Looking into a piece of jewellery on careful examination you will be able to see the influences of the era it is from. From the romanticism from the Victorian area through to the streamlined and Architectural linear lines of the machine age twenties. But before diving into information about numerous stylistic periods, remember you can contact us about any redesign or re-modelling work you want done. Additionally, many of the pieces we sell have been crafted during the art deco period (1920-1940) which includes many of our rings.


Antique jewellery, australian colonial 1788-1855Australian Colonial is the period when the first Australian colonial settlers migrated to Australia first as convicts then as free settlers, setting up businesses and starting a new life in an emerging colony. In 1788 New South Wales was established as the first Australian penal colony, with Tasmania being settled as the second colony in 1803.

On the First Fleet there is listed that there were two silver smiths, a watch maker and a chain and case maker as well as a jeweller. Many of the earliest jewellers were convicts, transported from Britain for crimes such as forgery. Some of these convict jewellers were pardoned in return for their services.

Some of the items that the first colonial settlers made in Australia were Aboriginal breast plates; these were worn by select indigenous Australians as a token of respect and to show appreciation for their assistance by their British masters. These were crescent shaped plates that were often made from brass, copper or silver plate and were engraved with the tribal leader's names and their location. The breast plates were suspended around the Aboriginal's necks by a chain. Governor Macquarie first issued these around the early 1820's. He did this as a way of developing strategies to bring about peaceful relations between the two waring groups, the colonials and the indigenous native aboriginals. His strategies include the handing out of these plates as a way of establishing chief or elders in their tribal groups. He wanted a system whereby the elders or the chief of the group could settle matters internally. The chiefs were presented a breast plate with their names and their tribal group hand engraved upon it to show their status.

These breast plates where also presented for a range of reasons, including as a reward for saving lives of the early colonials. These were also given for faithful service and as a way of recognising stockman and trackers. Many thousands of these where given out over the years and the last known one was presented in 1946.

In 1851 there was a discovery that changed the nation. Edward Hargreaves discovered a grain of gold in a waterhole near Bathurst.

Hargreaves was convinced that the geological features between Australia and America's Californian gold fields were identical and that Australia had to have alluvial deposits of gold.

Hargreaves named his first discovery "Ophir". For this he received a life time pension and a reward of ten thousand pounds. This was a monumental discovery, making some major changes to the foundations of Australia.

Because of this, a gold frenzy took hold of the nation. Later in the same year we saw gold being found in Victoria, in Ballart and Bendigo.

By the year 1852 just twelve months after the first discovery 370,000 immigrants arrived in Australia to "strike it lucky" and the economy of the nation boomed.

In other states gold was also found: Western Australia (1890's), Queensland (1853), The Northern Territory (1856) and Tasmania (1877).

The word soon spread around the world that you could strike it lucky and make your fortune in Australia, making it a place of cultural diversity. An extensive mix from all cultures flooded into Australia. This influenced our style greatly. We became a mixing pot with many groups from other cultures.

This new country had new and intriguing fauna and flora. The early Australian jewellers (1850's-1870) used these influences to create the most amazing detailed intricate designs that are now considered almost museum specimens today. Most of these jewellers did not however sign their work, so many of the pieces cannot be attributed to a particular jeweller. Looking at a piece it is always very easy to determine its origin as the Australian style, which was bright high carat gold colour with a bloomed yellow finish over the top.


The Federation of Australia was the process by which six separate British colonies of New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania; Victoria and Western Australia joined together to form a Federation. The Constitution of Australia was formed on 1st January 1901, as a result we became known as the Commonwealth of Australia. In this time we see many pieces of jewellery that were made to commemorate this event. A vast majority of these pieces were hollow, made through the casting process. These mass produced pieces such as stick pins, brooches and pendants were made in celebration of this event. The motifs often have the map of Australia with the Kangaroo and Emu emblem (Australian Coat of Arms) decorated on them. Another patriotic symbol to Australia was the hugely popular Southern Cross constellation bar brooches. The symbol of the Southern Cross consists of four main stars and one slightly smaller star, five in total. This constellation which is in the shape of a cross is used to determine the direction of the South Pole when travelling in the Southern Hemisphere. This symbol also had become an iconic Australian image after it was used by the gold miners in Ballart during the Eureka stockade in 1854. This symbol came to stand for rights and liberties of the working class. According to Frank Cayley's book, "Flag of Stars", the flag was designed probably by a Canadian expatriate, Captain Henry Ross.

This design of the Southern Cross was adapted into inexpensive brooches for working class people to buy and was sold in the thousands around the time of the Federation.

