Jewelry Blog

The Six Eras of Antique Jewelry

antique jewelry from different vintage eras

Six separate and distinct eras in jewelry spanned the years from the 1700s to the 1950s. Although the periods do sometimes overlap one another, the following is the widely accepted breakdown of the jewelry historical eras.

  1. Georgian Era (1714 – 1837)
  2. The Victorian Era (1837 – 1901)
  3. Edwardian Era (1901 – 1915)
  4. Art Nouveau (1890 – 1910)
  5. Art Deco Era (1920 – 1945)
  6. Retro Era (1939 – 1950)

The Georgian Era (1714 – 1837)

Georgian Era Party with Jewelry

The Georgian Era lasted over 120 years and spanned four English Kings: King George I, King George II, King George III, and King George IV. While the era is impressive simply because of the length of time it encompassed, the reality is that during the Georgian Era, jewelry advanced much more slowly than the jewelry styles of other eras.

High-quality Georgian Era jewelry is very difficult to find today. Most of the fine Georgian jewelry is sitting in museums, is lost, or hasn’t passed the test of time.

Common Stones and Metals in Georgian Jewelry

Jewelry pieces from this Georgian Era consisted of yellow gold and silver. The common stones found in Georgian jewelry consist of diamonds, pearls, sapphires, rubies, glass, paste, topaz, and garnet.

Primitive stone cutting tools and handcrafting techniques were used, and therefore, it is often very easy to date Georgian Jewelry.

The diamond cuts are point cuts, table cuts, old mine cuts, antique cushion cuts, single cuts, and rose cuts.

Common Motifs of Georgian Jewelry

Common motifs of Georgian jewelry often reflected the prevailing aesthetics and cultural influences of the era.

One of the most prominent motifs found in Georgian jewelry was the use of natural elements. Nature-inspired designs such as flowers, leaves, and vines were commonly featured in pieces. These motifs were not just beautiful but also symbolized themes of growth, renewal, and the passage of time, which resonated with the Georgian society’s fascination with the natural world.

Examples of Georgian Jewelry

To learn more about the jewelry from the Georgian Era, click here to read our complete guide.

The Victorian Era (1837 – 1901)

Victorian Era Women with Jewelry at Ball Title Image

Not surprisingly, the Victorian Era is a reference to Queen Victoria of England. She reigned during the 1800s and was she was directly responsible for many of the important changes in the jewelry styles. The era itself splits into three periods. Each of these three stages correlates to the different periods of Queen Victoria’s life.

  • The Romantic Victorian Era
  • The Grand Victorian Era
  • The Aesthetic Victorian Era

Common Stones and Metals in Victorian Jewelry

Jewelry from the Victorian Era is far more prevalent than during the Georgian Era and easier to find. Gold and silver remained the most popular metals in Victorian Era Jewelry. Stones popular during this time were garnets, amethyst, turquoise, sapphires, pearls, and diamonds. Motifs involving animals, especially snakes were very popular.

Common Motifs of Victorian Jewelry

Victorian jewelry was marked by an eclectic mix of motifs that mirrored the era’s evolving tastes and societal values. Common motifs of Victorian jewelry included natural elements like flowers, leaves, and insects, with the language of flowers and symbolism being deeply woven into their designs. Each flower carried a specific meaning, enabling wearers to express sentiments and emotions through their jewelry. Sentimentality was further emphasized with lockets and mourning jewelry, often featuring locks of hair or miniature portraits, serving as poignant keepsakes to remember loved ones.

Moreover, Victorian jewelry displayed a fascination with historical and revivalist motifs, drawing inspiration from different historical periods such as the Renaissance, Gothic, and ancient civilizations like Egypt and Greece. These motifs manifested in elaborate filigree work, intricate cameos, and Etruscan revival designs, showcasing a penchant for the past.

Examples of Victorian Jewelry

Edwardian Era (1901 – 1915)

Edwardian Era Party with Women Wearing Jewelry

The Edwardian Era follows the reign of England’s King Edward VII. King Edward VII reigned from 1901-1910 and was the last monarch to serve as a namesake in jewelry history.

