery at the time and detailing was key. Designs would be made of gold, they would often be enameled, and precious stones were included where ever possible. Bracelets were large and carved, with gold hinges and detailing. Snakes were quite the theme at the time, as Queen Victoria’s engagement ring from Prince Albert was a snake with its tail in its mouth.
Flowers and insects would often move on the jewellery due to technique called ‘En Tremblant’ which was invented in Paris. This technique would be used to make the wings of dragonflies tremble or flowers sway as the wearer moved around. Extravagance, colour and detail were the key to jewellery at this time.
The next era is the Grand Period, from approximately 1860 – 1885. This period came about with the death of Price Albert. Queen Victoria was heartbroken and from then on wore mourning clothes, this is now how we picture Victoria, from her statues and portraits, an austere expression and a simple black dress. Of course this had an influence on fashion again, and this means jewellery changes. The colours from the romantic period did not leave but black jewellery was created along side this. Jet, onyx and vulcanite became popular to keep with this theme as were other dark stones.
Revivalism was also a strong influence in this time, the love of the past that influenced the romantics was still going strong and things from the past became fashionable. The style of cameos went back to Romanesque during this time. Gold leafing was used to great effect. Ancient Egyptian symbols were suddenly brought back and it is not usual to see images of scarabs and lotus leaves in jewellery from that time.
The final period in this era is the Aesthetic period. This period is defined by its dedication to the purity of art itself, the Bohemian life view. Think Moulin Rouge, ‘Freedom, Beauty, Truth and Love.’ or the phrase ‘Creating art for Art’s sake.’ During this period jewellery became smaller and designs became simpler. This is when we saw the imitation tortoise shell, made of celluloid plastic, come into fashion. It is a reaction against the previous extravagant jewellery of the Victorian era. Victorians were becoming disillusioned with the luxury of the past and the nobility was starting to fall out of fashion as people relied less and less on the aristocracy and times moved into a less clear cut future.
The details were still there, but the designs were often produced a little more cheaply and were simplified. Brooches at the time often doubled as pendants. Often in the designs you can start to see Art Deco styles coming into the jewellery.
It is easy to forget that the Victorian era, like the Nuclear Age, runs over many decades, and if you think of how jewellery and fashion styles have changed during that time it is no great surprise that the Victorian’s changed their fashion too. I hope this helps you in the future for your costuming and fashion needs.