Estate Jewelery

Over the centuries, jewelry has mirrored our culture. Styles have been influenced by fashion, the preferences of world leaders, the availability and workability of materials, art movements, nostalgia of bygone eras, travel explorations/discoveries, and the growth, wealth, and development of our societies.


The Victorian era is named for Queen Victoria, who reigned from 1837 to 1901. It was a period of expansion for the British Empire. In western societies, it was a time of economic growth due to the Industrial Revolution, resulting in the emergence of a middle class.

Expression – sentimental themes represented the romance between Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, and bows, flowers, hearts, birds, romantic sayings were widely used.

Stones – Semi-precious stones like garnet, amethyst, coral turquoise, seed pearls, and opal provided lower cost jewelry options for the middle class.

Mourning – Prince Albert died in 1861, and as Queen Victoria went into mourning, so did all of Britain. Memorable jewelry became a necessity during the long periods of mourning, creating a demand for all types of “hair” jewelry. Black enamel, jet, and onyx pendants, lockets, pins, and rings were common.

Gold – New sources were discovered, and standards were developed providing for different gold content, such as 9K, 12K, and 15K. Jewelers produced intricate work and experimented with different techniques, like granulation, chasing, engraving, and filigree. The most common golds used were yellow and rose.

Diamonds – New diamond deposits were discovered, increasing their availability and affordability. Typical cuts included rose cut, Old Mine Cut, cushion cut, and Old European Cuts.

Art Nouveau (1890 – 1915)

The Paris Exposition Universelle was held in 1900, and from it emerged the Art Nouveau design movement. Like the concurrent Arts and Crafts movement, it was a reaction to the industrial revolution. Rather than mass-produced items, it emphasized craftsmanship and design. Most jewelry was hand crafted, and nature was a major theme.

Semi-Precious Stones – Moonstone, opal, amethyst, citrine, and peridot were widely used.

Enamel – Jewelers further developed their craft by utilizing different enameling techniques, including: cloisonne, champleve, basse-taille, guilloche, and pique-a-jour.

Nature Motifs – Very stylized designs inspired by the natural world were used, including: butterflies, dragonflies, snakes, poppies, orchids, irises, and waterlilies.

Asian Influence – Increased exposure to Chinese and Japanese art and its organic, stylized motifs influenced jewelry design.

Symbolism and Mysticism – Influenced by literature and painting, symbols like the female head with long, flowing hair, mythical forms, and dreamy, near colorless stones like moonstone and opal were popular.

Edwardian (1901 – 1915)

King Edward VII ascended to the throne following the death of Queen Victoria. The Edwardian era continued until the beginning of WWI.

Wealth developed during the Edwardian era, and elegance prevailed. Fashion drew inspiration from 18th century France, taking on a lightness with delicate fabrics, lace, and feathers. The houses of Cartier and Tiffany dominated jewelry design.

Platinum – Platinum is a strong metal, requiring a high temperature for workmanship. It was not a viable jewelry metal until tools were developed in the 1800′s. Since less metal is required for setting stones in platinum,  it could be saw-pierced and filigreed to create the lacy looks popular in this era. Platinum was a strategic metal during WWI, and white gold alloys were developed as an alternative.

Diamonds and Pearls – This combination favored a white-on-white color scheme.

Neo-Classical and Rococo Motifs – 18th century motifs, like swags, bows, ribbons, tassels, wreaths, and garlands were popular.

Indian Influence – As the British became more exposed to India, jewelry started to be influenced by its exotic style. Women wore long ropes of pearls and chokers.

Stones – Amethysts were widely used. A symbol of the suffragette movement was a combination of green peridots, white pearls, and amethyst. The “G” for green peridot, the “W” for white pearl, and the “V” (symbolizing the violet color of) amethysts stand for “Give Women the Vote.”

Diamonds – Old Mine Cut and Old European Cut diamonds were used in many forms of jewelry, often set in platinum or white gold.

Art Deco (1920 – 1935)

The Art Deco period was a time of tremendous change: Prohibition, the Vote for Women, the Roaring Twenties, modern art, automobile travel, stock market crash, and the subsequent Depression.

Platinum and Precious Stones – Post-WWI prosperity increased the demand for platinum and diamond jewelry. Rubies, emeralds, and sapphires were added as accents.

Expression – Different stones were juxtapositioned, creating a new, bold look. Geometric and streamlined shapes reflected the influence of Cubism.

Egyptian Motifs – King Tut’s tomb was discovered in 1923, giving rise to a huge demand for anything Egyptian. Representations of scarabs, sphinxes, and falcons became popular themes. Stones found in the tombs were used (lapis lazuli, carnelian, and chalcedony).

Eastern Influences – Carved gemstones and natural motifs became popular.

Diamonds – Old European Cut and Asscher Cut, with uniquely shaped, colored accent stones, set in white gold or platinum.

Retro (1935 – 1950)

In the 1930′s, western cultures were reeling from the devastating effects of the Great Depression. Escapism through movies became an obsession. As WWII started, women joined the work force. Post WWII, the United States enjoyed a period of prosperity as the middle class became more affluent. By the end of the 1940′s, diamonds were being marketed to people of all income levels. Jewelry became more everyday and attainable. Post-WWII style reflected the prosperity of the times, characterized by large pieces, big stones, and sweeping designs. It became popular to have matching suites of jewelry, including earrings, rings, necklaces, and brooches.

In the 1950′s, Modernist design was introduced, and abstract forms began to appear.

Gold – Platinum was restricted during wartime. Yellow gold was predominantly used, but it was also common to see pieces made from a combination of yellow, rose, white, and green gold.

Stones – Due to a wartime scarcity of precious stones, semi-precious and synthetic stones became popular. South America became a more abundant source for stones, particularly citrine and aquamarine.

Motifs – Romance, Hollywood glamour, and patriotism influenced jewelry style. Earrings and charms became popular.

Diamonds – Due to the harsh economic conditions of the Thirties, it became common to see smaller stones in “illusion settings,” where elaborately carved, square white gold settings made smaller diamonds look bigger. This style continued to be popular through the early 1960′s.