In Fine Fashion: Symbolism of Victorian Jewelry

Do you know of the hidden gems embedded in Victorian jewelry? Once upon a time, pendants were much more than mere ornaments. They were insignia. Each design carried motifs and qualities with precious meaning, supposedly describing its owner.

Victorian ladies were what they wore, so to speak.

For example, a necklace with a holly design signified truth and instinct. An eye: protection. And so on and so forth. In order to fully appreciate the finery we wear, we’ve compiled a list of each emblem with its significance.

1889’s Fall Fashions

The Fall Trends of October 1889, according to Godey’s Lady Book, the leading women’s fashion magazine of the Victorian era.

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Fig. 1. Ulster of dark blue cloth, belted into the waist. Felt-trimmed shoulder cape with silk, velvet and feather aigrette.

Fig. 2. Walking costume for lady, made of cloth. The front part of the skirt, full vest front, and lower part of sleeves are plaid, which comes with the costume. Straight skirt, with revers turned back. Hat of velvet, trimmed with feather, and small birds inside the brim.

A Secret History

Popular in the 19th century, Lovers’ Eyes were tiny portraits painted on pieces of jewelry meant to conceal the identity of their subject. Since only an intimate acquaintance might recognize the individual’s eye, the token of affection could be proudly displayed while keeping forbidden romance a secret. Lovers’ eye jewelry pieces were sometimes studded with a diamond tear in remembrance of lost loved ones.

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The Origins of “Jet-Black”

victoria_frederick_mourning.jpgOne of the more fascinating histories of Victorian jewelry is that of jet. Jet is a fossilized driftwood, smooth and lightweight with an intense black color, that can be found in the seaside cliffs of Whitby, England.

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The most prolific patron of this sought-after “gemstone” was Queen Victoria. In an era that called for heavy and voluminous clothing, jet’s lightweight characteristics made it the perfect choice for large, eye-catching jewelry pieces that could be worn comfortably.

When Prince Albert died in 1861, Queen Victoria took to wearing carved jet in remembrance of her lost love, making it the unspoken practice for all to accessorize their black mourning fashions with jet jewelry

 

BRING THAT BACK: LOCKETS & PERFUME BUTTONS

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As our previous post about Buckle Jewelry touched on, the Victorians were a sentimental lot. They were accustomed to losing loved ones to disease, workplace accidents, and war, and so they built a culture that helped them to cope with these losses.

In addition to buckle jewelry, lockets and perfume buttons were worn in remembrance of a departed loved one. Or in the case of wartime, they were exchanged between a soldier and his long-distant sweetheart, as a token of fidelity and reassurance during indefinite periods apart.