A Brief History of Jewelry
Point Cut DiamondEarly 1500s
The first faceted diamonds are used in jewelry. They are mostly point cuts along with some table cuts. Photo credit Victoria and Albert Museum.
Although initially rediscovered in 1599, excavations of Pompeii did not begin until 1748. The eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79AD had preserved much of the city along with its inhabitants and their possessions, including art and jewels. The unearthing of these artifacts was a source of inspiration for the neoclassical design of the 18th century. Photo credit Victoria and Albert Museum.
Industrial Revolution1763 - 1775
Although James Watt did not invent the steam engine, his experiments led to great improvements, and to the development of the Watt Steam Engine. His steam engine became the main source of power for British Industy and paved the way for the Industrial Revolution.
Victorian Period1837 - 1901
Queen Victoria ascended the English throne in 1837 and became one of the most influential monarchs in terms of social custom and fashion. The beginning of her reign is known as the Romantic period, due to her courtship and marriage to Prince Albert. Jewelry design incorporated symbols of love, including flowers, snakes, and hearts. Gold was the metal of choice, hand formed into ornately decorated jewelry that demonstrated techniques ranging from chasing to repousse. Photo credit Victoria and Albert Museum.
Etruscan Revival1860 - 1880
Etruscan revival jewelry was at the height of its popularity during the mid-Victorian period. Archaelogical excavations of the time sparked interest in ancient design and techniques. The Castellani firm was at the forefront of the revival. They made both exact copies of ancient pieces and their own designs inspired by and in the methods of antiquity. This diadem is a copy of an Etruscan original from 300-200 BC. The original is in the collection of the Louvre, Paris. Photo credit Victoria and Albert Museum.
Suffragette jewelry has become a coveted and collectible category of jewelry, but with much debate on what qualifies as authentic. This particular piece is one of surprisingly few that are indisputable. It was made by Ernestine Mills to commemorate Louise Mary Eates’ release from Holloway prison. The Suffragette Movement was important both in Great Britain and the US, from the mid to late 1800s through the early 1900s, as the vote was won by women in different locales. Photo credit Museum of London.
Art Nouveau1890 - 1910
Inspired by the changing world around them, late 19th century artists wanted to create an entirely new language of design, ornament, and imagery. Many cultural forces converged during this period, including expanded trade with the East, backlash against mass production, and changing social mores. The Art Nouveau movement combined all of these, taking its name from Siegfried Bing’s gallery and shop named L’Art Nouveau, which opened in Paris in 1895. Photo credit Doyle & Doyle.
Tiffany & Co Six Prong Solitaire1886
Tiffany & Company debuts their iconic six prong mounting. This Tiffany & Co ring is set with Kunzite, which was identifed as a new mineral by Tiffany’s mineralogist George Frederick Kunz in 1902. Photo credit Doyle & Doyle.
Ballets Russes Poster1909 - 1929
The Ballets Russes company, based in Paris but originating from Russia, brought artistic creativity to new levels. It was groundbreaking in many ways, including the exotic and opulent costumes. The influence can be seen in clothing and jewelry fashion of the time.
Retro Moderne1937 - 1950
With the outbreak of World War II in 1939, the jewelry industry was forced to adapt to the changing marketplace, and designers softened the rigid symmetry of Art Deco. In order to stretch their limited resources during WWII, metalsmiths alloyed low karat gold with copper or silver, creating soft rose or green toned gold. To compliment these shades, jewelers used a rainbow of colored gemstones, including rubies, sapphires, aquamarines, moonstones, and amethysts, highlighted by small diamonds. Photo credit Doyle & Doyle.
Rose Cut Diamonds
Diamonds begin to be fashioned with with flat backs and faceted tops.
Brilliant Cut Diamonds
Diamonds are cut with pavilions, thus introducing the first brilliant cuts.
Die Stamp Machine Patented
paving the way for more affordable and and accessible stamped jewelry
Diamonds set à jour
Diamonds are set in open backed mountings.
American Jewelry Manufacturing
Jewelry starts being manufactured on a large scale in the US.
Diamonds discovered in South Africa
15 year old Erasmus Jacobs discovers the Eureka diamond, not realizing at the time that it is a diamond.
Small commercial synthetic rubies are produced in Paris.
Cecil Rhodes establishes DeBeers in South Africa.
