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  • Writer's pictureLillian

Queen Victoria's Jewelry

Updated: Apr 24, 2023


If you've made it here, you probably already know that Victorian-period jewelry is wildly interesting, loaded with rich history, and embued with cultural symbols. Queen Victoria and her personal jewelry preferences set the stage for 63 years of Victorian jewelry trends. Famously romantic, Queen Victoria's jewelry was much more profound than simple personal adornment. It reflected her sentimental and tender outlook, giving us insights into her innermost values, beyond her role as a monarch. Today we will look at a few of her jewels; lucky for us, many still exist and are well documented. Minus the few she took to the grave— (YES, she did that!) The queen was a faithful journal keeper, recording many jewelry items she received and gifted throughout her reign. Many of the pieces she commissioned were engraved, giving even more detail into the motivations behind the jewels. This post will focus more on her sentimental treasures rather than the jewels of the state. We will touch on gifts she received, jewels she gifted, and a few of her treasured personal mementos.

Royal Collection Trust / © His Majesty King Charles III 2023

When we think of Victorian jewelry, opulence comes to mind, but in Queen Victoria's jewelry, we see sentimental iconography take precedence over ostentatious design in many instances. Many of her most treasured jewels were the ones gifted to her by loved ones, particularly Prince Albert, who was very creative and would design bespoke jewelry for her. Jewelry in the early years of her reign, and before Alberts's untimely death, is referred to as "romantic period" Victorian jewelry. The themes are sweet, light-hearted, and full of promise and love. The Queen was vivacious and happy during this time. She opts for humble pieces with personal significance, like heart lockets, miniature portraits, and commemorative jewels. In her jewelry, we see a sweetness and a touch of naïvete with a side of intimate familiarity. In 1839, in celebration of her engagement to Albert, she received a beautiful gold bracelet from her mother, the Duchess of Kent. This bracelet features an amethyst cabochon double heart. Later, in December of 1891, she gifted a double-heart engagement bracelet to Princess May. This gift demonstrates that the double heart motif is still meaningful to her for such an occasion, even 52 years later. Queen Victoria requested that the original amethyst cabochon heart bangle be put into the "Albert Room" upon her death, along with some of her other favorite emotionally charged jewelry pieces. This room would hold many sentimental mementos of Albert that the Queen did not wish to pass on to family.

A painting by SIR EDWIN LANDSEER

Young Victoria was a vibrant and determined woman, a stark contrast to pictures of the widowed Victoria we see circulating the internet. She and Albert were young, in love, and ready to take on the world in this new age of invention and possibility. The early years of her reign would be bright, colorful, and sprinkled with dazzling state jewels and political gifts, but she loved her simple, almost novelty-type jewelry with equal fervor. Young Victoria was occasionally quite fashionable in dress, but her jewelry was the real statement that reverberated throughout the nation. Technology was rapidly advancing, and the middle class was growing, which allowed society to mimic and adopt her jewelry choices in the form of trends. Publications would report what the royals were wearing, and the masses would follow — much like today.


Queen Victorias Wedding jewels

Victoria by Winterhalter, notice the sapphire brooch. The porcelain flower crown was a later gift from Albert.

Taking a peek into the jewelry surrounding Queen Victoria's wedding is an excellent way to kick off her reign as a jewelry trendsetter. Victoria chose to wear a crown of natural orange blossoms, opting for symbolism and simplicity over an elaborate jeweled headpiece. From this point on, Victoria would be enthusiastically sentimental over orange blossoms. Over several years, Albert would gift her a matching set with the theme of orange blossoms, starting with a brooch. He later added a second brooch, a pair of matching earrings, and an eventual flower crown. These were expertly crafted in gold with porcelain flowers and tiny green enamel oranges. At this time, the language of flowers was well understood by many. The orange blossom was a symbol of chastity, fertility, and innocence. The enamel oranges represented their children, giving the crown meaning beyond the blossoms. Albert's tender gift was not only a meaningful gesture, but it also helped reinforce Victoria's outward influence as a virtuous, family-oriented monarch, solidifying her values into mainstream culture through jewelry, which we will see throughout her reign. We still see the echo of her influence today in popular Western culture in the form of the white wedding gown; we have Queen Victoria to thank for that one.