Etruscan Revival – 1860's

The original Etruscan period is certainly much older (400 B.C) than the Victorian revival period, which dates from 1860-1890's. The Etruscan Revival was inspired by ancient Roman archaeological digs to copy many of the treasures that were being unearthed. One particular jeweller "Guiliano" who was working in London had a lot to do with this revival of the Old Italian Renaissance style. This style is still reproduced in Italy today and is often forged and sold as pieces from the Victorian era. Some very close copies have been reproduced and have been known to fool antique dealers. Etruscan jewellery features heavily ornate pieces with lots of gold wire workings. It a Very grand style!

ART NOUVEAU- 1880-1920's

Antique jewellery, art nouveau 1880-1920

The turn of the century saw the Art Nouveau period evolve. This period was an exploration into the world of nature and fantasy. It consisted of free flowing lines incorporating flowers and vines etc. where nature was the principal source of inspiration for the jewellers. The natural movement of Art Nouveau was at the height of popularity during the 1900's. Some of the leading jewellers of the day were Louis Tiffany, Karl Faberge & Renee Lalique. These jewellers created extraordinarily amazing experimental designs that were inspired by natural and mythological themes. The style was all about toning and shadings. This soft period was very romantic. The Parisian jeweller Rene Lalique was the first who applied this period to jewellery. Also seen were abstract fairies and nymphs as well as exotic flowers, mythical beasts, dragon flies, spiders, insects and an enchanted woman who was known as the "Gibson" girl. The Gibson girl had free flowing hair and sometimes wore a tilted hat and was often used in profile on buttons and brooches. She was a subject drawn by American Artist Charles Dana Gibson. The "Gibson girl" was the personification of the feminine ideal. She stood for the national feminine beauty. She had the ideal hour glass shape, a tall, slender youthful young woman, with a ‘S' shaped curved torso- this look was achieved with the help of a corset. She wore her hair up, piled high on her head with a cascade of curls falling around her face. She personified beauty. There where many jewellers and silversmiths of this time such as William B. Kerr who designed a range known as "American Beauty" which incorporated various interpretations of the "Gibson Girl". These women were also known as" the Kerr lady". Other firms such as Unger Brother had different variations of this theme, such as the "sea goddess" and "loves dream". Their designs were inspired by the famous art work of Alphonse Mucha. Another popular design was the Art Nouveau Byzantine lady.

The stones and metals in this period varied! The appearance that the Art Nouveau jewellers where trying to express was one that had a romantic, soft feel to it. The metals used usually reflected this. Many of the jewellery pieces have a textured bloomed effect giving the gold a velvety appearance. The Nouveau style was very avant-garde and had a sensual feel to it. This was an artist's response to the industrial revolution. The Art Nouveau form was asymmetrical and artists used mainly dream like abstract exotic forms with symbols of sexuality. This style was greatly influenced by Japanese art, by the English painter-poet William Blake and the Pre-Raphaelites. This style saw a break with tradition. It was a quest for innovation, to encompass the world of fantasy and nature with reality. In Austria and Germany it was known as Jugendstil or youth style. This was a slightly more abstract stylized design with more linear designs. One of the best known artists of this period was Aubrey Beardsley. In Italy it was known as "Stile Liberty" and "Modernismo" in Spain.

ART DECO- 1920-1940

Antique jewellery, art deco 1920-1940

The Art Deco period had geometric, abstract shapes put together in such a way they created a minimalist elegant style which no- one had seen before. Some of the inspirations came from modern architecture, machine parts, Indian jewellery, Oriental art and Egyptian iconography especially since around this time the tombs were being opened and all their secrets were being revealed. In 1922 King Tutankhamen's tomb was discovered by Howard Carter in Egypt creating an effect in fashion-the pharaoh craze. In this era scarab jewellery becomes popular. The scarab represented rebirth and regeneration. The scarabs were taken from the tombs and were considered a novelty.

Art Deco pieces were mostly made in white gold or platinum and had blocks of vivid colours. Women began to abolish unnecessary decoration by accenting with flamboyant outbursts of colour and favoured a more masculine look with shorter hair cuts. These masculine cuts were termed the "Eton" crop. Shorter hair brought long drop earrings back into fashion. This was a decadent unashamedly glamorous era of parties, Hollywood, high society, fashions and fast cars. The Art deco style was designed to indulgence in extravagances of wealth and luxury.


This movement was the aesthetic reformist movement that influenced not just jewellery but all manner of objects, varying from architecture to rugs, prints, textiles, furniture & pottery. This period pre-empted the modern movement in lifestyle, fashion and design. It was dedicated to promoting traditional craft skills. This period encompassed everything from woodcarving, metal working and jewellery. This period saw a search for meaning and was a revolt against the "soulless" machine- made goods that where repetitive. This style was a rebellion against commercially produced goods including jewellery of the day. The jewellery was often made of silver with gold detailing and decorated with loosely naturalistic wavelike forms. The pieces were large in size and were set with opaque cabochon or tumbled gemstones. These consisted of pearls, garnets, moonstone, amethyst, opals etc. Most of these pieces are very elaborate with an array of vivid colour, which was achieved by using enamels and different coloured gemstones. Some examples of popular designers of this period are May Morris, Oliver Baker, Archibald Knox and Joseph Hodel.

