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The Different Eras of Jewellery & Their Unique Characteristics

Published Date : Mar 1, 2017

The “History of Jewellery” dates back to Africa, to approximately 75,000 years ago. “Primitive Man” wore beads and amulets, made crudely with teeth, bones, shells and stones. Jewellery evolved in a fascinating manner through the different “Eras”, both in form and design. Its characteristics often dictated by the availability of materials, development of techniques and even state-of-mind!   

Generally, the categorisation of “Vintage” is for jewellery that is at least 20 years old. “Antique” jewellery would be over 100 years old.

The different eras of jewellery are often found categorised with a bit of variation as eras have frequently overlapped.


Here is a list of 9 Classic Jewellery Eras


1. Indus Valley Civilization Jewellery Era: circa 3300 to circa 1300 BCE

The Indus Valley civilization in South Asia (what is now North-West India, Pakistan & Afghanistan) is among the world's earliest civilizations, contemporary to the great Bronze Age empires of Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt.

An “Adventurous Era”, marked by archaeological discovery, agriculture, trade and arts,the oldest ruins boasted of rich findings of seals, ornaments, figurines, pottery and artefacts. Its cities of Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa witnessed the love for jewellery, unveiling the earliest, ancient art of jewellery making. The “Bead Trade” dominated, before the advent of metals. Bones, clay, shells, terracotta, beads, gold, silver, copper, bronze and semi-precious stones were used for armlets, amulets, bangles, bracelets, necklaces, pendants, rings, earring, chokers and head ornaments (hammered bands). Green stone, faience (glassy) stone, beads (white steatites & red carnelians), agate, turquoise, jasper, gold and lapis lazuli (blue), were transformed into elaborate pieces in tubular, barrel, floral and biconical shapes. Heirloom jewellery with anthropomorphic symbols of nature and animals was passed on to future generations.

Cast metal work, stone drilling, embossing with motifs and symbols (swastika), intricate filigree work on metals, glazing and metallurgical techniques for gold, bronze, copper, were the innovative crafting skills witnessed. The complex pieces clearly reflected the exceptional mastery of the skilled craftsmen of the Neolithic age!

In spite of the Indus Valley’s decline, its Jewellery Era with its aesthetic sensibilities has survived and its influence is seen in modern-day jewellery lines, thus leaving intact its rich traditional legacy.


2. Georgian Jewellery Era: circa 1700s to circa 1830s

A glorious age in the reign of the British Kings; viz, George I – George IV, was marked by jewellery laboriously hand-crafted with the Repousse and Cannetile techniques of metal work. Designs were influenced by motifs of natural foliage, and used silver, pinchbeck (gold wash made with copper and zinc) metals, diamonds (Rose, Mine, Table & Briolette Cut), etc. The Girandole (Pendants, dangling from a centre stone), Riviere (Multi-way linked necklace), Pendeloque (Pear-shaped cut dangling from other intricate stones), Antique Parures (Matching ornamental sets, which can be used separately), Sentimental jewellery (Eye miniatures and Memorial pieces) were characteristic of the Period.


3. Victorian Jewellery Era: circa 1837 to circa 1901

The Victorian Period, categorised in 3 eras, during the Queen's long reign.

  •  Romantic Period (circa 1837 to circa 1860)

This era had a “Sentimental” theme to it. Serpent Motifs, Acrostic jewellery (a word from the first letter of its stones used), Carved Cameos (made from coral and shell), Jet jewellery (made from coal), Hair Jewellery, dominated the Early era. Brooches, Tiaras, Pendants, Necklaces, Rings, Aigrettes (feather jewellery), Chatelaines (accessory holder attached to oneself) and Jarretiere (bracelets with straps) were embellished with topaz and rubies, in Rose and Cabochon cut styles. Pinchbeck, 18k, 22k gold, and silver were the main metals used for these exquisite pieces.

  • Grand Period (c. 1860 to c. 1885)

The death of Prince Albert marked the Grand Mid Era, and the Queen’s grieving period led to the rise of “Mourning and Memorial Jewellery”. The attire and tone of jewellery transitioned from glitter and light to sombre, heavy and dark. Dark gems, jet, deep red garnets, black onyx, glass and pearls, opals were embedded in claw or gypsy settings within a metal framework of silver, steel and 9k, 12k, 15k gold, for bracelets, rings, pendants, earrings and brooches. “Memorial lockets” with portraits of loved ones or woven hair of the deceased were prominent as well.