This very important jewelry period, also known as La Belle Epoque Era, is the first time platinum was officially a part of the jewelry scene. Although platinum was first crafted together with gold, it very quickly grew in popularity and was later an item of its own.

Common Stones and Metals in Edwardian Jewelry

Diamonds and pearls retained their prestigious status during this period.

Platinum was introduced in the Edwardian Era and it instantly shot to dominance, together with mixed-metal jewelry.

Common Motifs of Edwardian Jewelry

Edwardian jewelry was characterized by a distinct shift in style from the preceding Victorian era. Common motifs of Edwardian jewelry reflected the prevailing spirit of the time, which was marked by elegance, femininity, and a fascination with lightness and delicacy. Platinum became a favored metal due to its strength and ability to accommodate intricate designs, leading to the creation of graceful, lace-like pieces.

Motifs often included bows, garlands, and ribbons, showcasing a penchant for ethereal and flowing forms. Floral designs, especially featuring delicate blossoms like roses and lilies, were also prominent, symbolizing themes of love and beauty. Pearls, diamonds, and colored gemstones were used extensively to enhance the jewelry’s luminosity, contributing to the overall air of refinement and sophistication that defined Edwardian jewelry.

Examples of Edwardian Jewelry

Art Nouveau (1890 – 1910)

Art Nouveau Ceiling

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.” This era’s aesthetics is also Arts and Crafts, Jugendstil, Liberty Style, and Secession, to name a few.

Designs of this era are organic, flowery, and draping. While the timeframe of the period overlaps with the Edwardian Era, the styles were entirely different. While Edwardian Era jewelry is full of detail, symmetrical, and delicate, Art Nouveau jewelry is a celebration of free form. Art Nouveau style contains an organic structure with no symmetry.

Genuine Art Nouveau jewelry from the early 1900s is very difficult to find. The Art Nouveau jewelry that has survived is very hard to obtain.

Common Stones and Metals in Art Nouveau Jewelry

Art Nouveau jewelry was known for its innovative use of both stones and metals, reflecting the movement’s departure from traditional jewelry conventions. Common stones in Art Nouveau pieces included opals, moonstones, and pearls, chosen for their ethereal, iridescent qualities that mimicked the play of light found in nature.

These stones were often set in delicate, flowing designs that celebrated their natural beauty. Metals like silver and gold remained popular, but what set Art Nouveau apart was the introduction of new materials like enamel, glass, and horn. Enamel work was particularly notable, with jewelers using it to create vibrant, iridescent surfaces that complemented the organic motifs of their designs.

This combination of unconventional materials and a deep reverence for nature allowed Art Nouveau jewelry to stand out as a unique and innovative movement in the world of decorative arts.

Common Motifs of Art Nouveau Jewelry

Art Nouveau jewelry, which emerged in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, was a remarkable departure from the preceding artistic styles. Common motifs in Art Nouveau jewelry were characterized by a profound celebration of nature’s beauty and the embrace of asymmetry and fluid, organic forms. This movement drew inspiration from the natural world, featuring motifs like sinuous vines, flowing water, insects, and exotic flowers.

Designers of Art Nouveau jewelry sought to capture the essence of nature’s grace and vitality, often incorporating iridescent materials like enamel and opals to mimic the play of light and color in the natural world. The emphasis on sensuous, curvilinear lines and the rejection of rigid symmetry marked a significant departure from the prevailing styles of the time, giving rise to jewelry pieces that were not only beautiful but also embodied the spirit of artistic freedom and individuality.

Examples of Art Nouveau Jewelry

Click here to learn more about the Art Nouveau Era.

Art Deco Era (1920 – 1945)

Art Deco Era Party with Jewelry and Music

The Art Deco period, emerging after the conclusion of World War I, took its name from the French architect Le Corbusier. He titled the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes simply “1925 Expo: Art Deco.”

A far cry from Georgian Era and Victorian Era jewelry, Art Deco Jewelry is known for being geometrical, angular, and clean look. The Art Deco style inspired many architects to design landmarks using these concepts.

