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Vintage and Estate Jewelry ‘Time Periods’

By: Nicole Mangiaracina 

I like to keep a mental record of our jewelry sales at Harry Merrill & Son Inc. and I noticed the public is completely drawn to our vintage (100+ years old) and estate jewelry. There is something about the motifs, filigree, and overall architecture of each piece that has consumers completely captivated by the fine details. In this article I will be informing you about the Victorian, Art Nouveau, Edwardian, Art Deco, and Retro jewelry time periods.

VICTORIAN (circa 1837-1901)

The name of this time period, “Victorian” stems from the reign of Queen Victoria in Great Britain from 1836 to 1901. Jewelry from this time period can best be described as romantic and nostalgic. This is because jewelry from this time was supposed to reflect Queen Victoria's admiration for her husband and children. Motifs like hearts and bows can be found in jewelry from the Victorian time period. Artisans primarily incorporated gemstones like garnet, opal, coral, turquoise, and seed pearls. Diamonds started becoming popular during this time after being discovered in South Africa in 1867. 

Another special fact regarding a very unique  kind of jewelry that came from this time period was ‘“mourning” jewelry. Artisans would encase the hair of a loved one inside a piece of jewelry. This kind of jewelry was given to people who had  lost their loved one. This was a way to keep your loved one with you even when they have passed. This ties back to the nostalgic and sentimental outlook associated with Queen Victoria's reign.  

ART NOUVEAU (circa 1890-1919)

The French term “Nouveau” is translated to English word, new. Jewelry from this time period is depicted in a more modern form during the turn of the century. Artisans began using natural and feminine aspects as a main focus when hand crafting the jewelry. Natural motifs such as: butterflies, dragonflies, snakes, bugs, orchies, irises, and lilies were most commonly shown. Art Nouveau jewelry is known to depict the feminine form. Fine delicate asymmetrical lines and curvature were used to construct the now  antique jewelry. 

A popular technique called enameling arose during the time period. Enameling is the art of melting powdered glass onto metal to create a watercolor look. The artisans used pastel colors to beautifully incorporate  mosaic artistry through enameling. This process is still used today to add color to jewelry without using colored gemstones. Although structure, design, and craftsmanship were most important during this time, diamonds and popular gemstone like opals, moonstone, peridot, and citrine were also utilized . You could also find other materials like ivory, shell, carved glass, and pearls incorporated in Art Nouveau jewelry.

EDWARDIAN (circa 1901-1920)

The Edwardian time period was named after King Edward VII of Great Britain. The king and his wife, Alexandria used their reign  to focus the  worldwide outlook on fashion and jewelry. Jewelry was now being made in the pure and durable metal of platinum. Diamonds were also a much more prominently featured  stone in jewelry. The architectural structure of Edwardian jewelry was much more free-form. Jewelry from this time period was primarily either domed, resembled lace like patterns or had delicate filigree accents, or a combination of the three. Tiara headpieces and chokers were now  being worn for the upper class and royalty. Gemstones such as pearls and peridot were commonly incorporated into them and dangle earrings were a popular  compliment.

ART DECO (1920-1939)

        The Art Deco time period is the historic era immortalized by  Jazz and flappers. The jewelry worn during the era shifted from pastels and lace motifs to bold colors like the blood red in rubies, deep blue in sapphires, and vivid green in emeralds. Diamonds were still of course prominent and were featured alongside these beautiful gemstones. The natural free form design was a thing of the past and sharp geometric designs were introduced. Even gemstones

 were being cut geometrically.

         Jewelry styles, like long earrings, were being hand made to compliment the new hair trend of short blunt hair. Other new styles like  African and  Egyptian vibes began to make their mark on this new more  modern jewelry. Artisans used their influence to hand create motifs in jewelry to depict their native animals like a Sphinx or a Falcon. Our Art Deco jewelry collection is the most commonly purchased of all the vintage and estate jewelry featured in our store. 

RETRO (1935-1950) 

        The Retro jewelry time period began during the great depression years and  extended  through World War II. The geometric and delicate  designs from the Art Deco period shifted into more chunkier and heavy made designs during the Retro time period. Gemstone cutters started to cut Synthetic rubies and sapphires into oversized cuts for a dramatic look. Other prominently cut gemstones were citrine, amethyst, and aquamarines. Due to World War II, gold became more common than platinum because platinum was not readily available to the world. Along with the new chunky designs, artisans begin creating charms to be worn on heavy link bracelets. 

        During this time it became more commonplace  to see women wearing engagement rings due to the aggressive propaganda of DeBeers diamond company. Their use of propaganda began using emotional appeal tactics to increase their diamond sales. DeBeers also started loaning large pieces of jewelry to the Hollywood stars to get their brand out in the world and featured on the most successful and famous people. . Designers like Tiffany, Cartier, and Van Cleef & Arpels begin their empires during the Retro time period. These designers thrived on creating world known bright and gorgeous jewelry worn by models, actresses, and movie stars in  Hollywood and the high fashion world.