The Art of Victorian Pavé Turquoise

Even though Pantone announced its Spring/Summer 2019 colors this past fall and turquoise was not among the top contenders, I have still been a bit obsessed with it.  I can picture turquoise as a the most fabulous accent color for several of the selected Pantone shades such as Princess Blue, Pink Peacock, Aspen Gold, Living Coral, Turmeric, Toffee or Sweet Lilac.  And, of course, it always looks stunning set against neutral backgrounds such as black, tans and whites or creams!

And even though turquoise is a staple in the jewelry of the Southwest, I find myself more drawn to the Victorian era pieces featuring this amazing stone.  I am particularly fond of Persian turquoise set in the pavé style in both gold and sterling silver.  The combination of yellow gold and turquoise was extremely popular during the Victorian era. Of course, that isn't to say it wasn't set in silver as well and a combination of the two metals was often used. 


This adorable parrot stickpin with garnet eyes sold by The Antique Boutique is a wonderful example of the use of mixed metals in Victorian turquoise pieces.

The earliest turquoise stones were brought from Turkey into Europe around the 16th century.  This is often called "Persian Turquoise," even though this type of turquoise was mined in other places, including the US, with differences in the fineness, matrix and color.  Persian Turquoise has a pure blue color with no matrix.  Matrix refers to the remaining host material found in the stone itself.  Some mines are known for the type of matrix that can be found in the stones they produce.  

The gemstone itself has been known by many names over the centuries. Pliny the Elder referred to the mineral as "callais" from Ancient Greek "κάλαϊς" and the Aztecs knew it as "chalchihuitl."  The word "turquoise," however, dates to the 17th Century and is derived from the French word "turquois" meaning "Turkish" because the mineral was first brought to Europe through Turkey from mines in the historical Khorasan Province of Persia.  Thus, the historical meaning behind the name "Persian Turquoise."


This stickpin in 9k gold & sterling silver sold by Butter Lane Antiques is set with graduated cabochon turquoise.  The sterling silver has oxidized over time turning black further adding to the history & patina of the piece.

Turquoise is an opaque, blue-to-green mineral that is a hydrated phosphate of copper and aluminium.  It is rare and valuable in finer grades and has been prized as a gemstone and ornamental stone for thousands of years owing to its unique hue.  It is most often cut in a cabochon style but will sometimes be seen as a nugget or as a faceted gemstone.  

A relatively porous stone, as turquoise ages, it can absorb moisture and chemicals that it could be exposed to.  As a result, it is not unusual to see some turquoise from this period take on a variety of darker greenish hues.  This is a natural result of the aging process.


Certainly a Jewelry Bucket List piece, this brooch is available through Brenda Ginsberg Antiques & Jewelry & is a stunning example of the mid-Victorian period return to natural motifs such as the flowers & snake.

The stone is believed to have spiritual, talismanic properties.  According to Persian legend, turquoise is made of the bones of those who died from an unhappy love.  The Aztecs believed that the stone were the tears of the Goddess of the Sky - a symbol of health, prosperity and love.  Native Americans greatly valued the gem.  The Zuñi held it sacred, carving fetishes and talismans in the forms of animals, insects and other living shapes.  A Navajo legend speaks of turquoise jewel baskets. And the Apache held turquoise in such high regard that their medicine men considered it as an absolutely essential material.  Other ancient civilizations such as the Egyptians and Romans also associated turquoise with love.  It is said to eliminate fears and nervousness as well as protect from falls and strengthen the heart.


It was a popular stone for jewelry throughout the Victorian era and into the first third of the 20th Century.  Focusing here on the Victorian era pieces, turquoise was used in a wide variety of jewelry to include not only daily wear pieces but also mourning pieces.  Tiny turquoise cabochons were also commonly pave set in mid-Victorian jewelry covering snake motif bracelets and necklaces, brooches and the like.  It enjoyed a resurgence in the late Victorian era and was set in rings, brooches and earrings but in much larger sizes than was seen in examples from earlier periods.


Truly one of my favorite heart padlock pieces of all time is this stunning example sold by Laelius Antiques & features a compartment on the reverse to hold a memento.

The era is defined by the British monarchy, in this case, Alexandrina Victoria, Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, as well as the Empress of India, years 1837-1901.  Queen Victoria’s love of turquoise was no secret.  Rumor has it that upon her marriage to Albert, she gave portrait rings to her ladies-in-waiting.  Each miniature portrait of the Queen was surrounded by turquoise cabochons.   


Although not Queen Victoria, this is a lovely example of a hand-painted, Victoria era portrait miniature with turquoise cabochon surround available by Morning Glory Antiques & Jewelry.

There are three time periods within this era.  First, the early, Romantic period, which was soaked in traditions that included natural motifs in gold and silver with clear stones being worn during the day and colored gems at night.  Jewelry of the Romantic Period (when the queen’s husband, Price Albert, was still alive) seemed to mirror the affection between the country’s rulers.  Enameled serpents and snakes with diamonds or garnets for eyes, yellow gold for their bodies, and small turquoise cabochons to imitate the scales on their heads were fashioned into necklaces, brooches, pendants and bracelets. Indeed, Albert’s ring to Victoria was a snake with its tail in its mouth, the Ouroboros, which was considered a symbol of love eternal.


One of my favorite pieces (ever) & one that I have been lucky enough to add to my personal collection is from Dear Golden & features the iconic Victorian snake motif further accented by the natural element of an oak leaf.

The second being the Grand or Mourning period, which coincides with the death of Queen Victoria's husband, Prince Albert.  Prince Albert died in December of 1861 from what was believed to be typhoid fever and later assumed to be misdiagnosed and in reality was some sort of progressive cancer. Victoria was devastated by this loss.  This period included large, dark, somber, yet dramatic jewelry, with a lot of black onyx, jet, amethyst, garnets and gold.  Notable characteristics of Grand Period Jewelry included heavy, massive pieces that reflected the opulence of the time, as the industry boomed and created millionaires overnight.  Jewelry makers used silver enthusiastically after its discovery in Nevada in 1860.  Grand Period jewelry also often featured gemstones in hammered or so-called “gypsy” style settings.  The gems were almost embedded into the pieces, with minute prongs holding them in place.  Pavé settings were also popular and featured stones set with almost invisible prongs thereby creating pieces “paved” with gems.  Additionally, brooches now contained a lever catch in the “C” design clasp for improved security.

This turquoise cabochon heart padlock sold by A. Brandt and Son is another example which features a compartment on the back for a lock of hair from a loved one.

The Grand Period lasted until the 1880's, when the Aesthetic Period began.  The late Victorians utilized more complex and feminine motifs, returning to a more natural aesthetic including many floral and celestial designs combined with more decadent stones, such as sapphire, ruby, zircon and diamonds.  This period lasted until the turn of the century.

The Victorian era of jewelry includes many movements found around the world, including revivals such as Etruscan and Egyptian as well as the Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts design movements which lead into the beginning of the 20th Century.


This brooch, available from Karen Deakin Antiques, is an incredible example of a piece from the Grand Period in Victorian jewelry.  The way these Persian Turquoise seem to glow just sends me.


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