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A Brief History of Jewellery: Part 1

11 May 2017 15:44

Like clothing, art, architecture and music, jewellery has enjoyed a varied and characterful history. Over more than 200 years, craftsmanship, materials and fashions have influenced a great many periods of artistic transition.

Across the wide spectrum of jewellery, from wedding and engagement rings to necklaces and bracelets, fashion has changed from large to small and back again; from delicate to heavy; and from bejewelled to plain.

And like haute couture, what was avant-garde in the early 1900s has become vintage and collectable in the 21st century. And what was seen as artistically desirable in the 1970s has become attractively retro in more recent years.

Still today the development of jewellery sees ever-changing designs and use of materials.

The Victorian influence on jewellery

Perhaps the most poignant period of development for jewellery was around 1850. A time of huge social change, the Victorian era saw rapid advances in communication, transportation and manufacture. At this time a huge growth in the number of factories, both large and small, made it possible to create more materials and products, and at more attractive prices, making such luxury items as jewellery increasingly widely available.

The creation and manufacture of jewellery was enhanced by such developments as die stamping instead of the old-fashioned and time-consuming method of hand-wrought custom-made pieces of jewellery. Scientists at this time also discovered a more efficient way to harness electricity, which further assisted in the creation and evolution in the manufacturing jewellery process.

And to top it all, in 1849 there came the world-changing discovery of gold and silver in America. Just two years later, the same precious materials were found in Australia, too.

It’s not difficult to imagine how these treasured finds brought a revolution in the making and design of jewellery. With sufficient quantities of these precious ores there came about a new and booming jewellery commerce.

(Today, we are still very familiar with these precious ores, which have been adapted to represent 9, 14 and 18 carat in both white and yellow gold.)

The growing love affair with jewellery

And so, with these industrial and material changes in the early Victorian period there came a widespread love affair with jewellery. Now, not only were the high society able to afford and display their jewellery adornments, but because prices were more attractive so, too, could the new middle classes embrace their inner-sparkle.

There was a clamour for jewellery of all types from precious diamonds and coloured gems, emeralds, black and fire opals, jade, pearl, precious topaz, rubies and sapphires, through to cameos, coral carvings in bracelets, necklaces, earrings, brooches and hair clasps.

And then what came next in the history of jewellery?

In future blogs we will look at the jewellery and iconic designs of more other artistic periods including: Edwardian, Art Deco, Art Moderne, Modern and Belle Epoque, which is perhaps the most exquisite era of them all in jewellery terms.

* We would love to know which jewellery era is your favourite – and why?