Putting on a necklace

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A Modern History of Necklaces & Pendants

Antique necklaces may be one of the earliest types of jewellery worn by humans. Over the years they have served ceremonial, religious, magical, and funerary purposes. Today in the west, they’re mostly used to accentuate a particular fashion style or worn to symbolise wealth and status.

Historians have talked about necklaces that date back to as far as the bronze age, where prehistoric people used natural materials such as feathers, bones, shells, and plant materials to make them. Ancient civilisations that are known to have worn necklaces include Mesopotamia, Babylon, Sumer, Egypt, Crete, Greece, and Rome, amongst others.

In more recent history, necklaces have undergone significant changes along with the technological and cultural shifts that gave way to them. In this article, we’ll discuss the Georgian, Victorian, and Edwardian periods, focusing on what characterises the necklaces from these times.

Symbolic meaning of necklaces

Different types of necklaces can be used to symbolise love, friendship, mourning, religious beliefs, heritage and more. Much like rings, necklaces are often gifted and worn for sentimental reasons and have been for many years.

Matching necklaces with earrings

Necklaces are often gifted with matching earrings, creating a complete and cohesive look. This has been a popular practice for many years, with these matching sets – known officially as a demiparure – rising in popularity in early 19th century Europe. When it comes to antique jewellery, it can be a little trickier to track down a complete set, as the individual pieces may have been sold as separates somewhere down the line.

Materials used for necklaces

The main component of a necklace – the band or chain that wraps around the neck of its wearer – is generally created using a precious or semi-precious metal, such as gold, platinum or silver. The pendant part of the necklace can be crafted from a much wider range of materials, often including precious gemstones in pretty settings.

Necklaces for men

While necklaces are traditionally feminine, men have always worn necklaces throughout history, too. Necklaces targeted towards a male audience tend to be a little more subtle, generally incorporating a thicker chain. It’s also less common for necklaces intended to be worn by men to include a pendant or gemstone in the design. These days, however, jewellery is considered much more gender neutral, with men and women encouraged to wear jewellery that suits their individual tastes, whatever its design.

What is the difference between a necklace and a pendant?

Any piece of jewellery that is worn around the neck is considered a necklace, while a pendant is any small charm or piece of jewellery that is attached to a necklace, bracelet or anklet.

Religious symbolism

The wearing of necklaces has had religious connotations throughout history, with necklaces worn to symbolise a person’s religion and often as a reminder to worship or pray. For example, necklaces bearing a cross pendant are commonly worn within Christianity.

Georgian Period (1714-1837)

The Georgian period covers the reigns of five English kings, four of whom were named George and one William. But although the name of this period comes from the King of England, England wasn’t the only influence on art and culture of that time. The jewellery of this time was also influenced by France, Germany, and Italy.

Characteristics of Georgian necklaces

Predating the industrial revolution, Georgian necklaces were handmade. Ornate metalwork of this time, such as repousse and cannetille, was labour intensive. Since jewellers didn’t start marking their jewellery until the 1900s, another characteristic of a Georgian necklace is that it bears no maker’s mark or stamp. To enhance these necklaces, gemstones were often set in closed back settings.

Glass overlays and enamelling are other markers of the Georgian necklace, along with the flower, crescent, ribbons, bows, leaves, feather plumes, and foliage motifs.

This Georgian 1.3-carat old cut diamond pendant is dated circa 1810.  The top half is comprised of twelve old mine cut and rose cut diamonds featuring two sweeping foliage motifs that make it instantly recognisable as Georgian.

Victorian Period (1837-1901)

The Victorian era began and ended with Queen Victoria’s reign – a period that saw big changes in society, fashion, and jewellery. It can be divided into three distinct time zones – the early Victorian or Romantic, the Middle Victorian or Grand, and the Late Victorian or Aesthetic periods.

Characteristics of Victorian necklaces

With the Industrial Revolution underway, Victorian jewellery was no longer strictly manufactured by hand. Victorian necklace designs were influenced by a renewed interest in gothic and medieval times and many necklaces of this period were slide chains.

Since there was a shortage in gold during this period, gold plated jewellery necklaces were also common, along with enamelling and seed pearls arranged into clusters; along with enamelling and gemstones set in collet settings.

This Victorian 42-inch yellow gold chain features a carefully crafted knotted rope design.

Edwardian Period (1901-1910)

The Edwardian jewellery period was named after English monarch King Edward VII. This was a period characterised by luxury and frivolity. It was also significantly marked by consumers rejecting the idea of mass-produced jewellery following the industrial period.

Another determiner of jewellery design for this period was the invention of the 1903 oxyacetylene torch, which for the first time meant that temperatures could be achieved to work with platinum.

Characteristics of Edwardian Necklaces

Art Nouveau and the arts and crafts movement came to the forefront of popular jewellery and is today known as a style that characterises much of this period. Another influence on Edwardian Necklace designs were principles adopted from Japanese designers, by using simple, elegant and beautiful interpretations of nature across fashion.

Platinum which is a strong but light metal was made into laurel wreaths, knots, bows and ribbons and, throughout the period, bows and dog collars became very popular.

This Edwardian saltwater pearl pendant displays the natural influences that helped create the elegance that Edwardian necklaces are known for.