What started as a decade with optimistic expectations, ended abruptly for England. In 1861, Victoria's mother, The Duchess of Kent passed away, followed later in the year by the passing of her beloved husband Prince Albert. Victoria and the nation were stunned and devastated by grief.
At the same time, in the United States, the first shots were fired marking the beginning of the Civil War. What was expected to be a short conflict, raged into years of battle.
On both sides of the Atlantic, lockets became a very important fashion accessory. They held the memory of a dear one close to the heart. They could contain locks of hair or early examples of photographs (daguerreotypes), kept in secret compartments. Victorian lockets were often suspended from "book chain" necklaces and adorned with taille d'epargné style enamel work. Book chain necklaces had a dual purpose;when these flat chains were removed at night, they could be used as a bookmark!
Victorian mourning jewelry and clothing followed a strict protocol. After a year of full mourning (requiring all black jewelry and clothing), half-mourning colors such as gray, mauve, or purple were allowed back into the wardrobe. Jet, Onyx, Gutta-Percha, Vulcanite, French Jet, and Bog Oak were common materials utilized for mourning jewelry.
In 1865, America was hit with another dismal blow. President Lincoln was assassinated, a mere month into his second term;death was an overwhelming reality of life during Victorian times.
Travel and exploration of ancient sites became easier as the century progressed. There was a continued fascination with Egyptian and Etruscan Revival pieces, but in the 1870's the United States made some discoveries that influenced the trends. The Treasure Vaults of Kurium resulted in the popularity of Phoenician inspired crescents; Victorian crescent jewelry was enameled, jewel encrusted, and adorned with granulation. The crescent motif, fashioned into brooches, earrings and pendants remained popular until after the turn of the century.
It was during the Victorian era that opals first gained their reputation for bringing bad luck to the wearer, other than being worn as a birthstone. It's thought that Sir Walter Scott originated this concept in a best selling book, titled Anne of Geierstein , about an opal hair ornament that brought catastrophe to its owner. After a huge discovery of opal was made in Australia (a British Territory) in 1870, Queen Victoria herself tried to dispel the superstitions surrounding opals. By 1886, opals had lost much of their unlucky reputation and were being used in the newest Victorian designs.
In the late 1880's it became a trend to take the ornately hand pierced cock covers from watches made in the 1600-1700's and fashion them into earrings, bracelets and pendants. This was appropriately called "Cock Cover Jewelry". The cock covers protected a watch's balance's wheel and staff. They were usually made out of a gilded brass.
Silver jewelry, both plain and oxidized, became very popular in the late 1800's. The discovery of silver in Virginia City, Nevada in the 1860's greatly reduced the price of silver and provided a source for the metal needed to create many of these designs, which reflected a growing middle market. Both low and high karats of gold were also used extensively. Engraved bangle bracelets, monogram and name brooches and sentimental lockets developed a more whimsical character in the late 1880's. Acorns, anchors, monograms, hearts, bees, bells, birds, swans, stars, sphinxes and daisies were all in vogue.