The Georgian period spanned well over a century, from 1714 to 1837, and was named for the so-called “Four Georges”—the monarchs of the United Kingdom. But even though the period takes its name from the British monarchs, the English were not alone in shaping the era’s jewelry.
The period was one of tremendous social and political change—in America, there was Revolution and exploration; in France, Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette, the French Revolution, and Napoleon; and in Russia, the reign of Catherine the Great. Against this political backdrop, there was much more trade and travel between nations as the rail system grew into its own. As a result, jewelry styles migrated and proliferated throughout the world as well.
The decorative arts saw styles that ranged from Rococo during the early Georgian era to Gothic and Neoclassical designs that became common later in the period. The jewelry produced over the century was quite varied, and fashions changed rapidly, but distinctly Georgian features and themes did emerge.
With the relaxation of sumptuary laws that restricted the type of jewelry that could be worn based on class rank or income, jewelry became more widely available to the middle class. Much of the jewelry from early in the period was re-worked and jewels re-set into new pieces—gold, silver, and diamonds have always been expensive, and many early pieces were considered as raw materials for new ones. As a result, much of the Georgian jewelry available today is from late in the period.
Goldsmiths during the period were skilled craftsmen, trained in all areas of gold work and jewelry making. These highly skilled technicians worked in both gold and silver, but also the new alloy of copper and zinc, named for its creator, aspiring alchemist Christopher Pinchbeck. Iron and cut steel were also used to create pieces of astonishing detail.
Gold was used extensively for jewelry during the Georgian period, with alloys generally 18 karat and higher—though diamonds were almost always set in silver, as the lighter colored metal was thought to compliment the gem. All jewelry was hand crafted. Before the invention of the rolling mill in 1750, goldsmith apprentices had the arduous and time consuming task of hand hammering blocks of gold into thin sheets of foil, which the goldsmith could then shape into jewelry. Much of what remains from the early Georgian period shows exceptional workmanship and attention to detail.
One common technique employed by Georgian jewelers was to use a foil backing for gems. Intended to bring out the brilliance and color of gemstones, tinted copper sheets wrapped the back of the stone and acted as a reflector and coloring agent. This method helped to brighten diamonds and enrich the hue of colored gemstones, with foil backed diamonds particularly suited to lively reflection of the available candlelight. The hammered metals used for foil backing were quite thin and fragile, and tarnished and faded with time.
Georgian Period Jewelry for Daylight
Jewelry styles during the period can be differentiated by the time of day they were intended to be worn. During daylight hours, women often wore a chain or necklace, cameos, small colored rings, matching bracelets, and perhaps earrings. Natural gems like emerald, ruby, topaz and garnet were popular in a variety of pieces, as were coral, pearls, ivory, agates, and carnelian. Men showed their social and economic status with elaborate and ornate shoe buckles and buttons studded with diamonds and gemstones.
Imitation stones were almost as popular as the natural stones they mimicked. Paste, faux pearls, and different kinds of glass were also common in daytime pieces. Often backed with metallic colored foil to enhance the color, opaline glass and Vauxhall glass were widely used as beads for necklaces, or set in rings or earrings. Rivière necklaces featuring lines of colored gemstones and imitations, usually graduated, were a popular daytime staple.
Of particular importance for daytime jewelry was the chatelaine, a veritable ‘toolbox’ of daily necessities. Originally a kind of belt hook worn by the “lady of the castle,” (“chatelaine” in French), the chatelaine was a place to keep the keys to the castle. By the Georgian period, chatelaines had evolved to support several chains from which one could hang various daily necessities—everything from a button hook or keys, to pomanders, scissors and sewing implements.
Longchains, often a meter or more long, were fashioned in many shapes, with knitted, woven, or patterned links. Sometimes called muff chains, longchains were long enough to be worn around the neck and pass through the lady’s hand warmer. The ends of the chain could be fastened together, suspending the muff.
Popular in France was the collière d’esclavage (literally “slave necklace”), made of chains fastened to plaques or cameos in swaged rows. The individual chains were often of different link patterns or styles, and connected a variety of stones highlighting a single pendant suspended in the center.
Georgian Jewelry for the Evening
Evening jewelry during the Georgian period meant diamonds, worn specifically to catch and reflect the candlelight. Rose cut and mine cut diamonds were the most popular, and a favorite way to show them off was the rivière. Graduated, matched diamonds set in silver collets formed a ‘river of light’ around the neck. Rivieres became so popular that they were often made with pastes and colored gemstones, sometimes foiled and supporting a suspended, detachable, matching pendant.
A parure was a signature set of jewelry for Georgian ladies, with each piece in the group meant to compliment not only the others in the set but also the lady’s gown. Some parures contained as many as sixteen pieces, but a typical ‘full parure’ usually included a brooch, a ring, a bracelet, a pair of earrings, and a necklace. Although often imagined with matched diamonds as the celebrated stones, many parures featured other gemstones and materials like carved corals and cameos. Parures typically formed a cohesive whole, based on a particular stylistic theme, and were treasured as sets to not be separated.
Where Can I Sell Georgian Jewelry?
If you would like to sell Georgian jewelry for a generous cash offer, please contact Diamond Estate Jewelry Buyers today. We are widely recognized as the best place to sell antique jewelry from all historical periods.