Jewelry Styles By Era: The History Of Vintage Jewelry
Jewelry Styles by Era: The History of Vintage Jewelry
As a lover of vintage jewelry, I have always been fascinated by the stories behind each piece and connecting specific styles to the decades they originated from. Vintage jewelry is not just a fashion statement, but it also holds rich historical and cultural significance. In this article, I will take you on a journey through the fascinating history of vintage jewelry, from ancient times to modern-day, and explore its enduring appeal.
Introduction to Vintage Jewelry
Vintage jewelry generally refers to any piece of jewelry that is at least 20 years old. Typically, it ranges from pieces that are just shy of 100 years old to pieces from the 1990s. Vintage jewelry is often characterized by its unique design, high-quality craftsmanship, and timeless appeal.
One of the reasons vintage jewelry is so popular is that it tells a story. Each piece has a history, and it has been passed down through generations, carrying with it the memories and experiences of its previous owners. Vintage jewelry also offers a level of exclusivity, as many pieces are now one-of-a-kind or limited availability.
The history of vintage jewelry can be traced back to ancient civilizations such as Egypt, Greece, and Rome. Jewelry was worn not only for adornment but also as a symbol of wealth and status. In ancient Egypt, for example, jewelry was often buried with the dead as a way to ensure their wealth and status in the afterlife.
During the Renaissance period, jewelry became more intricate and detailed, with a focus on gemstones and precious metals. The Victorian era saw the rise of sentimental jewelry. The Art Nouveau period, which lasted from the late 1800s to the early 1900s, was characterized by designs inspired by nature. The Art Deco period, which followed in the 1920s and 1930s, was characterized by geometric shapes and bold colors. Retro jewelry, which was popular in the 1940s and 1950s, was heavily influenced by Hollywood glamour.
The Different Eras of Vintage Jewelry Through the Decades
As mentioned, vintage jewelry can be categorized into different eras based on its design and style. Some of the most popular eras of vintage jewelry include:
The Georgian era (1714-1830) was characterized by intricate and ever-changing designs and craftsmanship, which reflected the opulence and grandeur of the time. Jewelry during this period was often made of gold and silver, with precious stones like diamonds, sapphires, and rubies being used sparingly. Paste stones were used in costume jewelry during this time. Jewelry such as watches with chains, cameos, colored stone rings, matching pairs of bracelets, chatelaines, and earrings of many different lengths. It was not uncommon for dapper men to be seen with stone-studded shoe buckles and buttons.
The Victorian era (1837-1901) was a time of great change and innovation in the field of jewelry-making. The Victorian era saw the introduction of new materials like jet, onyx, and tortoiseshell. Jewelry during this period was often ornate and elaborate, with intricate designs and floral motifs being popular. Of note in this period is the rise of mourning jewelry to commemorate the loss of a loved one in the form of lockets, miniature portraits, and hair remembrances. You can see our current selection of Victorian Jewelry here.
Victorian Gutta Percha Gold Front Necklace
The Edwardian era (1901-1915) was a period of great elegance and refinement in jewelry design. Jewelry during this period was characterized by delicate and intricate designs, often featuring platinum and diamonds in platinum. The use of pearls and other precious stones was also common during this era. Millegraining, a new technique that produces a fine texture on the metal came into use in the Edwardian era, giving jewelry of the time a lighter appearance. "White" metal jewelry was very popular and styles that were common include the bar brooch, dog collar necklace, buckles, lavaliers, négligées, sautoirs, longer drop-style earrings, tiaras, and gemstone rings with calibré-cut halos.
Edwardian Gold Pearl Necklace
The Art Nouveau era lasted from the late 1800s to the early 1900s and was characterized by organic, flowing designs inspired by nature. Art Nouveau jewelry often featured motifs such as flowers, butterflies, and dragonflies, and was made using materials such as enamel, glass, and pearl. Plique-à-jour enamel, basse-taille, guilloche, are some of the main techniques to arise in the Art Nouveau era. Makers of note are Rene Lalique, Georges Fouquet, and Henri Vever.
Nouveau Arts and Crafts Skønvirke Pendant
Marianne With Helmet Medal Pendant
Perhaps the most well-known era in vintage jewelry is that of the 1920s jewelry style. The Art Deco era (1920-1939) was influenced by the Art Deco movement, which was popular in architecture and design at the time. It was a time of great change and innovation in jewelry design. Jewelry during this period was characterized by geometric shapes and bold, colorful designs. The use of materials like ivory, jade, and coral was also common during this period. Dress Clips, long "flapper" style necklaces, chunky plastic bakelite bracelets, delicate geometric necklaces, line bracelets, and long feminine geometrically-shaped earrings are some of the jewelry elements you see come out of the Art Deco period and the 1920s jewelry style. You can see our current selection of Art Deco Jewelry here.
