Just like a lot of antique objects, antique and vintage jewellery are very rich in history. Of course, throughout the many decades that people have been wearing jewellery, jewellery styles have changed very often. Nowadays, it is common to distinguish six jewellery eras, all covering multiple decades. Although the eras sometimes overlap, each era has its own characteristics, common techniques, and most popular jewellery styles. In this blogpost we take a leap back in time to teach you all about the Georgian era and its characteristics!
The Georgian era
The Georgian era is the era with the longest timespan of the six eras, covering the years from 1714 to 1837. The era was named after the five English kings that reigned during this period, of which four were named George. The Georgian period was a period of rapid change all over the world, like America’s fight for independence. It was during the reign of king George III that America won independence. The Georgian era was also a time of hedonism, meaning that people were constantly looking for pleasure and satisfaction. It was also the time of outspoken fashion choices. A lot of men at the time dressed like a so-called macaroni: wearing extreme costumes with bright colours and flamboyant hairdos. Prior to the mid- eighteenth century, it was attempted to maintain boundaries between social classes by letting authorities decide what items of clothing and jewellery could be worn by the members of a certain social class. These laws were often ignored, and during the Georgian era they almost completely disappeared. Jewellery was no longer just something for the aristocracy, but more widely available to the middle class as well. To meet the increased demand by this wider customer base, a lot of jewellery was produced during the Georgian era.
Georgian jewellery techniques & materials
What really makes Georgian jewellery stand out, is the fact that all jewellery from this period is handcrafted. This is the case because jewelers had no choice: artisan tools and techniques were not abundant. Especially prior to 1750, when the rolling mill was invented, jewellery making was extremely labour-intensive. Without the help of this handy tool that could transform ingots or rods of metal into sheets or wire, blocks of gold had to be hand-hammered down to the desired thickness before they could be transformed into jewellery. Because it’s handmade, Georgian jewellery is characterized by the ornate metalwork with intricate designs and patterns. The high level of artistry and detail in the pieces can only be achieved by hand fabrication. A very common metal working technique in the Georgian era was Répousse, a technique in which metal is hammered into designs and patterns. Another commonly used technique, especially later in the era, was Cannetille. With this technique, wire work designs were created that resembled filigree embroidery.
The metals most frequently used during the Georgian era were silver, 18K or higher yellow gold, steel, iron, and pinchbeck. Early in the era, silver was by far the most popular, yellow gold gained popularity during the later years. A very popular type of stone in the Georgian era was the diamond, often mounted in silver, because it was believed that silver was the material that made diamonds look most beautiful. Another characteristic technique in the field of stones, was the use of closed back, foiled settings. With this technique, the gemstones were backed with a metallic sheet to enhance the beauty of the stone, for example by making them sparkle more in candlelight or intensify their colour.
Georgian jewellery styles
Apart from specific techniques and materials, there are also specific jewellery styles that are characteristic for the Georgian era. A first example of this, are the often dramatic and detailed designs of the pieces. Flowers, leaves, ribbons, bows, and other elegant motifs were very popular, and could be created by using the Répousse and Cantennille techniques mentioned above. Very popular pieces of jewellery in the Georgian era, were the so-called ‘tokens of remembrance’. These were pieces of jewellery that were designed to be a memento of a loved one. This jewellery came in the form of portrait miniatures, silhouettes, and eye miniatures, but jewellery containing hair of a real person also wasn’t uncommon at the time. Mothers, for example, used their own hair to create jewellery for their children. Mourning jewellery, which could also contain pieces of human hair, also made its first appearance.
During the Georgian era, the time of day determined what type of jewellery was worn. During the hours with daylight, women often wore a necklace or chain, with a watch. Cameos or lace pins, earrings of any length, and small coloured stone rings with matching bracelets were also very popular during daytime. For these pieces, various stones were used, like for example garnet, topaz, emerald, and ruby. A very important piece of daytime jewellery, was the chatelaine, a belt hook from which all the items that were necessary for daily life were suspended. Chatelaines can be seen as the predecessor of the purse, and could hold a variety of items, like for example scissors, mirrors, and utility knives.
In the evening, there were other preferred pieces of jewellery, with diamonds being very popular gemstones. A very popular piece was the ‘diamond rivière’ style necklace; a long line of silver collets set with graduated, matched diamonds, often with a rose-cut or mine cut. Since pinned up hairstyles were very fashionable at the time, cascading chandelier style earrings could be exposed in all their glory and thus were very popular. Examples of this are the girandole and pendeloque earrings, which are long earrings with dangling, pear-shaped drops suspended from a central top. Finally, parures were very popular during the Georgian era. A parure is a set of matching jewellery pieces, which often includes up to sixteen items of jewellery. They were stored in luxurious boxes, or ‘suites’, lined with satin.
How to recognize Georgian jewellery
When identifying Georgian jewellery, it is important to keep in mind that there aren’t a lot of pieces left nowadays. During the Georgian era, there was a lot of conflict in the world, and there also was a lack of raw materials. Therefore, many existing pieces were re-appropriated to pay for the wars. In addition, jewelers at the time had the habit of melting down pieces of jewellery that had gone out of fashion in order to re-use the materials to create new pieces. The pieces that have survived, can still be hard to identify, as gold assaying was not done until around 1900. Despite the lack of marks, there are still some features that can help you identify the piece you are dealing with. First of all, because the casting of metal wasn’t used until after the Georgian era, pieces had to be carved by hand, and therefore tool marks are usually visible on the piece. The cutting of gemstones was also done by hand, and therefore can be a little ‘rough around the edges’, or quite basic compared to today’s standards. Another important indicator for Georgian pieces, is the setting of the gemstones. Closed back (see picture below, item is not Georgian**) settings were by far the most used settings, often foiled with metallic sheets to enhance the scintillation of the stone by candlelight or to brighten the colour of the stone.
All in all, identifying Georgian jewellery can be a difficult task and Georgian pieces are definitely pieces you won’t find every day. If you do find a real Georgian piece though, it is definitely worth investing, because Georgian pieces are true collectors’ pieces! Have you become enthusiastic about Georgian jewellery just by reading this blog? You can start your search for your perfect piece right away and take a look at the unique Georgian pieces that we have available right now!
“Enjoy your search for your perfect Georgian jewellery, and don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions!” -xxx- Sophie