Prince Albert died unexpectedly at the age of 42 in 1861. Queen Victoria mourned him for the rest of her life. She spent the next 40 years wearing black clothes.Strict mourning required a widow to wear black for two years but Victoria went well beyond that custom, and required the court to do so as well. I have written before about the popularity of Whitby jet and its substitutes – vulcanite, bog oak and French jet. Black jewellery was worn with mourning attire and for women, that included their earrings. Again, dangle earrings were the most common style.
By the 19th century, the world had a global viewpoint. Victoria herself was queen and empress of a massive empire, with colonies in India, Australia, Canada and so on. People travelled widely and were interested in other societies and civilisations. Grand tours to look at classical Rome and Greece were still been undertaken. Tourists brought home momentoes of their travels – lava jewellery from Pompeii, pietra dura from Florence, and micromosaics from Rome.
The quality and craftsmanship of these pieces varied considerably. Much of it was set in low grade silver or white metal, but some was also set in gold, from 9ct to 18ct.
Ancient Greek themes were often incorporated into jewellery. The earrings below have surrounds showing the Greek key border, which was used in decorative friezed on Greek temples and public buildings. It is thought to symbolise infinity and unity. The centre of each earrings contains a cameo of the profile of what I assume is a Victorian statesman or notable figure.
The Victorian period was also influenced by excavations in Italy, Turkey and Egypt, even in the UK itself, which led to adaptions of key themes in jewellery styles.
As I have written about in a previous post, Victorians used a range of organic gems and objects in their jewellery. One very popular organic material was tortoiseshell. The use of tortoiseshell for jewellery rather than for small decorative objects and accessories reached its popularity in the 1860s. Two types of inlay work were done, using a technique called ‘pricking’ which became ‘pique’. The first, pique point, was when small wires were pushed into tortoiseshell softened by heat, and then filed off flush to the surface, leaving dots, stars or similar small shapes. The second, pique posė, pressed strips of gold or silver metal arranged into floral or geometric patterns.
There are so many types of earring to discuss but this is all for now. Next week, art deco earrings.