"my beloved one gave me such a lovely unexpected present, a wreath, going right round the head, made to match the brooch & earrings, he gone me at Christmas. It is entirely his own design, & beautifully." Queen Victoria's Journal, 1846


To her wedding, She also wore a diamond necklace and earrings set known as the Turkish diamonds. These were crafted from a generous gift of diamonds from the Sultan of Turkey. Another important betrothal-related jewel that Victoria treasured was a colossal sapphire brooch with a halo of diamonds that Albert gifted to her on the eve of their wedding. This show-stopping brooch was precious to her and became part of the state jewels. Like Albert, the young Victoria also liked to design and commission original jewelry pieces. For her bridesmaids, she had 12 pave-set turquoise eagle brooches crafted in London. Like the language of flowers, gem lore was also important, and stones were often selected for their meanings and sentimental attributes. Turquoise, for example, was known to be a stone of Love.

"I wore a white satin gown, with a very deep flounce of Honiton lace, imitation of old. I wore my Turkish diamond necklace and earrings, and my Angel's beautiful saphire broach." Queen Victorias Journal, 1840
A charm bracelet owned by Queen Victoria, Royal Collection Trust / © His Majesty King Charles III 2023

For the Love of Lockets

1841 British Museum

Queen Victoria was a well-documented fan of lockets. She almost religiously wore a simple locket around the neck, containing a lock of Albert's hair. As a child, one of her first jewelry pieces was an engraved locket her mother gifted to her, which she wore often in her youth. This familiar token of the locket would have been a well-known and comfortable sentimental trinket to the young Queen. Another item she treasured was a bracelet given to her by Prince Albert in November of 1840, several days after the birth of their first child. Albert lovingly designed many of her jewels in celebration of their children. This bracelet would go on to celebrate each of their offspring with a tiny enamel locket containing locks of hair. This bracelet was another sentimental personal jewel the Queen requested to put in the "Albert Room" upon her death. The printed illustration shows Queen Victoria and Prince Albert looking happy and sweet, enjoying each other's company. It's easy to get caught up in the idea that Victoria was always a widow in black, but her early reign was colorful and full of promise.

A charm braclet featuring locks of hair of Victoria's Children, notice she's wearing it in the image below. Royal Collection Trust / © His Majesty King Charles III 2023



Scottish Agates and Pebbles

We can't talk about Queen Victoria's jewelry taste without mentioning Scottish Agate jewelry. Queen Victoria and Albert were smitten with Scotland, eventually purchasing Balmoral Castle as a place of royal residence, which they deeply enjoyed. Victoria loved all things Scottish. She wore tartan plaids and adored the native agate jewelry. Scottish agate jewelry is quite different than the luxurious jewels we associate with royalty. These stones can be found in an earthy range of colors, iron-rich reds, dusty greens, blacks, greys, and browns. Sometimes these jewels would be paired with citrines, amethysts, or quartz, and they were often set in silver or gold. Traditional Scottish themes like the luckenbooth and harp were popular motifs for agate brooches. However, a simple agate stone brooch or stick pin was just as common as the more intricate pieces. Padlock heart bracelets with chunky, carved agate stations were all the rage, and this agate jewelry trend held its popularity through the 1870s. Queen Victoria would find pebbles and stones herself and have them made into heartfelt jewelry. This "pebble" jewelry is still coveted by collectors today.


