Laura Marsolek was an undergraduate intern at GMD over the summer. She is majoring in jewelry design and art history at Syracuse University.
A good starting point when exploring antique jewelry is the reign of Queen Victoria (1819-1901), who was Queen of England from from 1837 until her death in 1901. She became a national icon and everything she wore became a trend, including her jewelry.
Demi parure earrings and brooch, no. 1983.083.001a-c
Some as tiny as two millimeters, seed pearls get their name from their size. They're strung on white horse hair and fixed to a mother-of-pearl backing for support. Victorians favored the jewelry's lace-like appearance, much like the lace detailing on dresses so popular at the time. Seed pearl jewelry was associated with purity and was a popular gift for a bride. Upon her marriage to Prince Albert, it's likely that Victoria may have received an extravagant seed pearl demi parure.
Mourning brooch, 1870, no. 1997.000.111
In 1861 Victoria's husband, Prince Albert, died. She was devastated and fell into a period of deep mourning, as did the nation. In the Victorian period, great significance was attributed to the act of grieving. Mourning periods were defined by protocol and acceptable fashions including the wearing of lockets, daguerreotypes, jet black jewelry, and jewelry with locks of braided hair. Above is an 1870's mourning locket carved from bog oak or vulcanite. The front of the locket has a carved rose. Inside shows a mirror and a photo of a woman, presumably who has passed away and whose death the wearer mourns.
Garnet and gold brooch, c. 1880, 1997.000.031
Victoria was crowned Empress of India in 1877, thereby encouraging trade between the two continents which quickly influenced the jewelry and decorative arts produced in England. Rose-cut garnet encrusted jewels patterned after Indian fashions, such as the brooch pictured above, became fashionable.