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  • Jewellery in the Age of Queen Victoria: A Mirror to the World by Charlotte Gere and Judy Rudoe
  • Julie Codell (bio)
Jewellery in the Age of Queen Victoria: A Mirror to the World by Charlotte Gere and Judy Rudoe; pp. 552. London: British Museum, 2010. $87.89 cloth.

The Recent interest in Victorian material culture will be greatly enhanced by this huge, beautifully illustrated (with over five hundred illustrations, four hundred of which are in colour), and scrupulously documented study of Victorian jewellery that reflects new directions in museum and fashion studies. A mark of social status, taste, and economics, jewellery plays a complicated role in culture. Victorian protocol for wearing jewellery carried rich associations with love, mourning, and social hierarchies. Traditional studies of Victorian jewellery are rooted in archival histories of styles, revivals, and wealthy wearers. This book goes far beyond previous studies to examine the social life of jewellery and its symbolic and metaphoric meanings in social life, literature, and art. While filled with technical information, the book does not categorize jewellery by materials or techniques but by social functions and uses. It embraces all jewellery displayed at international exhibitions, museums, and shops from Europe, North America, and Asia, with a special focus on jewellery’s role in cultural exchanges between France and Britain.

The book’s gorgeous reproductions and detailed commentary profoundly reflect the omnipresence of jewellery in portraiture and literary painting. The authors scoured letters, diaries, fiction, newspapers (the Times and New York Times online), as well as records of international exhibitions, global jewellery production and consumption, the domestication of exotica, and even cheap and seemingly ephemeral jewellery to reveal the fluidity of taste across social classes, from high-end wearers to those wearing imitation jewellery. All classes of jewellery were collected by the South Kensington Museum (later the Victoria and Albert Museum), the Victorian measure of an object’s [End Page 218] cultural worth. The book’s themes include marketing (trade journals, distribution, new and secondhand markets); shopping, in a variety of shops; the globalization of jewellery production and consumption; and jewellery’s role in shaping national identity. The book contributes to the knowledge of jewellery in Victorian painting, a thread running throughout the volume, thus supplementing Marcia Pointon’s excellent Brilliant Effects (2010) in its detail about pre-Victorian jewellery and art.

The first chapter focuses on Queen Victoria, whose love of jewellery embodies all the book’s themes. Her jewellery measured her life events, and she set the fashion through jewels worn on public occasions. She also affected fashion throughout Europe as her children married Continental monarchs and received her royal gifts of jewellery. The royal family permitted their jewels to be displayed in public. Royal ledgers listed every piece of jewellery, including those set with babies’ teeth as well as pebbles from near Balmoral. The Queen collected microphotographic miniaturized images set in jewellery, including enamelled miniatures. Purchases were meant to support native production and commerce, including Scottish, Irish, and colonial pieces—her Jenny Lind comb revived the dying tortoise-shell industry in Sheffield. Albert’s support of British design and manufacture similarly affected jewellery production.

Chapter 2 focuses on the significance of jewellery as a sign of wealth and on rules for wearing jewellery, rules that cut across all social strata, a trickle-down effect thanks to the Victorian appearance of ready-made jewellery. In the 1850s, both Victoria and Empress Eugénie modernized state jewels, turning them into signs of power and nationhood. Gere and Rudoe inventory Eugenie’s private collection—objects she took with her when she fled France in 1870—as well as courtesans’ expensive jewels, which raised their social status in France and Britain. French crown jewels sold by Tiffany’s in Paris enriched the wives of American entrepreneurs. The authors describe revivals of eighteenth-century jewellery, the role of jewellery as an art form, and the level of ostentation in jewellery fashions: austere in the 1840s and ‘50s, then richly displayed later. Hair ornaments of the 1830s and ‘40s gave way to 1850s diadems and then to diamond pieces that could be dismantled and rearranged for different occasions. All these trends contributed to “a democratization...


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pp. 218-220
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