A Change in Taste: Victoria in Mourning

Royal Collection Trust / © His Majesty King Charles III 2023

After Albert died in 1861, Queen Victoria plunged herself into deep mourning. She would wear black for the rest of her life, which was a catalyst for an entire industry around mourning. The "Romantic Period" of Victorian jewelry comes to an end with the death of Albert. Notice her image above. This photo was taken three years before her death. Victoria wears her enamel heart charm bracelet, many rings, and a poignant portrait of Albert on her wrist. She also wears diamonds; notice the diamond crescents on her veil. The crescent was another popular motif in Victorian jewelry, as we can see here. She also wears diamond drop earrings, now called the "coronation earrings," created by court jeweler Garrard. It's important to highlight the mixture of crown jewels and personal sentimental tokens.

Mourning items owned by Queen Victoria and auctioned by Sotheby’s London, collection of Patricia Knatchbull

In addition to the death of her beloved Prince Albert, her reign also saw the deaths of three of her nine children, her mother, and many others. The locket above features a cross with a hardstone heart center, banded agate trefoil tips, and enamel details. Her daughter's name, Alice, is spelled under a diamond coronet. The reverse of the locket features a glazed compartment holding a lock of Alice's hair. The Queen had a penchant for agates and hardstones, which we see in this pendant. Wearing mourning jewelry was already a societal norm. However, Queen Victoria's mourning was a stimulant for a renewed interest in mourning etiquette. This was refreshed with a backing of mercantilism, fashion, and new accessibility to jewelry. As a result, the mourning jewelry industry flourished; thousands of hair rings, lockets, and earrings were produced in many styles. The practice of using hair would eventually die out with the Queen, but the locket itself has survived the test of time.

A gift from Prince Alert to Victoria, mourning her late mother auctioned by Sotheby’s London, collection of Patricia Knatchbull

As the reigning monarch, Queen Victoria had access to the opulent jewels of the Crown, which belonged to the state, including the famous and controversial Koh-I-Noor Diamond. Based on her writings and behavior, it is apparent that she treasured her personal jewelry just as much, if not more, than these opulent jewels. Some of her personal jewelry would end up becoming part of Crown jewels. The sapphire brooch from Albert is still worn today by the Royal Family. Victoria had a new smaller crown created after Albert's death that would be easier to wear with her widow's cap, seen in the image. In this photo, she wears what is now dubbed the diamond coronation necklace and earrings. We will have to do another entry or two on the Crown jewels, but I hope you enjoyed this brief glimpse into Queen Victoria's sentimental jewelry. I have included reference links below to the jewelry in the Royal Collection for those who wish to explore further, as well as some other articles.


 

Special Thanks to Jessica Parrack for proofing!!!


References


First Image: This is a copy by George Koberwein of Winterhalter's portrait of Queen Victoria in 1852, which had been painted as a present for Baron Stockmar.


Double heart amethyst bracelet:

https://www.rct.uk/collection/search#/30/collection/65296/queen-victorias-bracelet


Pink sepia photo bracelet:


Queen Victorias gold and black enamel charm bracelet:

https://www.rct.uk/collection/search#/19/collection/65290/queen-victorias-charm-bracelet


Queen Victorias colorful enamel hair locket bracelets

https://www.rct.uk/collection/search#/20/collection/65293/bracelet


photo portrait bracelet


Orange Blossom Jewelry


Alice Mourning jewelry sets

https://nationaljeweler.com/articles/9636-queen-victoria-s-mourning-jewels-find-new-life-at-auction


Gere, C. (2012, April 23). Victoria & Albert: Art & Love. Royal Collection Trust. Retrieved March 21, 2023, from https://www.rct.uk/collection/themes/exhibitions/victoria-albert-art-love


Theroyalpost. (2013, May 8). Queen Victoria's wedding jewelry. THE COURT JEWELLER. Retrieved March 22, 2023, from https://theroyalpost.wordpress.com/2011/11/23/queen-victorias-wedding-jewelry/


Williams, C. A. (2018, July 27). Queen Victoria and jewelry | jewelry | Sotheby’s. Sothebys.com. Retrieved March 22, 2023, from https://www.sothebys.com/en/articles/queen-victoria-and-jewelry


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