Common Stones and Metals in Art Deco Jewelry

Art Deco jewelry, which emerged during the 1920s and 1930s, showcased a striking departure from the organic and flowing forms of Art Nouveau. Common stones and metals in Art Deco jewelry were chosen to emphasize geometric precision and a sense of opulence. Diamonds took center stage, with their dazzling brilliance and pristine clarity being highly sought after. Other gemstones like sapphires, rubies, and emeralds were often used to add vibrant bursts of color, creating a bold and contrasting effect.

Platinum was the preferred metal due to its strength and ability to hold intricate, angular designs. The combination of these precious stones and metals allowed Art Deco jewelry to achieve its signature aesthetic: sleek lines, sharp angles, and a sense of luxury and sophistication that defined the era’s modernity and elegance.

Common Motifs of Art Deco Jewelry

Art Deco was characterized by a distinct shift in design motifs, departing from the organic forms of Art Nouveau. Common motifs in Art Deco jewelry were marked by geometric precision, symmetry, and a sense of opulence. Geometric shapes such as triangles, rectangles, and circles were prominent, often arranged in intricate patterns that conveyed a strong sense of order and sophistication.

Egyptian and architectural influences also played a significant role, with motifs like pyramids, chevrons, and stepped designs reflecting the fascination with the exotic and the modern.

Additionally, the use of bold, contrasting color combinations and materials like onyx, coral, and jade added a striking visual impact to Art Deco jewelry, making it an iconic representation of the era’s opulence and artistic innovation.

Examples of Art Deco Jewelry

If you want to learn more about the Art Deco Era, click here.

Retro Era (1939 – 1950)

Retro Era Jewelry-Eras-Headings.jpg

The Retro Era concluded with the end of World War II. The style is heavily inspired by the war and the victory that followed.

The symmetrical element from the Art Deco Era was not disregarded with the shift into the Retro Era, but rather was interpreted into a bolder and stronger design.

Common Stones and Metals in Retro Era Jewelry

Retro era jewelry, which flourished during the 1940s and 1950s, exhibited a distinctive blend of metals and stones that reflected the unique aesthetics of the time. Common metals in Retro era jewelry included yellow gold, often used in bold, chunky designs that conveyed a sense of luxury and opulence. Rose gold also made a resurgence, adding a warm and romantic hue to many pieces.

The most prominent stones during this era were colored gemstones like amethysts, aquamarines, citrines, and sapphires, often showcased in large, eye-catching settings. These gemstones, along with the use of pavé and baguette-cut diamonds, added a glamorous and colorful dimension to Retro jewelry. The combination of richly colored stones and bold metalwork created jewelry that exuded a sense of exuberance and post-war optimism, making Retro era pieces a striking representation of their time.

Common Motifs of Retro Era Jewelry

Retro era jewelry was heavily influenced by the sociocultural context of the time, particularly the aftermath of World War II and Hollywood’s glamour. Common motifs in Retro era jewelry included patriotic symbols such as stars and stripes, reflecting the wartime spirit and the desire for unity. Floral motifs, especially the use of rose and bow designs, conveyed sentiments of romance and femininity, echoing the optimism of post-war life.

Retro jewelry also embraced bold, three-dimensional forms, often featuring oversized gemstones like aquamarines, amethysts, and citrines in elaborate settings. This era’s designs, with their sense of grandeur and exuberance, were a reflection of the era’s newfound prosperity and the desire to celebrate life after a period of hardship, making Retro era jewelry a unique blend of history, sentiment, and Hollywood-inspired allure.

Examples of Retro Era Jewelry

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About Benjamin Khordipour

Benjamin Khordipour is one of the jewelry researchers and gemologists at Estate Diamond Jewelry. He received his official gemological degrees from both the GIA and GUBELIN. He also regularly contributes to Business Insider, Forbes, Rapaport, CNBC, and Brides Magazine. Benjamin was born in New York and joined Estate Diamond Jewelry in 2014. He is passionate about vintage jewelry and diamonds. This blog was built on his strong belief that jewelers have a responsibility to properly educate their customers. In 2019, Benjamin co-authored the book The Engagement Ring Guide for Men. His favorite vintage jewelry era is the Art Deco Era and his favorite type of stone is the Kashmir Sapphire. He also collects rare antique pins.