Antique jewels hold a unique allure, capturing the artistry of bygone eras with a beauty that provokes nostalgia and fascination. But capturing these treasures in photos is an intricate task that requires patience, precision, and technical know-how.
Fortunately, professional appraisers can help you determine an item’s worth. They can also offer valuable tips for how to photograph antique jewelry properly.
Victorian-era jewelry is one of the most popular and beloved types. This era, which encompasses the reign of Queen Victoria from 1837 to 1901, was a time of epic romances, tragedies, and unprecedented prosperity. The Victorian Era can be divided into three distinct periods – the Early Victorian or Romantic Period, the Middle Victorian or Grand Period, and the Late Victorian or Aesthetic Period.
Victorian designs incorporated almost every theme and symbol imaginable in their jewelry. For example, early Victorian jewelry frequently depicted flowers with specific symbolic meanings, such as Forget-Me-Nots representing True Love, Ivy symbolizing Fidelity, Lily-of-the-Valley for Sweetness, Acorns for Health and Longevity, and Pansies for Thought. They also used nature motifs such as leaves, vines, butterflies, dragonflies, and seashells.
This era is also significant in that it marked the beginning of the mass production of jewelry as we know it today. The Industrial Revolution enabled jewelry makers to use new methods and machines, making metalworking less labor-intensive. Additionally, as the British Empire expanded, colonial exploration unearthed new sources of precious stones, making them relatively affordable for the first time. This resulted in jewelry that was both abundant and more accessible than its Georgian counterpart. During this time, serpent motifs became extremely popular, inspired by the ring given to Queen Victoria by Prince Albert, which featured an emerald set snake motif. At present, those pieces are considered antique jewelry.
Art Nouveau was a bold, new style that swept Europe and beyond. The Arts and Crafts Movement influenced its motifs and techniques in England, Symbolism, and Japanese design. Still, it was unique in its interpretation of jewelry creation as an art form. Its curving lines rounded out forms of the human body, including the breasts, buttocks, and phalluses, and were combined with botanical motifs and elements of nature.
The movement also included elongated animals, such as snakes and dragonflies. It was common for artists to render these creatures sinuously and iridescently. Birds, such as peacocks and swans, were also popular, representing pride and metamorphosis. Flowers were another popular motif, such as lilies and orchids, and many pieces had floral themes.
As the Art Nouveau style evolved, its creators experimented using hard or semi-precious stones and enamel. Some artists, such as Rene Lalique, mastered this technique and created breathtaking jewelry.
Ultimately, the Art Nouveau style faded with the onset of World War I, and the growing popularity of a more straightforward, clean-lined design is still prevalent today. However, the true connoisseur will recognize the beauty and artistry of Art Nouveau pieces. Some of its designs may even find a way back into our future. For example, the curved lines synonymous with the Art Nouveau period may be utilized in the resurgence of 1960s psychedelia and its stylized depictions of plants, animals, and erotic figures.
The Art Deco period was ushered in with the roaring 1920s and brought new, modern design ideas. The style was symmetrical and geometric, utterly different from the Art Nouveau nature-inspired jewelry of its time.
This was also an era of changing societal views, such as women entering the workforce in mass numbers and winning the right to vote in 1920. These changes, combined with the popularity of flappers and their glitzy, sexy style, led to a more angular look that could be seen in clothing and art, furniture, and even skyscrapers like the Empire State Building.
Art Deco artists also freely borrowed motifs from ancient cultures, bringing an exotic flavor to their work and giving it a distinct feel—this contrast of the old and the new fueled interest in this art form for decades to come.
Deco bijou artists favored design over intrinsic value, carving gemstones into intricate geometric artworks with diamonds and other faceted gems as punctuation rather than as the piece’s primary focus. This approach was closer to the Bauhaus design school than the classical tradition of fine arts.
The Art Deco period saw a major technical innovation in the jewelry industry with the development of the invisible setting, which allowed gemstones to be tightly set together without prongs. This paved the way for the sleek, minimalist designs of later decades and many of today’s most popular jewelry styles.
As we move into the modern era, jewelry makers continue to be inspired by all eras of past styles. This has led to various stunning designs, some with the same intricate carvings and exquisite craftsmanship that antique pieces have. The beauty of these designs has helped them stand the test of time, and they are still worn today, often remounted in modern diamond settings.
At the turn of the 20th century, creativity was a key focus again, and jewelers began crafting actual artisan pieces. Influenced by both nature and architecture, the Art Nouveau period spanned from 1895 to 1910. The sweeping curves of these pieces showcased female form cameos, translucent enamel, dragonflies, fairies, and floral motifs. They also favored pastel-colored stones and mixed metals. These styles were quite distinct and had a mystical air to them.
In the world of dating, an item must be at least a century old to be considered an antique piece of jewelry. Anything slightly newer than that is referred to as vintage. It is expected to see jewelry inherited or passed down through generations to be referred to as estate. These pieces can be of any age and even recently made, but they must have been preowned.