Jewelry Design in Victorian Times


Leave a comment today and one random winner will receive an autographed copy of WELCOME TO WYOMING!


Kate Bridges-web2Hello everyone! It’s nice to be back at Petticoats & Pistols!
In my current novel, WELCOME TO WYOMING, both the hero and heroine are jewelry experts, therefore I had to learn a lot about the topic while writing it. Or at least, enough so that the two of them could carry on an intelligent conversation.
First, a bit about the book so you understand where I’m coming from. WELCOME TO WYOMING is an accidental mail-order bride story. Seeking justice for his murdered colleagues, Detective Simon Garr has gone undercover as infamous jewel thief Jarrod Ledbetter. All is going to plan, until he finds out that Jarrod’s mail-order bride, Natasha O’Sullivan, is on her way to Wyoming. Simon can’t afford to jeopardize his cover, and is left with only one option – he must marry the woman!
“Victorian jewelry” refers not only to that produced in England during Queen Victoria’s reign from 1837 to 1901, but also to the jewelry produced in North America during this time.
Glass or “paste” jewels had been used for centuries in design, and beautifully done in brilliant colors. Some say that glass jewelry got its nickname “paste” because the glass beads were often glued into place, sometimes with colored glues to match. Another theory is that the nickname came about because during creation, glass was molten and extruded like “pasta”.
kbookShady jewelers might substitute glass or “paste” in one or two pieces of an heirloom set, and this would go undiscovered until the piece was appraised or broken up to create new pieces. Pearl fakes were made of luster-coated glass beads.
One of the ways my heroine detects fake gemstones versus real is using their different thermal properties. When she holds the gemstones against her cheek, they heat up very quickly, indicating fake glass stones, whereas real gems would remain cool.
Low necklines weren’t common during this time except in ball gowns. Therefore Victorians (and Americans) wore high lace collars that fit nicely with the use of pins, brooches, and clips. Or their blouses and jackets were open over a lacy chemisette where they would drape a beautiful, long necklace.
Lockets were romantic and popular. Sometimes they were worn beneath clothing to protect the sentimental keepsake from public eyes. Lockets often contained painted miniatures of a person, or a lock of hair.
Rings were popular, and Queen Victoria sometimes wore one on each finger. Cameos were popular as necklaces, hair ornaments, rings, and bracelets.
The diamond mines of South Africa opened in 1870, and diamonds were then only available to the rich. Only married women and those of a certain age were the ones deemed appropriate wearers of online casino diamonds and gems. Girls and young, unmarried women wore simple items such as crosses, pearls, and chains. Most men didn’t wear much jewelry during this time other than pocket watches, fobs, and lapel pins.
When Queen Victoria lost her beloved husband, Prince Albert, she went into mourning for decades. One unexpected result was that she wore not only black clothing, but she made black jewelry very popular even among those people not in mourning! Her influence reached America. There was an abundance of black materials used, such as Jet, Onyx, and French Jet.
Specific gems had specific meanings. Intimate messages were spelled out in jewelry. For example, the first letter of each gemstone would be phcccused to spell out the message. They might use “P” in pearl, “E” in emerald, “A” in Amethyst, “D” in diamond, and so on. Pieces could spell out words such as Mother, Dear, etc. Several countries practiced this “secret message” technique. I use a similar detail in my novel.
Different symbols meant different things. For example, Ivy=fidelity or marriage, Serpent=eternal love, Daisy=innocence, Mistletoe=kiss, Horseshoe=good luck.
Up until 1854 in England, the legal standards for gold were 18ct and 22ct. After 1854, gold standards were lowered to include 15ct, 12ct, and 9ct. Gold and silver mines discovered in America in the mid-1800s reduced the price of gold and silver, and in many cases, increased the quality.

Are you surprised to learn something about jewelry you didn’t know? Do you have a favorite piece of jewelry that means something special to you?

 Reference sources: Old Sacramento Living History Museum, Antique Jewelry University

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35 thoughts on “Jewelry Design in Victorian Times”

  1. Very interesting post. To think you can tell the difference between real and unreal stones by holding them to your cheek to check the temperature. Wow!

    I have an OLD ring that was my great grandma’s wedding ring. We shared the same birthstone so my grandma passed it down to me. The topaz is an emerald cut and it sits sideways in the setting which is very simple. I use to wear it all the time but the band is growing thinner so I decided to only wear it for special occasions. I love it though.

    Would love to be entered in your drawing.

    Smiles & Blessings,
    Cindy W.

    countrybear52 AT yahoo DOT com

  2. I did not know they used the order of gems as messages. That sounds very interesting and could be most useful for my own book! Thank you for sharing, Ms. Bridges!

  3. I have pretty a pin that belonged to my husband’s great aunt. It’s a needlepoint floral design, but the stitches are so tiny it must have been made by fairies. At one time there were matching earrings but one was lost before I received the set. It’s probably not worth much in dollars and cents, but it always brings back fond memories of Aunt Helen. Priceless.

  4. Thank you for your very interesting post. Real gems being cool to the cheek versus fake gems being warm…!

    My husband bought me a beautiful diamond ring years many years ago that I treasure.

