History of Jewellery – Modern Age

Baroque, grand and voluminous are some of the words one can use to describe the history of jewellery from the Modern Age. 

It not only became more sophisticated appearance-wise, the craftsmanship, and techniques too became equally sophisticated. 

Primarily human evolution is grouped into 3 parts: 

  1. Prehistoric Age: 3.3million years to 500 AD
  2. Middle Age: 476 AD – 14th Century
  3. Modern Age: 14th Century – 20th Century

This blog talks about the Modern Age specifically. I have captured the Prehistoric Age and Middle Ages in 2 different blogs. If you like this, do read the others as well 

This blog talks all about jewellery in the Modern age. 

If you are a Hist(w)ery (Jewelry + History buff), go on reading as I am going to cover

Historical periods are generally fluid and subject to interpretation. The categorization of historical periods is widely used to analyze and understand broad patterns and trends in history. Different historians and people have varying perspectives of that period.

Broad Timeline and Overview of the Modern Age

Modern Age Timeline History of Jewellery

It is being debated whether Modern Age ended in the mid-19th century or whether we are still in the Modern Age. I am gonna leave the right people to do their job and will take you through the history of jewellery in this time period from my perspective. 

  • 16th century: Renaissance and Reformation movements in Europe, exploration and colonization of the New World.
  • 17th century: Scientific Revolution, Enlightenment, the rise of absolute monarchies, colonization and trade expansion.
  • 18th century: Age of Enlightenment, American and French Revolutions, Industrial Revolution begins.
  • 19th century: Industrialization and urbanization, the rise of nationalism, colonial expansion, and significant social and political reforms.
  • 20th century: World War I & II, Cold War, decolonization movements, technological advancements, social and political revolutions, significant cultural shifts, advancements in science and technology, civil rights movements, and the onset of globalization.

I would call the 21st century to be the Digital Age and it needs a separate conversation altogether 🙂 

What types of jewellery were found in the Modern age?

By the Modern Age, ancient jewellery became more than just social status, protection, and religious purposes. In Modern Age, it is used as FASHION 

Queen Victoria
Franz Xaver Winterhalter

You can see how the types of products have numerous sub-types

  • Rings: Engagement rings, wedding bands, statement rings.
  • Necklaces: Pendant necklaces, chokers, chain necklaces.
  • Earrings: Stud earrings, hoop earrings, drop earrings.
  • Bracelets: Bangle bracelets, charm bracelets, cuff bracelets.
  • Brooches: Decorative pins worn on clothing.
  • Watches: Timepieces worn on the wrist or as pocket watches.
  • Hair Accessories: Hairpins, tiaras, headbands.
  • Body Jewelry: Nose rings, belly button rings, body chains.
  • Men’s Jewelry: Cufflinks, tie pins, signet rings.
  • Fashion Jewelry: Costume jewellery, statement pieces, and fashion accessories.

What materials were used to make jewellery during the Modern Period?

In the Modern Age, the scope of materials became wider when compared to the history of jewellery from the Middle Ages and with the advent of technology, far more choices were available. 

  • Precious Metals: Gold, silver, platinum.
  • Gemstones: Diamonds, rubies, sapphires, emeralds, pearls.
  • Semi-Precious Stones: Amethyst, turquoise, garnet, topaz.
  • Precious and Semi-Precious Metals: Gold-plated, silver-plated, bronze.
  • Glass: Colored glass, Murano glass.
  • Enamel: Decorative glass-like coating applied to metal.
  • Wood: Carved or polished wood pieces.
  • Plastic: Acrylic, resin, Bakelite.
  • Synthetic Materials: Cubic zirconia, lab-grown gemstones.
  • Natural Materials: Shells, coral, feathers, leather.

What types of jewellery designs/motifs were found in the Modern Ages?

Filigree, gemstones modern age history of jewellery
Anonymous (Germany)
  • Art Deco: Geometric shapes, bold lines, and symmetrical patterns inspired by the Art Deco movement.
  • Floral Motifs: Delicate flower designs, inspired by nature and botanical elements.
  • Abstract and Contemporary: Experimental and avant-garde designs that challenged traditional aesthetics.
  • Minimalist: Clean lines, simplicity, and understated elegance.
  • Symbolic and Personalized: Jewelry featuring symbols, initials, or birthstones to represent personal meaning and identity.
  • Retro and Vintage: Nostalgic designs inspired by earlier eras, such as Art Nouveau or Victorian styles.
  • Cultural and Ethnic: Jewelry designs are influenced by specific cultures and traditions, incorporating motifs from various regions and ethnic groups.
  • Modernist: Innovative and unconventional designs that pushed the boundaries of traditional jewelry craftsmanship.

Modern Ages, reflect the artistic, cultural, and societal shifts from the Prehistoric and Middle Ages when comparing the history of jewellery of all time periods.

What techniques were used to manufacture jewellery in the Modern Age?

Handcrafting, filigree work, gemstone cutting, enamelling, and later through advancements in machinery and mass production were dominant while studying the Modern Age’s history of jewellery.

Why was jewellery made during the Modern Period?

Though the purpose or use of ancient jewellery evolved from one age to another, some common usage can be noticed in all three ages, Prehistoric, Middle and Modern. 

