If you watch “Antiques Roadshow,” you have probably noticed the many styles and materials used by jewelers during the Victorian era. There is everything from modest milk glass beads and beautifully carved cameo brooches to elaborate necklaces made of gold and precious stones. All this variety was influenced by important historical events during the 19th century.
A long-lasting influence began in southern Italy when treasures were dug up from Pompeii between 1806 and 1814. French jewelers revived the ancient art of mosaic jewelry. Italian jewelers began carving shell and other types of cameos. By the mid-19th century, Roman jeweler Fortunato Pio Castellani had made mosaic inlay and Etruscan filigree pieces popular. Collectors are still willing to pay big bucks for examples. Castellani is recognized as the pioneer of the classical revival in Greek and Etruscan styles. Currently, reproductions are available in the original styles.
The Renaissance Revival influenced English and French jewelers from the 1830s to the 1860s, inspired by the romantic novels of Sir Walter Scott and Victor Hugo.
By the late 1860s, another historic event — the development of the Suez Canal — and papers published on excavations in the Nile Valley created a revival of Egyptian-style jewelry. This included scarabs that were set in brooches and bracelets.
The discovery of diamonds in South Africa in 1867 made them top fashion, especially since so many diamonds flooded the market, making them affordable.
Jade became a popular stone for jewelry after the French expedition in China in the 1860s. As a result of the conquest of Peking and the Summer Palace in 1860, a large amount of imperial jades were sent to France and turned into jewelry.
The opening of Japan to Western trade in the 1850s didn’t become a jewelry influence till the 1870s. Then, miniature fans were mounted in gold as bracelets, brooches and earrings.
Two of Castellani’s sons joined his workshop, creating three different maker’s marks.
Cameos were practically mass-produced by many Italian jewelers as rings, bracelets, necklaces and brooches.
Mosaic jewelry is still being made in the old style. The new pieces are set in.
Needless to say, reproductions are a problem. Get a statement of authenticity from the seller. Or, maybe you will get lucky and discover a rarity. There are many books on antique jewelry and maker’s marks.