Jewellery was always available to the wealthy. However, as the middle class began to grow in the 18th century as a result of industrialisation and urbanisation, jewellers saw a new market emerging for their wares. Mechanisation allowed jewellery to be produced in a larger scale, reducing the need for much hand crafting. The die-stamping machine was invented in 1832. Electroplating was introduced in the 1840s. In the UK, the Lower Standards Act of 1854 legalised the use of 9, 12 and 15ct gold items. Small workshops specialising in stamping, piecing, engraving, assembling and polishing were established as the forerunners of manufacturing plants. Towns such as Birmingham in the UK, Providence in Rhode Island, USA and Pforzheim and Gablonz in Germany specialised in large scale jewellery production.
One-off jewellery pieces remained the domain of the wealthy but batch manufacturing meant that, while jewellery could be produced in greater volume, there needed to be a significant demand for the output. A way of creating this demand was through shop signs, advertisements in newspapers, leaflets, and trade cards. As more people moved to towns and cities, shops began to change, becoming larger, sending out catalogues and client circulars. Large department stores opened in the middle of the 19th century, selling ready made clothing and the jewellery to match.
Demand also began to be created through magazines designed just for women. The Lady’s Magazine or Entertaining Companion for the Fair Sex, Appropriated Solely to Their Use and Amusement was first published in 1770, closing in 1847. Then there was the Ladies’ Cabinet of Fashion, Music and Romance started in 1832, the New Monthly Belle Assemblee, started in 1832 and the Ladies’ Companion, started in 1849. The Lady, which started in 1885, is still running. The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine, started in 1852, and was aimed at lower middle class women.
In the US, in Philadelphia, Godey’s Lady’s Book started in 1830 which he designed specifically to attract the growing audience of American women. There was also Harper’s Bazar which started in 1867, changing its name to Harper’s Bazaar in 1929.
Purists deplored the commercialisation of jewellery production. A Mrs Hadaway gave a talk to the members of the Royal Society in 1908 in which she deplored the loss of artistic quality in jewellery due to the role of the goldsmith becoming a trade. There were a lot of things that Mrs Hadaway didn’t like but two commentators on her article disagreed with her about her view that mechanisation and stamping of jewellery production had led automatically to poor quality and badly designed jewellery. Low cost materials did not mean bad jewellery. It did mean, however, that less wealthy people could now afford jewellery.
Jewellery was accessible. The fact that it might be made of 9ct gold or rolled gold, be made of silver, silver gilt, or niello, or used agates instead of precious stones, did not necessarily detract from the beauty of a piece. But it did mean that there was a piece of jewellery affordable at every level of society.