  5. This whole blog post was educational for me. I didn’t know most of what you were blogging about. It was an interesting topic and I’m sure your book will reflect it.

    As for a favorite piece of jewelery that means something to me, I have my grandmother’s watch which I would say was created in the mid to late 1920’s. It has five sapphires and four diamonds. It is a beutiful piece and it still works today.

  6. HI Kate,

    Welcome to the Junction! I loved learning more about a favorite topic. Your heroine sounds like a smart cookie. Off to Amazon to order your book now. Woohoooooo!!!

  7. Good morning, everyone! It’s so nice to be here, among friends again. Thank you for the lovely messages! Cindy, Faith,Janie, Melanie, Lori and Renee! All the things I learned about jewelry design were fascinating to me, too. I’m glad you’re all learning tidbits too.

  8. Hi Kate!! Welcome back! Just wish you’d stay longer. It’s always great to catch up with you. You always have such interesting things to blog about. I never considered that jewelry could have such double meanings. Very neat. You’ve started my brain whirling. I love it!

    Congratulations on the new book!! I’ve got to have it to go with my collection of your books. Can’t wait to read this one. Wishing you much success!

  9. Thanks, Linda, and for the invitation! I always feel the good vibes here! And to Renee and you and everyone else wishing to get the book – much appreciated! The Fillies have all been very busy writing some fabulous books since my last visit. 🙂

  10. What a fascinating post, Kate. I have several pieces of Victorian jewelry given to me by my mother-in-law. Among these is a beautiful cameo which I wear from time to time, and once even had a Victorian-style, lace-collared blouse (high neck) which was perfect for pinning it onto.
    My mom also gave me a string of jet beads with a tassel. Wear that occasionally too.

  11. I was given my paternal grandmother Catherine’s diamond engagement ring for my engagement ring. After about 10 years I had to get a new setting. I still have that ring and I treasure it. I was also given my paternal grandfather’s pocket watch. My dad had it and never used it. I asked for it when I was in college and I still have it.

    I didn’t know that their was a secret code with the beginning letters of the gemstone. I knew a couple of the symbols links mistletoe and horseshoe but not the others. I would add the heart for love.

    I enjoyed this piece Kate.

  12. Cindy – your great grandma’s ring sounds very pretty. How lucky that you share the same birthstone!

    Faith – the secret messages were a surprise to me, too! I think most of our generation (me at least!) wouldn’t know when we get handed down an heirloom, what the stones may have actually meant. I love watching Antique Roadshow – I have a renewed respect for their jewelry experts know!

    Janie – I agree that the memories are priceless.

    Melanie – Rings are filled with such meaning, aren’t they? When my husband bought my engagement ring, it was made of yellow gold. Now the bands in the jewelry stores seem to be mostly made of white gold. So it’s funny how jewelry design changes even in our modern times!

    Lori – the watch sounds beautiful.

    Renee – Thanks for the warm welcome and for the kind words on my book! 🙂

  13. Brenda – nice to see you here! Those Victorian pieces sound amazing. I can picture you wearing them, and looking very good. 🙂

    Laurie – those pieces handed down must be very special to you. Yes, the heart is definitely a symbol for love. There are so many symbols, many more than I mention. I was surprised about the serpentine one – I have seen that symbol so often in jewelry but never knew what it meant. Even Cleopatra wore one as a bracelet, didn’t she? At least, Elizabeth Taylor did in the movie.

  14. Wow what a great post… I did not know anything about those symbols and the meanings… enjoyed reading this… thanks for sharing!

  15. I enjoyed all of that but the coolness of a real stone was very interesting. I have a large, gold cross that was my mother-in-laws. She had it made special when she was living in Africa. The artwork is gorgeous and it reminds me of her.

  16. Hi Kate, we’ve missed you. Great post, today. I have my great-grandmother’s engagement (and wedding) ring from 1872. It was made special for her in Baltimore, 24ct gold with 9-mine cut diamonds. It is beautiful. The wedding ring is a plain gold band. I can’t wear the engagement ring because the tines holding the diamonds is so soft that any tug on it would make the diamond fall out. Like catching it on a sweater and I could loose the whole setting. I have many items from that lady. She is what I consider a real Victorian lady. I have photographs of her and my mother’s stories. She was almost 6′ tall. Reddish blonde hair. Very regal looking and lived in New York and Baltimore.
    Thanks for the post. Very enlightening.

  17. Thanks for the interesting post. I found an old black onyx broach pin in the mud beside our old house (built in 1870) when I was a child, so I’m sure it was from the original homesteaders and dating back to the Victorian area. I still have it, and wrote it into my book “Butter in the Well”.

  18. Glad to have you visiting the Junction, Kate. I enjoy your books and have most of them on my keeper shelf. One of the things I love about your books is the real feel they have. In every one of your books that I have read, the characters and situations don’t have the feeling of being idealized for a story. Characters have their flaws, as we all do. They do the best with the hand they are dealt, making mistakes and struggling along the way.

