The Eras of Vintage Jewelry

There are six prominent eras in jewelry history, spanning from the 1700’s to the 1950’s. Of course, jewelry has been around for much longer than that, but these distinct eras shaped much of the jewelry design world that we know. Today, antique jewelry is coveted for its lasting beauty. However, many vintage pieces get lost or damaged beyond repair, and don’t stand the test of time. There are many skilled jewelers that are able to restore these pieces, making each item’s story even more unique.
The earliest era of antique jewelry spans from 1714-1837, called the Georgian Period. This time frame spans over 100 years, but design progressed slowest in this era. At this time in history, raw materials for such projects were scarce. The world was a tumultuous time, making production of certain goods harder. As a result of this, much Georgian jewelry is lost or was melted down. Common cuts of the time were point cuts, table cuts, old mine cuts, antique cushion cuts, single cuts, and rose cuts. Popular gems included foil-backed diamonds, pearls, sapphires, rubies, glass, topaz, and garnet.
The Victorian Era was next, running from 1837-1901. Queen Victoria was ruler at the time, and much of the jewelry trends we know from that time came from her. During this period, animal motifs were very common; as well as mourning jewelry, ornamental locks of human hair, and cameos. Popular gemstones were diamonds, emeralds, coral, amethyst, garnet, turquoise, and tortoise shell. Some Victorian jewelry also honored past cultures by reviving Egyptian, Greek, and Roman styles.
 Next came The Edwardian period, ranging from 1901-1915. This was the last era that jewelry history would be named after its current ruler, in this case being King Edward VII. In this important era, platinum would gain momentum. Common themes were bows and ribbons, as well as nature motifs like birds, feathers, laurel wreaths, and butterflies. Colored gems that were popular were rubies, sapphires, emeralds, opals, and cat’s eye chrysoberyl. Many interesting techniques like filigree and fine milgrain were more common during this time, too.
Introduced in the 1890’s, Art Nouveau reigned until 1910. The Art Nouveau period, derived from the French for “New Art,” was named after the 1895 opening of Siegfried Bing’s Parisian gallery “Maison de l’Art Nouveau.” Jewelry during this period was characterized by realistic animals and nature, but also fantastical beasts like dragons or mermaids. The use of glass was popular, too. Gems like pearls, opals, moonstones, aquamarines, tourmalines, and amethysts were common.
The Art Deco period (1920’s-1930’s), emerging after the conclusion of World War I, was a far cry from the Georgian and Victorian Era. Art Deco jewelry is best known for bold colors, clean lines, and strong geometric patterns. Carved and cabochon cut colored gems were popular as well. Favored gems were black onyx, lapis lazuli, rubies, emeralds, sapphires, jade, and turquoise. Platinum was the predominant metal during this time.
The outbreak of World War II led to the end of the Art Deco period and the start of Retro styles (1940’s).  This style is heavily inspired by the war and the victory that followed. Common themes were bold floral motifs; designs inspired by mechanical objects, and sculpted curved lines. White gold also gained traction during this era. Jeweled brooches and lapel clips were popular, too. Small diamonds, rubies, and light colored sapphires were seen most during this period.
Antique jewelry is a special thing. Precious gems and metals that survive years and even decades of wear are unique in their own right. Each piece has a certain story, sometimes lost over time. Many of us are lucky to own jewelry that has passed many hands and collections. At The Gem Collection, you’ll find an Estate jewelry department that is other worldly. So many unique pieces come through our doors, and we’re so privileged to present them to you.


Meghan Falls has been a Pandora Specialist for The Gem Collection since November 2020. She loves matching each of her customers with their perfect Pandora pieces, and you can find some of her favorites on the Pandora – Gem Collection Instagram.

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