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History of Jewelry

What is Estate Jewelry?

Estate jewelry is defined in this way: jewelry which has been previously owned. It could refer to a true antique (over 75 years old) or to a recently purchased item.

Why do people want Antique/Vintage or Estate Jewelry?

Design. Individual craftsmen left their tell-tale mark of quality with an outstanding sense of shape and form. There were no machines stamping out pieces by the thousands, only individual artisans practicing their chosen profession of fabricating beautiful jewelry one piece at a time.

Nostalgia. Sentiment plays a large part in jewelry selection. People are searching more and more for reminders of past, more stable times. Just as the whole mood of nostalgia continues strong, older jewelry reminds them of those times.

Mid-Late Victorian Period (1861 – 1901)

This mid-late period is also referred to as the "Grand period" where we see a sharp change in design from delicate to bold which reflected the changing social roles and representation of women amongst society.

Key features in this period include somber motifs and the birth of mourning jewelry. We also see some origins of the Art Nouveau era reflected here with insects being used such as flies, butterflies and beetles. Gold and silver were the common substrates as platinum was not yet in use by jewelers. Gold and silver were used to create a "softer" look with the aid of diamonds, black onyx, jet, ivory, pearls and cameos. The end of the Victorian era (aesthetic period) had a distinct change in how women wore jewelry. A return to the romantic style with soft natural colors, butterflies and roses were the common theme. We see amethysts, emeralds and opals appear here in the designs as well. Let us not forget; however, that even until the end of this era, Queen Victoria continued to inspire the wearing of mourning jewelry.

Belle Époque Period (1871 - 1914)

Paris became the birthplace of impressionism and modern art during the Belle Époque Period. The name Belle Époque came into use after the first world war and is a term for what seemed a simpler time of optimism, elegance and progress. High fashion and luxury goods dominated this movement and we see the haute couture (high fashion) in all of its glory. In modern day times, this period would be the parallel of what "bougee" is today. Charles Worth, Rene Lalique, Coco Chanel, Francois Coty and Louis Cartier were all pioneers of this era.

As a result of its strong impact on society, we see this period encompass part of the Art Nouveau and Edwardian eras. The best jewelry from this period would have been made in France with BIG, highly fashionable designs and components - mostly with big diamonds and pearls with chic platinum settings. Motifs commonly seen are pulled in from King Edward’s influence on the world such as bows, garlands, festoon necklaces and sautoirs. Diamond encrusted dog collars were a must! The "Beautiful Era" was a time of increasing wealth and flourishing arts in Europe and we definitely see this reflected in the expensive pieces that have now stood the test of time.

Arts & Crafts Period (1890 - 1910)

Here we see a return to the roots! Artisans and jewelers wanted to reject the industrialization of jewelry and reclaim art back from the machine. A stark contrast to the Edwardian era, we can see how the Art Nouveau era spawned out of this movement. Each piece was made from start to finish by one artisan. Designs here were much simpler with a main focus being the intricacy of the metalwork over the gemstones contained within the piece. We only see gold and silver metalworking used here with the usual components of small diamonds, enamel, freshwater and blister pearls.

Art Nouveau Period (1895 - 1910)

One of our favorite periods in history, this era captured the soul and spirit of man in a profound way. We see a MAJOR return to nature with motifs consisting of flowers, insects, lizards, snakes, peacocks and more. Fluid lines and asymmetrical patterns were also common. Gold and silver were mainly used in this period with most of the finer pieces being made in gold. Common gemstones we see are amber, chrysoberyl, demantoid garnet, moonstone, opal and tortoise shell.

Enameling was ubiquitous in this period with many different variations. Plique-à-jour and Cloisonne were the two most popular forms. With Cloisonne, we see enameling that had metal walls and a backing to contain the enamel. Plique-à-jour was more akin to stained glass windows, with the enameling webbed between thin metal walls and no backing. René Lalique worked heavily with Plique-à-jour enamel.

Edwardian Period (1901 - 1915)

This period was marked by the reign of King Edward of Great Britain and his chic queen, Alexandra. Jewelry from this period was light and delicate where we see the birth of filigree throughout the metalworking. Designs in this period were HIGHLY fashionable with diamonds being the main focus. We also see sapphire and ruby in the more expensive items with amethyst, aquamarine and garnets being in your more commercial pieces. The invention of the acetylene torch by Charles Picard in 1903 enabled the use of artisans to work in platinum due to its demand to melt at high temperatures (3,215°F). As a result, a new era of industrialized jewelry and designs were being brought to the surface. Platinum played an important role at this moment in time due to the strength and malleability. Common motifs we see are bows, garlands, crescent moons with stars, horseshoes, dogs and crowns. Big money and materialism were man's biggest influence here so we can see why the Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau artisans rejected this new period in time.

Art Deco Period (1918 - 1940)

Short for the French word Arts Décoratifs and sometimes just called Deco, this period in time was a style of visual arts, architecture and design that first appeared in France just before World War 1 but didn't really flourish until the 1920's. The Art Deco name was fully initiated after the 1925 Exposition internationale des arts décoratifs et industriels modernes (International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts) held in Paris. We see the Deco influence span deep in society, from large structures to small objects including but not limited to clothing, fashion and jewelry. Art Deco has influenced bridges, buildings, ocean liners, cars, furniture and even vacuum cleaners! In the jewelry sector, this period was modernizing and refining elements from the Edwardian and Art Nouveau periods while embracing modernism and the machine age. We see the abolishment of delicate, feminine flowing lines and designs returning to their rudimentary geometric forms essentially eliminating any unnecessary ornament like dangling pearls and loud, colorful enamel. Bold, clean, geometric lines encompass the spirit of Art Deco jewelry and we can understand why the term "Cubism" was often used to describe pieces from this period. We see diamonds, emeralds, sapphires, rubies, jadeite, rock crystal quartz, black onyx coral and so much more in jewelry from this era with platinum being the main focus as a substrate. Themes and motifs are vast with influences from India, Persia and other parts of the world. We see a lot of Art Deco inspiration still being used today in jewelry and other sectors of the world that require immaculate detail and design.

Retro Period (1935 - 1949)

Luxury production halted in Europe because all platinum and most gold and silver were needed to fund World War II. During this period, American jewelry came into its own. Influenced by Hollywood stars, pieces were flamboyant. Huge stones in oversized pieces emerged, often mounted in rose, green and/or yellow gold depending on the makeup of the alloy. After the United States entered the war, the jewelry that was produced was less romantic but still outsized. This trend continued until after the war when styles again softened.

Individual craftsmanship was not yet on the wane, however. One distinct trend to emerge after World War II was the use of gold. Gold had previously been used in mountings to stress the beauty of other elements of a jewelry piece-now it was being used as the sole element of fine jewelry. Many gold brooches available today such as simple circle pins or more elaborate animals or flowers can be traced to the trends of the 1950s.

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