Common Purpose/ Use 

  • Symbolism and Sentiment: Jewelry in this period became synonymous with sentimental value. It represented love, commitment, religious beliefs, cultural identity, or commemorating special occasions.
  • Status and Wealth: Particularly among the elite and affluent classes, jewellery served as a visible display of power and social standing.
  • Rituals and Ceremonies: Jewelry played a role in religious and cultural rituals, and ceremonies such as weddings, births etc

Additional Use in the Modern Age 

  • Personal Accessory: Jewelry became a form of personal expression, allowing individuals to showcase their style, taste, and social status.
  • Fashion and Trends: Jewelry played a significant role in the fashion industry, following the trends and styles of the time. 

It served as an accessory to complement and enhance fashionable clothing.

  • Artistic Expression: Jewelry making was considered an art form, where skilled artisans crafted intricate and unique pieces, showcasing their creativity and craftsmanship.
  • Investment and Wealth Preservation: Pieces made with precious metals and gemstones, held intrinsic value and could be seen as a form of investment or a means to preserve wealth.

How did cultural symbolism affect jewellery from the Modern Ages?

Broad Collar of Senebtisi MET DP330254
Broad Collar of Senebtisi MET DP330254.  Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

16th Century:

  • Renaissance Influences: Jewelry designs were inspired by the artistic and intellectual movements of the Renaissance. 

Motifs included classical elements such as scrolls, cameos, and mythological figures, symbolizing a revival of ancient Greek and Roman aesthetics.

17th Century:

  • Baroque Opulence: Jewelry designs became more extravagant and elaborate during the Baroque period, reflecting the opulence of the time. 

Pieces featured intricate details, gemstones, and motifs like bows, ribbons, and floral arrangements, symbolizing wealth and status.

18th Century:

  • Rococo Elegance: Jewelry designs embraced the graceful and ornate style of the Rococo period. 

Motifs included delicate flowers, bows, and playful motifs like shells and fans, symbolizing grace, femininity, and sophistication.

19th Century:

  • Romanticism and Nature: Ancient jewellery history suggests that designs emphasized individual expression, emotions, and a connection to nature

Heart from 1700 Hangsmycke av silver jungfru maria i profil - 1770-tal modern age history of jewellery
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Motifs like flowers, leaves, and birds symbolized love, beauty, and the simplicity of the natural world.

  • Victorian Sentimentality:  Jewelry during the Victorian era carried sentimental symbolism, often incorporating personal messages, lockets, and mourning jewellery. 

Motifs like hearts, anchors, and flowers conveyed love, remembrance, and hope.

20th Century:

  • Art Deco Modernism: Jewelry designs of the Art Deco period embraced geometric shapes, bold lines, and streamlined forms. 

Motifs like sunbursts, chevrons, and abstract patterns symbolized modernity, progress, and the influence of industrialization.

  • Cultural Revival: The 20th century witnessed a revival of ancient and exotic cultures, leading to jewellery designs inspired by Egyptian, African, and Oriental motifs. 

These designs symbolized a fascination with other cultures and a desire for artistic exploration.

  • Pop Culture and Individual Expression: Jewelry became a medium for self-expression, reflecting popular culture, music, and personal beliefs

Symbols like peace signs, musical notes, and abstract forms represented individuality, rebellion, and social movements.

What was the relationship between jewellery and clothing in the Modern age history of jewellery?

queen maria of portugal in 18th century painting modern age history of jewellery
Source Credit: Giuseppe Troni 16th Century to 20th Century

Clothing designs were influenced by the Art Nouveau and Art Deco movements, characterized by flowing lines, geometric shapes, and bold patterns.

  • Jewellery designs echoed these artistic styles, incorporating intricate motifs, enamelwork, and gemstones.
  • Jewellery was created to complement and enhance the fashionable clothing of the time, with pieces such as brooches, hair accessories, and long necklaces.

Mid to Late 20th Century:

  • Clothing designs became more diverse and experimental, reflecting changing cultural and societal trends.
  • Jewellery designs followed suit, with a wide range of styles and materials used, including costume jewellery and innovative materials like plastics and acrylics.
  • As per ancient jewellery history, jewellery and clothing designs often embraced the concept of matching or coordinating sets, where specific jewellery pieces were created to complement certain garments.
  • The influence of popular cultures, such as movies and celebrities, also played a role in shaping both clothing and jewellery trends.

Popular from the Modern Age: Pill/ Poison Ring Story

Pill Ring Poison Ring Modern Age History of Jewellery
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Thanks to all the fascinating spy series, and espionage movies, many of us may have seen or heard of pill rings. As a child, I always wondered if it was real. 

It is believed that the first ever pill ring was made in the 19th century in France. It is unknown who made this first pill ring. 

An in-built secret compartment between the metal and gemstone embrace had a tiny space to fit in either a pill or a paper note. It had both practical and symbolic purposes.

Apparently, spies wore pill rings with poison pills to shield themselves from getting caught alive and enduring unbearable pain.  

Lovers wore it too, to confess or when they couldn’t; either way placed a note inside for each other to secretly commemorate their undying love for each other. 

Poison or love ring, one thing is for sure, who knows how many untold, unread stories exist in the world in the form of pill rings. 

Final Thoughts

The modern evolution of jewellery is a mirror of the shifting societal trends and interests. From Renaissance to globalization, technological developments and easy access to a variety of materials have allowed jewellery designers and manufacturers to push the boundaries of creativity and produce unique creations. 

Without a doubt, contemporary jewellery is a reflection of individualism, self-expression, and the always-changing fashion scene of the time.

To know about the History of Jewellery from different, please click below:

History of Jewellery – Prehistoric Age 

History of Jewellery – Middle Age

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