During the Victorian era (1837-1901) a series of major inventions, discoveries, and movements influenced the design of jewelry. The industrial revolution allowed jewelry to be manufactured at lower cost and in greater quantities than ever before, and thus become available to a wider segment of the population. In the mid-19th century, after 200 years of isolation, foreign merchant ships began to visit Japan and Japanese design had a major impact on jewelry and the decorative arts in the latter half of the 19th century. In the 1870’s diamonds were discovered in South Africa and this, combined with the invention of a torch hot enough to work platinum, greatly affected the look of jewelry for the next several decades. On the other hand, the Arts and Crafts movement arose as a reaction to the industrial revolution, and looked back toward a romanticized view of the middle ages (this will be the subject of its own blog post).
Queen Victoria herself had a major influence on the fashion and jewelry of the period. Early in her reign etchings of her coronation and marriage were widely circulated and influenced popular fashion; after Prince Albert’s premature death, Victoria’s decades of mourning popularized mourning jewelry to an extent never before seen.
Some of the books listed below focus on jewelry of the entire Victorian era, while some focus on specific aspects of it. Some extend into the pre-and-post-Victorian era, but have significant sections devoted to Victorian jewelry, and are therefore included in this list.
Jewellery in the Age of Queen Victoria by Charlotte Gere and Judy Rudoe is both sumptuous and scholarly. Rudoe is curator of post-Renaissance jewellery (sic: this is the British spelling of jewelry) at the British Museum and Gere worked for many years cataloguing a major bequest of jewelry to the Museum. Beginning with a biography of Queen Victoria as seen through the lense of jewelry, the book continues with sections on jewelry and dress, the Victorian language of jewelry, historical and archeaological revivals, cameos, and travel souvenir. The book covers major pieces as well as lesser, manufactured, pieces.
Victorian Jewelry, Unexplored Treasures by Ginny Redington Dawes and Corinne Davidov focuses on several categories of Victorian jewelry: silver jewelry, stone jewelry (popularly known as Scottish agate or pebble jewelry), steel jewelry (cut steel, Berlin iron, gunmetal), and sentimental jewelry (jet and its lookalikes, hair, and tortoise shell).
The two books discussed above are primarily focused on jewelry of the United Kingdom and, to a lesser extent, Europe. The Glitter and the Gold, Fashioning America’s Jewelry by Ulysses Grant Dietz is focused on jewelry produced in the United States during the 19th and early 20th centuries, specifically on fine jewelry produced in Newark, New Jersey. From about 1850-1950 Newark was the fine jewelry manufacturing capital of the United States ( according to the book, it is estimated that in 1929 approximately ninety percent of solid-gold jewelry made in the U.S. came from Newark factories), with its heyday being the late 19th and early 20th centuries. So, while the time period covered in this book is greater than the Victorian era, its focus is coincides with it. The book is available through the Newark Museum’s Bookstore.
Antique Paste Jewellery by M.D.S. Lewis is the standard reference book about fine paste jewelry. While it covers a longer period of time than the Victorian era, starting with the 18th century, it is the best source of information about paste Victorian paste jewelry. The book is out of print but sometimes available from re-sellers on Amazon or from J.M. Cohen Rare Books, a dealer who specializes in books about jewelry and fashion.
Cut Steel and Berlin Iron Jewellery by Anne Clifford is the only book on the market that is focused on this type of jewelry. The book is out of print but sometimes available from re-sellers on Amazon or from J.M. Cohen Rare Books, a dealer who specializes in books about jewelry and fashion.
Most of the books discussed are available via the Amazon links above or through J.M. Cohen Rare Books, a dealer who specializes in books about jewelry and fashion.