Like many good things of the past — Dior Saddle bags, all-over monograms, the Burberry check — what’s old inevitably becomes new again. And this is due in no small part to the millennial generation. The under-40 set is a powerful force to be reckoned with, especially when it comes to how they dictate (as opposed to follow) trends. But the latest wave they’re riding is not one from the early aughts or even the nineties. It’s 19th century Victorian and heirloom jewelry that’s making a comeback.
Queen Victoria — the woman who puts the Victoria in Victorian jewelry — ruled the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 1837 to 1901, and her preferences significantly influenced fashionable ladies of the times. She was the tastemaker du jour, the style icon whose glittering crown and affinity for the finer things inspired a nation.
14K Opal & Diamond Cocktail Ring; Tagliamonte Bacchus Drop Earrings; Diamond & Pearl Festoon Necklace
The resurgence of these bijoux may seem a tad obscure and unexpected, but not to Fine Jewelry & Watch Valuations Manager Lauren Hunt. “In today’s world, Victorian and vintage jewelry is the antidote to costume jewelry and even over-the-top fine jewelry,” says Hunt. “Victorian pieces still include precious and semiprecious stones, but they’re intricate, delicate and understated. And with antiques, they’re usually one of a kind. Millennials have tuned into this trend likely because it’s a unique way to personalize your look for everyday, especially when pairing these pieces with jewelry classics.”
Early Victorian Swiss Enamel Earrings; 18K Pearl Station Necklace
Early Victorian jewelry is characterized by bright enamel and stones like coral, emeralds, opals, diamonds and garnets, while late Victorian pieces feature jet, onyx, steel, mosaics and enamel of a darker hue to coincide with the passing of Queen Victoria’s husband. “When Queen Victoria lost her husband and entered a prolonged period of mourning, she wore nothing but black for approximately the last forty years of her life,” explains Hunt. “As a result, muted colors — particularly black — became en vogue.”
The royal family’s tradition of giving jewelry for special occasions also factored into the populace’s interest in new pieces, and the widespread adoption of the queen’s taste in jewelry. “During Queen Victoria’s reign, motifs such as the clover, flowers and serpents (or oroboros) were all signs of rejuvenation, renewal and growth,” says Hunt. “And crescent moons could represent both renewal and waxing affection.” Though some may not know the significance of these symbols, it’s easy to see why iconic brands like Van Cleef & Arpels have adopted popular Victorian motifs, and why they persist as jewelry staples.
14K Victorian Heart Locket Pendant Necklace; Cartier LOVE Bracelet; Van Cleef & Arpels Mother of Pearl Magic Alhambra Ring
The locket is one of those evergreen pieces, a classic in anyone’s collection. “Hearts, especially heart-shaped lockets, were popular during the Victorian era, as they represented love,” notes Hunt. “Lockets as gifts were a means of showing your affection. In the Victorian era, they could contain a lock of your loved one’s hair, a photograph, a note or other small mementos. As time progressed, photographs became the most popular means of keeping someone with you at all times, well into the 21st century.”
Antique jewelry does more than just add an extra special touch to an outfit, though. “The hidden histories behind antique jewelry are just as valuable as the pieces themselves,” says Hunt. “Whether it’s been passed down in your family for generations or you’re discovering it in the resale market, heirloom jewelry has a narrative. It’s been cherished for years, and will hopefully continue to be cherished for years to come. Plus, investing in antique and heirloom jewelry is the ultimate act of sustainability. These pieces are well-crafted, and can stand the test of time.”
Van Cleef & Arpels Vintage Alhambra Earrings; 14K Vintage Diamond Engagement Ring; Bvglari B.zero1 Ring; 18K Opal & Diamond Cocktail Ring
If you choose to pass your jewelry down one day or make the decision to sell, Hunt has great news for you. “With proper care, these coveted pieces can retain a good resale value,” says Hunt. “To ensure longevity, the care will depend on the piece — pearls are softer than sapphires, 14K gold is more resilient than silver, and the list goes on. Different materials require different attention. ”Need immediate advice on buying Victorian jewelry or consigning your own heirloom piece? “You can walk into one of our stores for expert shopping advice, or book an appointment at one of our Luxury Consignment Offices to learn how much your pieces are worth.”