Jewelry has played a significant role in society, capturing the hearts of many with a wide variety of ever-changing trends, designs, and fads throughout history. The estate jewelry experts at Charles Schwartz & Son are well-versed in dating and classifying estate jewelry and are happy to answer any questions you may have about estate jewelry.

However, if you are curious about what era your estate jewelry may be prior to your consultation appointment at Charles Schwartz & Son, consider the following characteristics of your estate jewelry to help you determine which era your estate jewelry might fall under:

  • Metal(s): the type of metal(s) incorporated into the design of a piece of estate jewelry, along with the metal’s karat weight, can reveal a great deal about the age and relative origin of a piece of estate jewelry.
  • Gemstone(s): although gemstones have been a staple of high-end jewelry design for centuries, the popularity of specific gemstones varied amongst eras.

Prominent Motifs Present in Design: subtle design details and motifs found in estate jewelry are arguably the easiest “tell” of the piece’s age or era of origin.

The Georgian Era (1717-1837)

The Georgian era dates from 1714 to 1837, during the reigns of English Kings George I, George II, George III, and George IV. Many types of truly exquisite jewelry were handcrafted during the Georgian era–such as brooches, hairpieces, necklace and earring sets, bracelets, and rings. As the Georgian style endured for over a century, jewelry from the Georgian period varied over time as the style underwent a number of changes over its lifespan. Initially, the jewelry took after the Rococo style, which later evolved to resemble the Gothic Revival style and finally the Neoclassical style.

Jewelry from the Georgian era is typified by the expertly handcrafted metalwork and sophisticated ornate details incorporated into their design, including flower motifs, scroll patterns, ribbon designs, and butterfly motifs. These exquisite designs are set in silver, gold, or pinchbeck alongside a number of dazzling gemstones, including diamonds, rubies, sapphires, garnet, topaz, and emeralds.

Jewelry from the Georgian period are truly exquisite works of art! Unfortunately, few exist today as many believed that Georgian jewelry was going out of style at the time. This led many to dismantle their Georgian-style jewelry by melting the pieces to extract their precious metals for reuse in trendier jewelry. Due to the rarity and sheer elegance of the Georgian style, the few remaining pieces of Georgian-style jewelry found today command high prices due to their rarity and craftsmanship.

The Victorian Era (1837-1901)

The Victorian era was named after Queen Victoria of England, who came to power in 1837 and died in 1901, during a rather progressive period of time in history–with the invention of automobiles, electricity, and indoor plumbing just to name a few. Each of the Victorian era’s three distinct subsets (Early, Mid, and Late Victorian) represent a defining period of her life during her reign as Queen of England.

Early Victorian: the Romantic Period (1837-1860)

During the early years of her reign, Queen Victoria was joyously married to King Albert. Jewelry from the Early Victorian era tends to reflect the fresh, youthful joy they had for each other which is evident in the period’s romantic, nature-inspired design.

Early Victorian pieces incorporate primarily Greek, Roman, and Celtic-inspired patterns into their designs, along with a variety of motifs including crosses, love knots, clovers, angels, and serpents. Snakes and serpents were particularly popular on brooches and pendants during this period as they were considered symbols of eternal love and wisdom. Popular gemstones of this era included amethyst, carved cameos, coral, diamonds, gold topaz, pink topaz, rubies, and turquoise; generally set in gold, rolled gold, or silver.

Mid-Victorian: the Grand Period (1860-1885)

After Victoria lost both her mother and husband in 1861, the country grieved with her. In the year following, a strict mourning dress code was set into place–requiring all to wear black ensembles and dark jewelry. Mourning jewelry of the Mid-Victorian era predominantly included lockets containing pictures or locks of hair of loved ones who had passed away. The lockets were typically gold, silver, or steel, with Egyptian or Etruscan designs featuring dark gemstones such as black onyx or opals.

Late Victorian: the Aesthetic Period (1890-1901)

The Late Victorian era focused more so on the advancement of industrialization in the United States and manufactured jewelry, which was in high demand due in part to the emerging middle class. The Late Victorian era incorporated a number of novel, feminine designs and motifs including double hearts, ribbons, bows, horseshoes, and crescent moons. This subset of the Victorian era introduced a new level of practicality to jewelry, personified by the “Gibson Girl”, the independent and sporty woman, who wore earrings to accompany her pinned back hair and intricate hairpins to keep her hair in place, for example.

The Arts and Crafts Era (1894-1923)

The Arts and Crafts era was named after the period’s return to traditional, handcrafted jewelry; a means of rebelling against industrialism and the modernism of the machine. For this reason, large jewelers hired guild workers and crafters to execute their designs with impeccable, skillful work. The Arts and Crafts era brought fun and creativity back to the working class as it inspired individual artisans to craft original, handmade jewelry with imaginative yet refreshingly simple designs. Due to the high demand from the middle class for these new rebellious designs, the jewelry had to be crafted from relatively inexpensive materials such as aluminum and copper, a significant departure from past practices.