  • Aesthetic Period (c. 1885 to c. 1901)

The Last Victorian Era emerged with the growing middle class women’s independent streak, mass production of jewellery and a growing need to break from the dark, Grand Period. Discovery of Diamonds in South Africa, made solitaire rings increasingly popular, which persists to date. Affordable fine jewellery made with the help of machines, replaced hand-made ones. Gold, silver, horn and oxidised metal work served for varied motifs (of horse shoe, owls, crescents, bows and knots), and precious gems in old European cuts, to create small stud earrings, brooches and hair pins.

La Belle Époque Movement - or “The Beautiful Era” comprised of 3 Primary Time Periods of Jewellery


4. Arts & Crafts Jewellery Era: circa 1860s to circa 1890s

Moving away from machines, this Era returned to the hand-crafted designs made by skilled artisans exclusively. This traditional movement was “Simple”. Clean pieces with pearls, or moonstones that added a hint of hue were made with earthy metals (copper, aluminium, etc.) Primary techniques of hammering and hand-painting were adopted.


5. Art Noveau Jewellery Era: circa 1880s to circa 1915

The “New Art Era” as part of the revolutionary Arts and Crafts movement with Japanese influence (birds and dragons), continued its rebellion against technology along with innovative jewellery created with gems, bold materials like glass, shells, etc. with floral, insect & animal motifs. Different enamel techniques (Plique-à-jour, Champlevé) played a key role in reflecting these designs.


6. Edwardian Jewellery Era: circa 1901 to circa 1915

The Edwardian period was a brief one under the reign of King Edward VII. Those were ‘forward’ times underlined by prosperity, especially for the upper classes. The introduction of Platinum facilitated niche use of diamonds in its setting. Cosmopolitan designs were created in platinum, diamond and white gold metals with cutting-edge technology and elegance. Old-mine cut gems and diamonds in white metal were ideal for light jewellery (negligée – necklace with two parallel pendants, Edwardian earrings and chokers).  


7. Art Deco Jewellery Era: circa 1915 – circa 1930s

The intricate lightweight jewellery influence of the Edwardian Era followed into the Art Deco Era. Characterised by feminine designs and geometric patterns, they were distinctly styled. Square and round cut diamonds, rubies and sapphires with ornate details made for distinctively classy pieces.


8. Retro Jewellery Era: circa 1935 to circa 1950s

The onset of World War I witnessed a paucity of precious gems and platinum, calling for “Big and Bold” substitutes. Bright gemstones, bold shapes, abstract designs and versatility were the hallmarks of the era. Gold and semi-precious stones (citrine, amethyst) acquired a renewed presence too. Chunky charm bracelets, big ear-clips and colourful cocktail rings with ‘illusive settings’, mimicked the ‘flashy’ American lifestyle.


9. Modern Jewellery Era: circa 1950s to circa 1970s

The end of World War II in the 50s witnessed the return of growth and prosperity.Chain stores, offering customised jewellery solutions, led to the prominence of Diamonds once again. Its strategic marketing rendered an eternal quality to it, boosting the demand. The Modern Period focused on light weight pieces of art, created with Platinum in engraved textures and colourful styles. Gold and Stainless steel gained momentum in the 70s with the Eastern influence too.


Contemporary Jewellery:

“Contemporary”, as the name suggests will always be what’s current. Contemporary jewellery with its origins in the Arts and Crafts design movement is progressive in style, form and relevant to-date. Gold continued to be the opted-for metal in 1980s, ever more desirable with its new polishes, designs and styles. Contemporary trends often reflect the need for “wearable” and “practical” pieces, in gold, platinum, diamonds and coloured stones.

Current-day jewellery is driven very much by technology, as is the case with most products. Today, the large-scale use of 3-D technology is apparent in jewellery which often has a 3-dimensional look. While gold is still the metal of choice, off-beat materials like titanium are also seen, although in smaller use. New fascinating products are emerging, like ear-cuffs, full finger rings, multiple finger rings, etc.

The charm of each of the Jewellery Eras is unique! Although some of them are victims of modification, there is an appeal for these designs even today with those who seek and appreciate their timeless brilliance.

- By GemAtlas Team