Art Deco Sterling Silver Bracelet
Art Deco Silver Bar Brooch
Retro jewelry, which was popular in the 1940s and 1950s, was heavily influenced by Hollywood glamour and often featured large, colorful gemstones. Retro jewelry was characterized by its bold, statement-making designs and use of materials such as gold, silver, and platinum. In costume jewelry, we see the same use of large stones, rose gold plate, elegant curves in shapes such as bows, scrolls, and ribbons, flower motifs, figural pieces, large stone rings, and furclips, often featuring one big statement stone.
1940s Bezel Set Glass Flower Bracelet
Uranium Glass Chatelaine
Famous Vintage Jewelry Designers and Their Contributions
Vintage jewelry has been influenced by many famous designers throughout history. Some of the most notable include the following:
One of the most famous vintage jewelry designers is Coco Chanel. Her jewelry designs from the 1920s and 1930s are still highly coveted today. She was known for incorporating bold and unconventional materials, such as faux pearls and glass beads, into her designs. Another iconic designer from the same era is Elsa Schiaparelli. Her jewelry designs were inspired by surrealism and featured whimsical motifs such as insects and animals. Moving into the 1950s and 1960s, we have the likes of Kenneth Jay Lane and Miriam Haskell. Lane was known for his colorful and statement-making designs, while Haskell was celebrated for her intricate and delicate pieces. Both designers were responsible for creating some of the most iconic vintage costume jewelry of the era.
The Enduring Appeal of Vintage Jewelry
One of the reasons vintage jewelry is so popular is that it never goes out of style. Vintage jewelry is timeless, and its unique designs and high-quality craftsmanship make it highly desirable. Vintage jewelry also offers a level of exclusivity, as many pieces are one-of-a-kind or limited edition. Vintage jewelry also holds a unique sentimental value. Each piece has a history and a story, and it has been passed down through generations, carrying with it the memories and experiences of its previous owners. Vintage jewelry is not just a piece of jewelry, it is also a piece of history.
How to Identify and Authenticate Vintage Jewelry
Identifying and authenticating vintage jewelry can be a challenge, but there are several things to look for.
One of the first things to consider is construction techniques. Jewelry can be dated by learning about differences in jewelry manufacture through the decades and understanding when particular elements began being used. This includes familiarizing yourself with contemporary jewelry manufacture so you can compare and properly identify if in fact, your jewelry is vintage. Thick rhodium or gold plating, prong set stones, and spring ring or hook clasps are common markers of quality vintage jewelry.
Another important consideration is The style of the piece. It is important to understand the defining characteristics of jewelry from specific time periods in order to be able to accurately date it. For example, this article on 1950s jewelry will help you identify and date your mid-century pieces from this particular era.
Hallmarks and Signatures
It is also important to look for hallmarks and signatures. These can often be found on the back of a piece or on the clasp or bail. Hallmarks and signatures can help to identify the designer and the materials used in the piece. A good suggestion is to purchase a jeweler's loupe to magnify small marks so they can be seen. Many times these stamps or signatures are found in unusual places, so it's a good idea to familiarize yourself with all the possible places one might be. Below is an example of a signature on a Sherman brooch and hallmarks on a Victorian locket from England.
Another important factor to consider is the condition of the piece. If your jewelry is in pristine condition, be leery of the age, even if the style appears to be vintage. Vintage jewelry will almost always have some small signs of wear unless it is new-old stock.
Caring for Vintage Jewelry
Caring for vintage jewelry is essential to ensure that it lasts for years to come. One of the most important things to do is to store vintage jewelry properly in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight and moisture. Cleaning should be done with as little moisture and friction as possible. A soft toothbrush and pointed-tipped Q-tips are essentials for any jewelry collector. I like to dry my jewelry after cleaning with a blow dryer on a warm setting. Be careful, as a hot setting could cause any glue to loosen. Cleaning vintage jewelry can be challenging, as many pieces are delicate and can be easily damaged. Different styles of jewelry require different cleaning methods. It is important to use gentle cleaning methods and avoid harsh chemicals or abrasive materials. Jewelry should not be cleaned too regularly if you want to extend the life of the piece. Keep perfumes and lotions away from your vintage costume jewelry.
The Future of Vintage Jewelry
The future of vintage jewelry looks bright, with more and more people discovering the beauty and history of these unique pieces. Vintage jewelry offers a level of exclusivity and sentimentality that cannot be found in modern jewelry. As the demand for vintage jewelry continues to grow, it is likely that we will see more designers entering the collectible second-hand market.
Vintage jewelry is more than just a fashion statement; it is a piece of history. It carries with it, a piece of the past that can be handed down through the generations, and a part of the history and lived experience of a loved one. It can also be a symbol of wealth and status. From ancient civilizations to modern-day, vintage jewelry has endured the test of time and continues to captivate and inspire. Whether you are a collector or simply appreciate the beauty and history of vintage jewelry, it is a timeless and enduring art form that will continue to be cherished for generations to come