    The only piece of family jewelry I have is my grandmother’s wedding ring. It isn’t the right size, but it is a pretty old piece. I have picked up a few old pieces at auctions and sales. I have a lovely little pearl and amethyst victorian pin (a bar pin different in design from the one in your piece) that I found at a church yard sale. I have a pretty, older marcasite ring with a green stone that I got at an auction.

    I didn’t realize the gold and silver boom in the US reduced the price of the precious metals. I also hadn’t realized that gems were used to spell out a message. I will have to do the temperature check with a few of the pieces I have.

    I had often wondered why there were so many small bar pins and long necklaces from that time period. I obviously never thought about it hard enough. The style of clothing is the obvious influencing factor.

    Thanks for an interesting post. I learned many interesting tidbits. I look forward to reading WELCOME TO WYOMING. It sounds like it contains more to learn.

  19. I love all the interesting things I learn from all of you. I make jewelry and love seeing old pieces and often try to imitate it.

    I have an old brooch that was sent to me from my great aunt from Denmark. It belonged to my great great grandmother. I have only worn it a couple of times because I am afraid of loosing it. I sew it onto what I am going to wear. The clasp is not very good and when I tried to have it replaced they would not work on it because of the unknown properties of the stone.

    I am looking forward to reading WELCOME TO WYOMING.

  20. Hi Minna and Colleen – thanks!!

    Catslady – that sounds fascinating from Africa.

    Mary – thanks, it’s nice to be back! Your great grandmother’s engagement ring sounds lovely. I’m amazed you know something about its history. Most of us don’t get that information. She sounds like she was an interesting person!

    Linda – that’s so interesting that you found it and then wrote it into your book! I grew up on a farm and everytime my dad plowed the fields we’d find an old penny or something. Quite a kick for kids!

    Patricia – thank you for the touching note! It really makes me happy that you’ve enjoyed my books. I hope you like this one too. Very interesting details on your jewelry pieces! And fascinating where you picked them up!

    Connie- the pin sounds pretty. I’m struck by the fact that you sew it into your clothes. What a smart idea so that you protect it. Hope you enjoy the story. 🙂

  21. Really enjoyed the article on jewelry. I always wore rings and maybe a necklace now and then. My favorite ring was one I purchased in Italy awhile back. It is coral and gold.
    My favorite kind of jewelry to wear is Navajo Indian jewelry. Living in Arizona, I acquired several pieces over the year. I like the feel of the silver on my skin.
    I read where in early times people thought diamond jewelry was cheap looking and looked like glass. It was because the jewelers had not yet perfected the cutting of diamonds thus it lacked sparkle.

  22. Joye- I can see how you would collect Navajo Indian jewelry, living in Arizona. I bet it’s quite striking. That’s a funny story about diamonds looking cheap initially. I totally believe it!

  23. Thanks for dropping by and talking to me today, when I know many people are busy preparing for Easter Sunday. I learned some new things about jewelry from you all too!

  24. Kate,

    Welcome to the Junction.

    I loved your post, and have pinned it for future reference on my own WIP. I never would have imagined someone could determine if jewelry was real or not by putting it up to your skin.

    I’d also can’t wait to read Welcome to Wyoming (that’s where my WIP is based). I hope I win.

  25. Love mail order bride stories. I own a cameo brooch that belonged to my grandmother, it is a very special piece of jewelry to our family.

    I love your stories and can’t wait for this one.

  26. I love mail order bride stories! You wrote such a great post today. I enjoyed reading about Victorian jewelry and the fact that Queen Victoria when in mourning wore black jewelry to match her attire. I too didn’t realize that there was a secret message technique what a surprise.
    I love the cover and title of you book and look forward to reading it.
    I have my Grandmother’s diamond dinner ring that is very special to me.

  27. Hello Kate. Nice to meet another new author to me. I really enjoyed this post and learned a lot I didn’t know. I have my Mothers first little gold band from when she married at 15 back in 1921. And, at her 50th Anniversary a new set of rings with the date and which Anni. . I have other jewelry of hers but nothing worth anything to anyone but family. I also have the rings from my wedding to my husband, with little buckles with diamond sets that were special to us, for he was my cowboy and wore western closes. And, always his boots and Stetson. I had never seen rings like that. Looks like little belts. I would love to be your winner. GOD bless you. Maxie mac262(at)me(dot)com

  28. Oh yes Kate. Forgot to say I love Wyoming. It is beautiful in Jackson Hole where you can see the Tetons every day. I got to live there for six years. So a title about Wyoming always catches my attention. Maxie mac262(at)me(dot)com

  29. Congrats on the new book! I can’t wait to read it — I wonder if the real Jarrod Ledbetter will show up?

    I enjoyed reading your post. I did not know they used the stones to relay messages — what a great idea! They were pretty resourceful back in the day. 😉

    I have a jade butterfly necklace that my grandmother gave me in the mid-70s. It is stunning! The butterfly has a good 4-5″ wingspan and the wings fold to close. I adore it!


  30. What an awesome post! I absolutely didn’t know about the secret messages or how to tell the difference between real and fake jewelry.

    Best of luck with WELCOME TO WYOMING! Sounds like a great read!

    ~Carol B.

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