Defininition of Antique and Vintage Jewelry by Periods

Jessop's in downtown San Diego, near Little Italy, has simplified shopping for antique and vintage estate jewelry. There are so many styles from the past 200 years to be enchanted by it makes  seeing our cases mandatory for jewel lovers. Here is a broad overview of period styles.

An important thing to keep in mind when considering the styles for vintage jewelry is that the time periods overlap. In older vintage jewelry there is a vague beginning, a peak and a tapering off over many years for specific styles.  There was no strict stop and start to the periods but are more accurately classified by their design styles and their construction methods. There is style overlap also; new changes often incorporated elements from earlier designs. Fashions did not change as rapidly 150 years ago as they do today, thus styles stayed current for longer periods and did not evolve as quickly. Vintage dating of estate jewelry is like trying to see the past through a fuzzy filter.

The oldest jewelry we generally see at Jessop’s is Early Victorian period. Pre-dating this is the late Georgian period (1820 to 1830) and from time to time we find a rare late Georgian item.

Victorian Jewelry is loosely divided into early, mid and late periods.

Early Victorian period (1837-1859) finds sentimental jewelry using romantic motifs such as regard rings where the first letters of the gemstone’s name set into the ring spelled regard (ruby, emerald, garnet, amethyst, ruby, diamond) or dearest. Many items were made of hair, both for mourning and as a token  your love. Hairstyles covered the ears so earrings were not fashioned on this time. Bracelets were often worn in pairs and Scottish agate jewelry was very popular in the 1840’s

Mid Victorian period (1860-1879) saw hairstyles change to reveal earlobes so we see earrings for pierced ears. Many necklaces and bracelets with gold tassels and fringe were in fashion, some accented by enamel. Cameos and mosaic/inlay pins, brooches and bracelets were popular and often bought as a result of a trip to Italy where the craftsmen were so skilled in their creation. Prince Albert’s death in 1861 sent Queen Victoria and her court into mourning; the Civil war’s toll sent thousands into mourning here. As a result we find black jewelry of all types, often accented with seed pearls to represent tears. Mourning hair jewelry and lockets with hair compartments are typical of this time. In 1867 the South African diamond discoveries set the jewelers into a frenzy of diamond studded designs. Also discoveries of ancient Egyptian and Etruscan tombs during this period inspired many revival styles taken from those ancient designs.

Late Victorian period (1880-1900) welcomed the electric light which illuminated the sparkle of a diamond. Clothing changes to a more delicate effect and the jewelry slowly starts to reflect that. The diamond solitaire ring is introduced in 1886. Hair jewelry wanes around 1880, although as late as the 1911 Sears catalog parts are still available for it! Some Victorians held on to their styles well past the turn of the century, up to WW1. Platinum is used starting around 1890 and the earliest pieces are noted for being backed in gold-a then common method of finishing silver jewelry- this practice stopped around 1900 as the populace realized that platinum did not tarnish as the “other white metal” -silver- did before it.

Edwardian period (also called Belle Epoque period in France) (1900-1918) is often typified by a lacy and feminine look. Platinum took center stage and was the perfect setting for diamonds; its strength allowed very delicate filigree patterns to be created. This gave us necklaces and brooches with bow, swag and garland designs in platinum filigree, all set with diamonds to produce a glittering all white motif. (White gold is not created until 1917) Rings were platinum and diamond in elongated oval or oblong shapes.

The Edwardian period was a time of many inventions and a speeding up of life due to the arrival of cars, planes, movies, phones and more. The Aesthetic, Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau (1895-1910) style movements of the times were statements of anti-mechanism, rooted in hand-crafted jewelry and attention to detail and form over brilliant gemstone studded jewelry. These three shared a philosophy and many items from this time show influences of more than one style. The designs featured textured metals in gold or silver, many with enamel and often set with moonstones or turquoise. The styles were often influenced by natural subjects such as the female form, flowers and leaves, as well as insects such as the dragonfly. The Modernist jewelry that morphs into what is now called Art Deco begins to take shape.

After the Edwardian Period vintage jewelry is perhaps better referred to by style. During the 1920’s and the 1930’s new designs were called Moderne or Modernistic. The term Art Deco was not coined until the 1960’s and was taken from the 1925 French fair: L’Exposition des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes. Uses of geometric shapes come into play, along with Asian influenced and abstract designs. Colored gemstones like rubies, sapphires and emeralds are used as accents in these designs, and it is not unusual to find synthetic colored gems set in a platinum diamond piece from the period. (the first synthetic rubies were made in 1891)

The 20’s jewelers made many straight-line diamond bracelets to compliment the flapper’s bare arms and short skirts. Long earrings were styled for the now popular non-pierced ear and short hairstyles. The modern round brilliant cut diamond was introduced in 1919 and brought more beauty and fire to modern diamond jewelry in contrast to the older cuts -the Old Mine cut and the European cut. During this decade new accent shapes of diamond such as the half moon and the bullet were created.

The 1930’s designs were much like the 20’s becoming more streamlined toward the end of the decade. Pairs of dress clips were very popular. Also toward the end of the decade the all white look was moving toward a larger, bold gold look set with colored gemstones.

1935 to 1945 was a time of global conflict and change in jewelry. Platinum was banned for use in jewelry as it was needed for the war effort. Large, less expensive gems like citrine and amethyst were set in bold, gold rings and brooches. Asymmetrical shapes looking futuristic evolved over this time and buckle bracelets were in demand. Dress clips continued to be popular and the padded shoulders of the 40’s needed larger jewelry accents for balance. Rose gold, and bi and tri-color gold was tied into bows and knots for pins and brooches. Matching sets were back in vogue, featuring a chunkier look.

Retro is a term used to describe much of the style created during the 40’s.

After the war platinum returned and many luxurious diamond and gemstone items came back in full force in fine jewelry stores. Dresses became softer looking and lines more flowing and the jewelry of the 50’s suit these fashions. Earclips, pins and charm bracelets were popular and rope and twisted chain necklaces graced necks. Many pre-war styles were reintroduced in the classic designs of the 30’s.

At Jessop’s we have decades of experience in estate jewelry buying, selling and restoring. Buying vintage jewelry and estate jewelry requires a good eye to spot well made pieces, which have had no repairs or little wear and tear. Fakes and reproductions abound and a buyer must be knowledgeable in how to spot them.  Shopping from our collection of inspected, refinished and appraised vintage jewelry is the ideal way to find a treasure from the past and peace of mind today.

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