The Grand Tour was a rite of passage for upper-class European gentlemen (and some women) during the 17th-19th centuries. On this educational tourist trip, wealthy young people visited significant sites, including classical ruins in France and Italy, studying and producing art and poetry as they went. Collecting souvenirs of their explorations was important, and an industry popped up to accommodate their tourist shopping needs. Jewelry featuring micromosaics (once known as "Roman mosaics") was introduced in the late 1700s and was one of the most popular and valuable of the Grand Tour souvenirs. Micromosaics were painstakingly created using hundreds (if not thousands) of terrasae (slivers of glass) arranged in a metal frame. In their earliest forms, these miniature works of art frequently featured famous architectural ruins or landscapes. The imagery seen in later versions reflects the worldwide fascination with the archaeological discoveries of the day, notably in North Africa (and particularly Egypt) and the Middle East. This fabulous micromosaic (one of the later variations) was converted from a pin at some point in history. The face of the ring features a colorful scarab set within an Etruscan style bezel.
VICTORIAN (1837 - 1901)
The Western world was thoroughly transformed during Queen Victoria’s epically long reign. New technology, urbanization, and industrialization created a middle class flush with disposable income, and for the first time, jewelry was mass-produced to sell to everyone.
The Victorians were avid consumers and novelty-seekers, especially when it came to fashion, and numerous fads came and went throughout the 19th century. In jewelry, whatever fashion choices Queen V. made reverberated throughout the kingdom. The Romantic period reflected the queen’s legendary love for her husband, Albert. Jewelry from this period featured joyful designs like flowers, hearts, and birds, all which often had symbolic meaning. The queen’s betrothal ring was made in the shape of a snake, which stood for love, fidelity, and eternity. The exuberant tone shifted after Prince Albert passed away in 1861, marking the beginning of the Grand Period. Black jewelry became de rigeur as the Queen and her subjects entered “mourning,” which at the time represented not just an emotional state, as we conceive of it today, but a specific manner of conduct and dress. She wore the color black for the remainder of her life, and we see lots of black onyx, enamel, jet, and gutta percha in the jewelry from this time. Finally, during the late Victorian period, which transitioned along with a rapidly changing world into the “Aesthetic Movemement”, there was a return to organic and whimsical motifs: serpents, crescent moons, animals, and Japonaisserie designed for the more liberated “Gibson Girl”.
During the second half of the 19th century, America entered the global jewelry market, with Tiffany and Co. leading the way. Lapidaries continued to perfect their techniques, and the old European cut emerged toward the end of the Victorian period. The discovery of rich diamond mines in South Africa made the colorless stones more accessible than ever before.