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The History Of Silver Jewellery

As beautiful as it is timeless, the use of sterling silver within jewellery dates back for centuries.

This precious metal may be one of the most accessible these days but, long before the days of mass jewellery production, sterling silver was once a commodity reserved for the jewellery collections of the wealthy and well-connected.

Durable, classic and brilliantly versatile, it’s easy to see why silver has never fallen out of fashion.

Here, we take a look at the rich history of silver – one of the world’s most popular and most attractive precious metals.

Early use of silver in jewellery

Silver is thought to have been discovered around 5000bc and it was almost immediately put to work.

Early uses for silver included the making of eating and drinking vessels, as well as the creation of many ancient sculptures and, of course, in the design of jewellery belonging to the ruling classes.

In Ancient Egypt, silver jewellery was reserved for kings, queens, pharaohs and select others. Similarly, silver was almost exclusively used in jewellery belonging to the wealthiest men and women in the Ancient Greek period, despite the metal being used to produce currency circulated throughout society at the time.

This is a standard that continued for centuries afterwards, throughout the Tudor, Stuart and Georgian eras – like other precious metals, it was only those at the very height of society and the ruling classes with access to silver until as recently as the beginning of the Victorian jewellery era.

However, the arrival of the industrial revolution would mark an important milestone in the history of silver jewellery…

Mass jewellery production begins

As the capabilities of factories grew and the Victorian middle-class population increased, there was both a much higher demand for jewellery and the technology to support its production en masse.

Whilst intricate bespoke jewellery designs were going nowhere – those at the very height of Victorian society certainly wouldn’t be caught wearing mass produced jewellery – hundreds of identical jewellery pieces could now be produced in a much shorter amount of time.

Given that jewellery had long been considered the perfect gift for your beloved, it’s no surprise that mass produced jewellery, which allowed those with a modest disposable income to purchase such pieces, soon became a booming industry – and at the heart of this industry was silver.

By this time, sterling silver was the material used as standard in silver jewellery, too. Alloyed with copper, this metal consisted of around 92.5% pure silver, as opposed to the 99% found in fine pure silver, which was much more expensive and far more delicate.

Changing trends in silver jewellery

Whilst silver jewellery itself will likely never go out of fashion, the popular designs incorporating this precious metal have certainly varied over the years.

At the height of the Victorian era, when silver was still a luxury of the upper class, there was no such thing as ‘less is more’!

During this period, it was highly unlikely you’d encounter a piece of silver jewellery that didn’t incorporate precious gemstones or, more commonly, pearls.

Earrings and necklaces were rarely understated, with their shapes and ornate designs often reminiscent of chandeliers, much like this stunning pair of antique earrings (circa. 1880) featuring a combined total of 26 incredible diamond settings.

As the 20th century arrived, Art Deco jewellery brought with it extravagant new trends, as jewellery became even more lavish and twice as bold. During this period, silver fell briefly out of favour, with its popularity outweighed by gold and platinum – take this mesmerising platinum European cut ring, circa. 1920, for example. 1930s jewellery – and 1940s jewellery, for that matter – continued these traditions.

However, it didn’t take long for this classic precious metal to regain its popularity in jewellery both mass produced and bespoke, as mid century jewellery saw a new wave of beautiful silver jewellery trends favouring bright colours and intricate designs. Stunning examples from within the Gatsby antique jewellery collection include this enchanting sapphire and diamond cocktail ring, circa. 1965.

Silver jewellery in the 21st century

As the 21st century arrived, silver remained at the very forefront of the mass-produced jewellery industry and is still the metal most widely utilised by such companies today.

However, there’s no denying that vintage bespoke pieces come with a charm, history and mark of the highest quality that modern, mass-produced pieces are often missing.

Here at Gatsby Jewellery, we pride ourselves on collecting these beautiful pieces so that they may one day find their way into the jewellery collections of another owner for years to come. Perhaps your next precious piece is right here on our site…