Antique jewellery, arts craft movement 1880-1930s

Australian Arts & Craft Movement had designers such as Rhoda Wager, James Linton, Alan Cameron Walker & James Fawcett.

Rhoda Wager was an artist that used the same principles as the English arts and craft guilds. She was born in 1875 in London.

Her main influences were the Australian bush; she used floral and native style with gum leaves as her main inspiration. Her pieces are often unsigned and her niece designed very similar works. Rhoda attended the Glasgow School of Arts from 1897-1903. In 1913 she sailed to Fiji with her brother, en route stopping in Sydney. It was in Fiji that her niece Dorothy Wager watched her aunt produce these wonderful pieces of jewellery. She made a collection to be sent back for the NSW exhibition for the Arts and Craft society. Two years latter she left Fiji to take up permanent residence in Australia. In 1946 she retired, after having done countless sketches and making well over 12,000 pieces. Her jewellery was extremely popular and she had shops in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. Her work has a certain style to it and is sometimes signed with the name plaque "WAGER". In 1928 her niece joined the firm and worked there until 1939 when she had enough experience to open her own studio. Dorothy, unlike her aunt never signed her work. In 1953 Rhoda passed away childless in Brisbane.

Her original sketch books are kept at the Power House Museum in Sydney along with some fabulous examples of her work.

THE POST-WAR DECADE -1945-1960's

The post war jewellery is otherwise known as cocktail jewellery or Retro jewellery. This jewellery has only in recent years been seen as historically insightful by jewellery dealers. This style came about at the tail end of Art Deco era. The speed of recovery of the various European countries varied greatly at the end of the Second World War and the jewellery reflects this recovery period. During the war, platinum had been requisitioned for the armaments industry so gold was the only metal jewellers could access. Platinum was used in the making of detonation devices in bombs. Not only were metals hard to obtain but due to austerity measures and prohibitive purchase taxes, jewellery for commercial trade became very expensive, with taxes at one stage as high as 125%.

Antique jewellery, post war decade 1945-1960s

The designs that were used were organic sculptural, and the shapes were highly original and innovative. This heralded a new wave of designers who lead the way into a realm of fantasy. Colour became fashionable to wear, this was not only because larger diamonds were too costly after the war, but during this time the world had became a very dark and dreary place. So when the war finished, a boom of artistic expressionism exploded onto the market and was readily snapped up by the keen public. Cocktail jewellery didn't need justification as nothing succeeds like excess and overindulgence. Scandinavia was a leader in these designs an example of this is the Danish firm George Jensen.

The jewellery from this time did vary in style. Jewellery from the 40's, 50's and the 60's where all similar in design but there finishes & production was executed in different ways. The 1950's jewellery was open in design & jewellers used textures such as Florentine finishes with gold braiding & wire accents compared to the 1940's jewellery which was solid, heavy & highly polished.


Antique jewellery, modern jewellery 1960-1990
Chilton's Antiques modern jewellery 1960-1990

This is a term that encompasses anything made more recently. It represents a variety of styles demonstrating a jeweller's artistic potential, almost like sculptured art works. Examples of these artisans are Salvador Dali, Max Ernst, Pablo Picasso and Yves Tanguy. These contemporary designs were often roughly textured and bulky looking. They were all about the visual effect and very imaginative. Metals used were bronze, silver and gold. The pendants were worn on leather thongs. Fashion trends were no longer set by the older generations to keep up with tradition but they were now being set by youthful designers with liberal attitudes. In the 1960's jewellery was worn in large quantities for example large plastic chains, bangles and rings. Art and jewellery mimicked each other whilst pop art trends filtered through into designers' workshops making the jewellery abstract and ostentatious.


Is a general term used for jewellery 1940-1970. It is something that has age to it but it is not antique. Vintage jewellery of certain periods is often very sought after, such as Art Deco and Retro jewellery.


Is a euphemistic term for second hand or previously owned jewellery and like the term vintage this just refers to the fact it is not brand new. The term does not necessarily refer to jewellery that has come from an estate, but simply that it has been previously owned. This is a very broad term, this could be used to cover anything from quite a few years to a few months old i.e. 1950-2006.


The term style denotes that a piece is a copy or that it has been made in the style of a certain period; it is just a modern piece made to look old.

An example of this is, Victorian style, which means it is a brand new piece just made to look like it's from the Victorian era.

There are many good reproduction copies on the market today quite often if an amazing design has crossed our path we copy it & give it a modern twist. At Chilton's we carry both a range of antique style & original pieces.