In 1850, Thomas Andrews became the jet ornament maker to Queen Victoria, and in 1851 the first jewelry made of jet went on exhibit and the business of making jewelry from jet had begun. Not long after, it was being exported to Bavaria and France.
Demand for jet jewelry reached a peak in 1861, triggered by the death of Prince Albert. By 1870, 1500 well paid employees were engaged in the craft of working jet into beautiful jewelry and other objects, even caskets are exhibited at St. Thomas’s Museum, and a clock case shown at the Museum of Archeology and Bygones in Scarborough, England.
The boom was short-lived however, and by 1921 there were 40 workers of Whitby jet remaining. Changes in fashion and competition from cheaper glass and synthetic jet was growing.
In 1887, 22 years after the death of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria finally agreed to wear silver jewelry on state occasions, and allowed a lightening up on the rules of mourning that had dictated jewelry fashions for so long. This shift of mood in jewelry from mourning to romantic was not without its cost, however, and the jet industry in Whitby slumped rapidly - making way for the expansion of the silversmith jewelers, and leading to the formation of the Birmingham Jewelers’ and Silversmiths’ Association in 1887. The Association quickly began a training program and the silver jewelry making industry was on its way.
Silver love brooches became enormously popular due to the simplicity of manufacture combined with the ease of modification using simple stamping tools. This ability to produce the brooches at a low labor cost allowed them to be sold inexpensively, so that even the lower classes could afford a sentimental gift. Birds, hearts, flowers, handshake symbols, leaves and initials set up in individual names or initials were some of the many motifs used in the symbolic language of this Victorian jewelry.
Three motifs frequently found together on love brooches, as well as mourning, were the cross, anchor, and heart, representing faith, hope, and charity.
Hearts and arrows were also used, along with flowers and vine embellishments to let the receiver know of their admirer’s affection, that he has been “shot through the heart.”
Other broader jewelry categories were produced, which might have used a Bible verse, or “season’s greetings”, or Mother, Baby, or the word love were popular with the growing middle class.
Queen Victoria, with her tremendous influence at the time, opened gates for the jewelry industry. Many motifs and symbols currently manufactured today can have their origination traced back to this fashion trend, so that even in the 21st century can be found on the shoulder or as a pendant of women everywhere.
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