The title of Paul Scott’s novel, The Jewel in the Crown, set in the period of the British rule in India, was derived from an allegorical painting depicting Queen Victoria, sitting regally on the throne of India, and receiving the Kohinoor, which was considered the largest diamond in the world once, as homage, representing India itself. The diamond was later set into Queen Elizabeth’s crown, and is still part of the British crown jewel, which is worn on formal occasions.
Jewelry has been a favorite form of adornment since time immemorial. There is evidence, for instance, of the skill the Greeks and Etruscans displayed in the precious metals they worked on. In fact, most of the modern jewelry that is created today still copy the designs of such antique works. The Romans also displayed a great fondness for it and wore it freely, as did the Victorians.
The pieces of vintage jewelry that are available these days are timeless classics that never go out of fashion. With their delicate grace and ethereal charm, they remind us of a bygone era. Jewelry is considered antique if it has been made in the 1900s or before. Imbued with unique character, displaying exquisite craftsmanship, and often surrounded by a whimsical aura, antique jewelry stands out from its modern counterparts, irrespective of how expensive or beautiful they may be. In fact, it is prized mostly for the classic understated elegance that is inherent in their styling and design.
For instance, the turn of the century – from 1890 to 1910 -, was an era of great innovation and change. After about 65 years of the reign of Queen Victoria, even the Victorians, who loved tradition, were ready for new things, and in the realm of jewelry, this pursuit for novelty gave rise to two extremely beautiful and very different schools of design – Art Nouveau and Edwardian.
Art Nouveau, for example, explored the world of fantasy and nature. The top jewelers of that time – Karl Faberge, Georges Fouquet, Rene Lalique, and Louis Comfort Tiffany – designed exceptionally beautiful and original pieces inspired by mythological and natural themes. The common motifs were mythical beasts, dragonflies, exotic flowers, and enchanted damsels set amongst sinuously winding, vine-like creepers.
These jewelers also tried out new materials, like gems. Horn, tortoise shell, demantoid garnets, moonstones, baroque pearls, and marvelous enameling, were included in the palette of the Art Nouveau jewelers. The intrinsic value of the materials did not matter, rather the emphasis was on the beauty and the originality of the jewelry they created.
While the avant-garde favored the style of Art Nouveau, Edwardian pieces were a reflection of the elegant and refined tastes of the moneyed American industrialists and English aristocracy. Edwardian style is characterized by cool elegance and airy lightness.
Their favorite metal was platinum, which they crafted into lacy delicate creations, set with brilliantly cut, sparkling diamonds. Some of these pieces also have colored gemstones, like black opals from Australia, pastel blue sapphires from Montana, as well as natural pearls. In the best of Edwardian pieces, these beautiful gemstones seem to float in a lacy firmament of platinum.
From Edwardian brooches with flowing leaves and tendrils of platinum set with diamonds, elegant Victorian gold bracelets, intricately crafted sword handles, enamel encrusted belt buckles and pendants, to engraved art deco lockets, designed with concentric rings of white and blue enamel… this cannot be bought off the counter from just any jewelry shop or departmental store. It is usually available at exclusive boutiques, antique dealer’s stores, big auction houses, and niche show rooms, which, in fact are the reliable sources to buy antique pieces.
Although this jewelry is also available in other shops and on websites, it is best to exercise caution when buying from these sources, because the originality of the pieces may be suspect. Besides, you could end up paying an exorbitant price for a piece of that may not be worth that much. Unless you are knowledgeable and have a trained eye, it can be difficult to sort out the authentic from the fake.
Usually, antique jewelry is also passed down from one generation to the next, and belongs to family heirlooms. Many pieces are collector’s items and hence are quite expensive.
Wearing a simple piece has the ability of lending a sophisticated appeal to your whole persona. One of the best aspects of antique pieces is the appreciation of their value over time, hence they can actually turn out to be good investments. However, the main reason to own a piece of this jewelry, is the intrinsic joy that they are imbued with.
The word ‘jewel’, means joy. Jewelry has no practical reason for its creation, except for the beauty and joy that it brings into our lives. Precious metals and gemstones are not jewelry until the skillful hands of the jeweler puts life into them.