A Guide to Victorian Engagement Rings
The Victorian period from 1837 until 1901 represented a time of huge and accelerated change. The UK at the beginning of Victoria's reign was very different at the end. Empire and the expansion of mechanised industry brought wealth which in turn brought experience and material possessions beyond those traditionally enjoyed by the upper classes. As a result, there was a huge increase in the amount of fine jewellery procured not only by the landed gentry but also the middle classes.
Generally speaking the Victorian era is split into three parts - 1837-1861 The Early or Romantic era which took inspiration from the marriage of Victoria to Prince Albert. Albert allegedly designed Victoria's ring himself. It was made in the shape of a snake with a large emerald set in the head. A ancient symbol of eternal love, the serpent's meaning was not lost on Victoria and it is said that she was buried with the ring. Serpent rings flourished during this period and many examples of Victorian snake rings exist today. They make unusual engagement rings but in a way highly modern as people diversify from the solitaire diamond.
After the Romantic Era came the Grand Period 1861-1885. The discovery of the Kimberley diamond mine in South Africa in 1867 heralded the start of a mass popularisation of diamonds. Engagement rings of this period featured more diamonds than before but still tended to include other gemstones, especially sapphires and rubies which were procured from British controlled territories in Kashmir and Myanmar (Burma).
The final period of the Victorian Era is the Aesthetic period 1885-1901. It coincides with an extended period of mourning for Victoria, represented in her mourning jewellery but also the continued commercialisation of diamonds. During this period diamonds started to eclipse other stones in engagement rings. Large diamonds were still not found in great abundance but collections of smaller stones were turned into cluster rings. Navette (Marquise) rings were also popular and showed off large numbers of smaller stones. At the end of the period the supply of larger stones grew and we see "Toi et Moi" rings - a French style that can be traced back to a ring given to Empress Josephine by Napoleon Bonaparte.
As diamond cutting techniques improved over the 19th century we see the cut of diamonds changing from rose cuts to old mine cuts. As the 19th century draws to a close diamonds become rounder and something more akin to the Old European cut takes shape. These diamonds start to look a little more like our modern brilliant cuts.