Hi Temp Torch
The introduction of new higer temperature torches enables jewelers to work platinum in their workshops.
Electric Bruting Machine
The introduction of the bruting machine led to perfectly round diamond.
Mikimoto cultures mabe pearls. Round cultured pearls are introduced in 1916.
White Gold Patented
White gold becomes a popular substitute for platinum in the 1920s.
Modern Round Brilliant
Marcel Tolkowsky details the cut and proportions of the modern Round Brilliant.
“A Diamond is Forever”
DeBeers debuts their iconic diamond ad.
The Cheapside hoard contains the largest collection of Elizabethan jewelry ever found, circa 1640-1666. The hoard was discovered in 1912 by workers demolishing a building in the Cheapside neighborhood of London. This neighborhood had been a jewelry center in medieval times. Photo credit Museum of London.
Memento Mori Rings1661
This enameled gold memento mori/ mourning ring commemorates the death of Samuel Nicholets of Hertfordshire who died on 7th July 1661. The ring is hollow to accomodate a lock of hair which can be seen through openwork areas between the enameled skulls and coats of arms. Memento mori jewelry was popular from the 1500s-1700s, whereas mourning jewelry remained popular until Queen Victoria’s death in 1901. Death was commonplace, and memento mori jewels were designed to help the wearer to “remember you must die.” Mourning jewels served as memorials to individuals who had passed. Photo credit Victoria and Albert Museum.
The Georgian period is named for the reign of the four King Georges of England and encompasses most of the 18th and early 19th century. Georgian jewelry is primarily constructed of gold and silver and set with diamonds, pearls, and colored gemstones. Diamond cutters perfected the first types of faceted gemstones, including Rose cuts, Table cuts, and Old Mine cuts. Photo credit Doyle & Doyle.
Crystal Palace of the Great Exhibition1851
The Great Exhibition was the first international exhibition of manufactured products in Great Britain. It was conceived to introduce British design to foreign markets. In preparation, a competition was held for the design of the building to house the exhibits. The winning design, by Joseph Paxton, resulted in the magnificent Crystal Palace. Photo credit Victoria and Albert Museum.
Egyptian Revival Micromosaic1869
The Suez Canal officially opens, sparking the Victorian wave of Egyptian revival jewelry. This bracelet centers a micromosaic depiction of a pharaoh created with tiny glass tesserae. Photo credit Doyle & Doyle.
Thomas Edison Lightbulb1879
Thomas Edison files a patent for the first commercially viable elecric light bulb. This sets in motion the electrification of cities and then private homes. Photo credit The American Society of Mechanical Engineers.
Arts & Crafts1860 - 1920
The movement was a direct response to the mechanization and poor working conditions of the Industrial Revolution. Spearheaded in England by William Morris, it promoted the beauty of handmade decorative objects, including textiles, furniture, metalwork, and of course, jewelry. Arts & Crafts adherents looked to the Middle Ages, nature, and popular folk art for inspiration, seeking to return to an idyllic time before mass production. The importance of workmanship and design over the intrinsic value of the materials was promoted. More readily available gemstones, such as garnet, amethyst, citrine, opal, and moonstone were favored over high karat gold and diamonds. Photo credit Doyle & Doyle.
Ford Model T1908
Ford introduces the Model T, the first car produced for the mass market.
Edwardian1901 - 1914
The Edwardian period is named for England’s King Edward VII, Queen Victoria’s oldest son, who ascended the throne in 1901. Edward and his wife Alexandra entertained lavishly and set many popular fashion trends. Like Victoria, Queen Alexandra loved jewelry and frequently bedecked herself in many elaborate pieces at once. Her preference for white jewels, primarily diamonds and ropes of pearls, spread to fashionable women of the time.
Art Deco Movement1920 - 1935
A heady, celebratory air flowed through Europe and America after the end of the First World War. Artists strove to create a new vocabulary of design, displacing the naturalistic and historicist forms of the 19th century in favor of linear, streamlined shapes. In 1925, the new movement received its first showcase at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, held in Paris. The Exposition introduced the new, modern aesthetic to the world and gave it a name, Art Deco. Art Deco distills design to its rudimentary geometry, eschewing unnecessary ornament in favor of clean lines and symmetrical shapes. Photo credit Doyle & Doyle.