Chains continued to be important pieces of jewellery in their own right in the 1860s and until the end of the Victorian period. While some chains were still hand made, the majority of gold chains were machine made. In this blog, I am going to talk about two categories of chains worn by women. The first is that of long chains, the second, that of large looped chains made of substances like jet, ivory, vulcanite and tortoiseshell, often used for mourning jewellery.

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Victorian 9ct guard chain (in Navette on Ruby Lane)

Long guard chains were first worn by women in the early 1800s. They were long and light and were draped over the shoulders and caught at the waist with a watch hook or tucked under a belt or in a watch pocket. They were used to carry watches as well as lorgnettes or  vinaigrettes, and were described as ‘guard chains’. Women continued to wear long chains, about 152.4cms (60 inches) long, in the Victorian period but the chains had become thinner and they were worn around the neck. Depending on their use, such chains were also called ‘watch chains’ , ‘lorgnette chains’ or ‘muff chains’. Some had a swivel attachment and some had a slide to allow the drape of the chain to be adjusted.

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Three different guard chain links

Examples of how guard chains were worn can been seen in Genevieve Cummins’ book, ‘How the Watch was Worn’.

The second category of chain is associated with Queen Victoria’s almost permanent mourning for Prince Albert from 1861, when mourning jewellery was in demand. The jewellery, in the form of lockets and long necklaces, brooches, earrings and bracelets, was often quite large. Popular materials were jet from Whitby, as well as vulcanite, a manufactured alternative to jet. Tortoiseshell was also used.

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Tortoiseshell, jet and vulcanite chains

The chains used for the necklaces were also large. The links used were simple loop in loops or anchor links. The chains above are tortoiseshell, with metal rings, jet with loops on loops, and vulcanite with anchor links.