Some Victorian jewelry can be dated by historical events

For 19th century jewelers keeping track of current events could determine a new fashion trend. For example, 19th century southern Italian jewelers picked up on the public fascination with the treasures being discovered in Pompeii from 1806 to 1814. They began carving shell and other types of cameos. French jewelers also created cameos, as well as reviving the ancient art of mosaic jewelry. One of the most famous mid-19th century Roman jewelers, Fortunato Pio Castellani, made mosaic inlay and Etruscan filigree pieces. Today his pieces are eagerly sought by collectors and are expensive.

Castellani is recognized as the pioneer of the classical revival in Greek and Etruscan style. His jewelry reproduced the original styles.

Several examples of early Victorian, historical influenced jewelry were offered at a recent Skinner auction with a wide range of estimates. A 14 karat gold and intaglio watch fob was estimated at $200 to $300, which sold for $275. All prices realized include buyer’s premium. A pair of unusual antique polychrome lava cameo ear pendants depicting a Greek maiden had a $400 to $600 estimate; they hammered at $800. On the high side was a scarab and gem set brooch estimated at $2,500 to $3,500; the brooch sold for $2,600.

Castellani workshop pieces had three different marks: a monogram of two Entwined C’s; a monogram set at the center of a cartouch-shaped motif and a monogram ACC, on work done by Castellani’s son Alessandro. Since so much was made it can turn up anywhere.

Cameos were practically mass produced by many Italian jewelers as rings, bracelets, necklaces and brooches. Many of the old styles continue to be made. Mosaic jewelry also is being made in the old style. The best way to tell old from new is by the piece they were set in.

Others working at the time in this archeological style were Carlo Joseph and Arthur Giuliano. Their pieces are signed.

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. French jewelers used images of Griffins and mythological animals chased in gold and silver and embellished with polychrome enamels. In Scotland local pebbles were polished as jewels. In Scandinavia, massive Viking style bracelets of gold were decorated with runic inscriptions and strange animals.

By the late 1860s another historic event, the development of the Suez Canal and papers published on excavations in the Nile Valley brought about a revival of the Egyptian style that included jewelry. Scarabs in opaque green, blue and red enamels were set in brooches and bracelets.

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.

answers to questions about old jewelry
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