Silver has been used for jewellery for thousands of years. It is malleable, soft and white and relatively easy to use. Its only drawback is its tendency to tarnish. Making objects out of silver is a long tradition, controlled by silversmiths.
Whilst silver jewellery was made throughout the Victorian period, it was the discovery of silver in Nevada in 1858 which was to lead to a growth in silver items, together with the ever growing middle classes who had money to spare. Silver jewellery was obviously cheaper than gold jewellery but that didn’t mean that the workmanship was less. Beautifully hand engraved hinged bangles were produced, along with heavy collars, some with lockets, others ornate enough to stand alone.
The opening up of Japan after 1854 led to an interest in Japanese culture and to the Aesthetic Movement in the 1870s. The use of simple flowers was influenced by the Aesthetic Movement and jewellers also borrowed techniques from the Japanese shakudo and shibuichi arts which used inlays and overlays of different colored golds. This ‘Japonaiserie’ style of decoration was popular in England around the 1880s to the 1900s.
In the early to mid-1880s, women wore less daytime jewellery and the jewellery industry began to suffer at a time when the jewellery trade had become too crowded. However, towards the end of decade, a tax on silver and gold items was removed, and jewellery, particularly silver jewellery, became more affordable to the middle and lower classes. Demand increased, although the quality of many items had dropped. Silver began to be used by high end Arts and Craft, Art Nouveau and Art Deco designers, and some beautiful pieces were produced.