Jewelry created during this period resembled homemade arts and crafts to some extent, sporting a rather humble handmade look, due in part to the hammered or brushed metals used in these pieces, which all had to be shaped by hand. Hand-painted enamel and non-faceted stones such as freshwater pearls, moonstone, garnet, and opals played a huge part during the Arts and Crafts era as well, adding a subtle touch of color to the otherwise rather simple pieces.

The Edwardian Era (1901-1915)

The Edwardian era, named after King Edward VII, gave way to a number of innovations in jewelry design and gemstone cutting techniques, many of which are still in use today. These ground-breaking innovations included the creation of the calibre, baguette, triangular, trapeze, and marquise gemstone cuts, along with a truly innovative metalwork technique called milgrain. Milgrain is a detailed metalwork design technique that creates a beaded or hammered-ridge look to the outer edge of a piece of jewelry.

Jewelry from the Edwardian era is perhaps best known for its understated elegance and intricacy due to the extensive use of filigree and milgrain design techniques. By the early 1900s, the nature-inspired motifs of the 1800s had given way to energetic yet refined designs such as tassels, ribbons, bows, lace, and scroll-like patterns. The intricate designs, constructed primarily of platinum and diamonds, reflected the popularity of lace and feathers that were incorporated into the most fashionable garments of the time. Longer necklaces became more prominent during this time as well, strung with pendants or tassels suspended from intricate chains.

While the earlier eras of jewelry generally preferred gold metal as their of choice, many of the most impressive platinum pieces in history were created during the Edwardian era. Although diamonds were largely the gemstone of choice during the Edwardian era, garnets, peridots, pearls, rubies, and sapphires were also common finds in Edwardian jewelry.

The Art Nouveau Era (1895-1915)

The Art Nouveau era, whose name translates to “new art”, marked the start of an entirely new artistic movement and made a lasting impression on the jewelry industry. The Art Nouveau era is best known for its novel artistic interpretation of jewelry, which incorporates a number of fluid, vibrant designs.

Art Nouveau jewelry was inspired by the depictions of nature, landscapes, and depictions of the female form found in Japanese works of art, along with a number of animals, including dragonflies, birds, reptiles, bats, and owls. Creatures used in Art Nouveau jewelry evolved into mythical and hybrid animals over time, resembling different characteristics of a number of species.

Art Nouveau jewelers also placed an emphasis on jewelry settings, incorporating a number of gemstones including amber, moonstones, pearls, and opals, in addition to a number of synthetic gemstones. In order to mimic colors and textures desired by jewelry designers to achieve their artistic visions, the Art Nouveau era introduced a number of materials never before used in jewelry, such as enamel, glass, shell, copper, and horn. Enamel in particular was an ideal material, as it could be painted or dyed any color to accurately depict colors found in nature, which were unable to be achieved through the era’s popular gemstones.

The Art Deco Era (1915-1935)

Art Deco was born during the Jazz Age, a time of great technological advances, swift urbanization, and unbridled consumerism. Jewelry from the Jazz Age, more commonly known as the Roaring Twenties, was inspired by society’s recent advances in industry and architecture, leading to the striking linear symmetry and bold geometric elements found in pieces from the Art Deco era.

Art Deco jewelry is well known for its abstract patterns, ornate detailing, diamond-intensive design, and overall distinctive style. Women celebrated this period of unprecedented wealth and decadence by piling on dazzling pieces of diamond, emerald, ruby, and sapphire-encrusted jewelry. Diamonds, emeralds, rubies, and sapphires became increasingly popular during the Art Deco era, leading to truly spectacular pieces of jewelry. Cultured pearls were also quite popular during the Roaring Twenties, largely worn as evening-wear accessories with a dazzling Art Deco clip or brooch.

Designers Cartier, Tiffany & Co, and Van Cleef & Arpels were amongst the top designers during the Art Deco era, producing the finest examples of Art Deco jewelry, many of which can still be found today. There’s no doubt about it– jewelry from the Art Deco era is truly in a league of its own, with the period’s striking detailing and unmatched beauty.

The Retro Era (1945-1960)

Retro-style jewelry, which originated in France, was intended to be a whimsical distraction from the horrors of World War II. The Retro era’s characteristically big, bold, and oversized designs mimicked the glamorous, coveted Hollywood lifestyle of the time. Retro jewelry, more commonly known as cocktail jewelry, originated in France with a number of light, fun designs including birds, ballerinas, bows, and heart motifs.

Although silver was less common compared to previous jewelry eras, gold grew significantly in popularity during the Retro era, extending its range to include rose gold, yellow gold, and green gold. Aquamarines, citrines, topaz, rubies, and sapphires are commonly found in retro jewelry designs, covering the bright, bold pieces alongside smaller accent diamonds.

The most popular jewelry designers of the era included Van Cleef & Arpels, Cartier, Bulgari, and Castelli. These European designers pioneered the unique style of Retro jewelry, which was adopted by American designers shortly thereafter. Bulgari in particular became infamous for his remarkable works of “animalier” jewelry – jewelry in the shape of animals.