England’s increasing prosperity during the 19th century created a growing middle class with money to spare, and many chose to spend some of their new-found wealth on jewellery. This in turn led to a boom in the jewellery making industry with centres like the Jewellery Quarter in Birmingham and Hatton Garden in London profiting from the increase in trade.
In the first part of the 19th century, much of the most popular jewellery design harked back to previous ages such as the ancient Greek and Roman eras, the Medieval period and the Renaissance. Jewellers used yellow gold, silver and precious stones to create rings, necklaces, bracelets and earrings which copied new finds from the worlds of archaeology and art history.
Emeralds, garnets, sapphires and turquoise were all used as decorative stones, and pearls were also a popular choice. New manufacturing techniques such as stamping and plating brought down the cost of many jewellery items over the course of the century.
Later in the century, makers created jewellery inspired by the natural world, using motifs such as flowers, foliage and even insects. After the death of Prince Albert in 1861, which triggered Queen Victoria’s long mourning, commemorative jewellery became highly fashionable. This often took the shape of lockets holding miniatures, and later in the century photographs, of loved ones. Jewellery made from black materials such as jet, vulcanite or pressed horn was highly desirable.
England’s hallmarking system dates back to the 14th century and provides today’s collector with an invaluable tool to assess the authenticity and likely value of 19th century jewellery. These small marks on jewellery, created with a stamp, tell where the jewellery was marked, the type and purity of metal, the identity of the maker and the year of marking. Collectors can refer to books, online guides or experts to decipher hallmarks.
Condition can be a crucial factor in assessing the value of Victorian jewellery. Wear and tear over time can mean that jewellery is missing pieces, has broken catches or hinges, or is bent out of shape. Such damage inevitably decreases value. Specialist jewellers can repair Victorian jewellery, but this service does not come cheap. The most valuable jewellery pieces are those which have been preserved in good condition.
To maintain its value, jewellery should be stored in dry conditions with stable temperatures. Before attempting to clean your 19th century jewellery, you should always consult an expert. Removing patina can greatly reduce the value of piece, and over-rigorous cleaning may damage delicate fittings and settings.