A Guide to Georgian Jewels
The Georgian Era of 1714 – 1837 saw major changes which shaped the society and landscape of Britain. The era is known for being equal parts luxury and poverty, with the birth of industrialisation in the 1770’s developing new technologies and new jobs, which provided new levels of lavish whilst pushing the poor into further poverty with terrible working and living conditions.
Society was shaped into a world of luxe and wealth due to the vast fortunes of those involved in the Industrial Revolution. Gone were the social rankings determined by birth, as wealthy and well-educated men led their families up the social ladder. Ladies had the freedom to travel and visit friends, with the expectation that they would be well versed in literature, art, music, and politics. Fashionable balls were laid on all over the country thanks to the invention of the steam train, making them the perfect place to show off a new set of evening jewels.
Image source; The British Library. Lavish balls were held up and down Britain for the wealthy to attend. It was a great opportunity to meet future partners, dancing demanding dances with the balls known to last from dusk til dawn.
Key Georgian Styles & Influences
Georgian jewellery can be instantly recognisable due to a few features. Jewels would be hand-made by skilled artisans, gemstones and metalwork sometimes appear to look less neat compared to more recent eras. Styles were dramatic and ornate, with delicate and intricate techniques such as repousse and cannetille heavily forming the styles of jewellery from this era.
Historical events all over Europe in France, Germany and Italy also had an influence Georgian jewellery style, whilst artists such as J.M.W Turner and John Constable led the Romantic movement, visualising the beauty of nature through their paintings. Authors like Jane Austin and Samuel Johnson further pushed the Romanticism era. With the advancements in societal and industrial life, how jewellery was made and where it was worn also had a significant impact on the style of jewellery.
Image source ; The Royal Academy. 'The Leaping Horse' , 1825 John Constable. "Constable paid great attention to weather and he described this painting as ‘a lovely subject, of the canal kind, lively – & soothing – calm and exhilarating, fresh – & blowing.’"
The Georgian era was a time for social living, embracing country house living in the day and elegant salon life at night. This of course allowed the need for the wealthy to have a vast array of jewels and clothes to bring distinction between day and night.
Daytime jewellery consisted of gold chains featuring watches, agate, or coral. Brooches and pins were used to fasten shawls, rings were kept dainty and often featured a coloured gemstone, sometimes a ring was worn on every finger. Bracelets were worn in pairs, but by the end of the 1820’s half a dozen were being worn. Earring styles began lightweight, evolving into drop styles which could be conveniently split to transform into an earring top that could be separated from its drop to suit the time of day.
Image source; 'Georgian Jewellery' by Ginny Redington Dawes and Olivia Collings, 2007. An excellent book we love to reference when researching about jewels from the Georgian era. On the right is a great example of how the day-to-night earrings transform from one style into another.
Night jewellery was as you can image very different to the day jewels. Diamonds featured heavily to dazzle at evening parties. The invention of foil backed gemstones helped to enhance coloured gems in a candlelit room. Diamonds, gemstones, and pearls were always cohesive of the evenings theme and wearers outfit, an essential for every woman in attendance. Necklaces cascaded down necklines filled with gems, whilst brooches equally heavily featured gemstones. They would often be motifs of floral influence, playing into the Romanticism style. Rings were larger with clusters of diamond and gemstone combinations, paired with the day-to-night earrings.
This was a common metal work technique involving hammering metals into intricate designs and patterns, giving highly detailed shapes and patterns, often floral, to jewellery styles.
Image source; Collectors Weekly. Georgian Pink Topaz Repousse Necklace
In around 1790, cannetille came into style in England, and then much later in France in 1815. The style consists of extremely exquisite gold wire work, flourishing as a popular style until the 1830’s. Gold wire was worked to make it look woven, featuring motifs such as scrolls, tendrils and rosettes.
Image source; Wikimedia. Early 19th century cannetille work brooch with an oval mixed-cut citrine in a foiled closed back setting, within a scroll and burr cannetille surround.
Foil backing gemstones was introduced as a method to brighten and intensify the colours of diamonds and gemstones. Sometimes even being used to enhance poorly cut gemstones or non-precious stones. A reflective foil would be placed underneath closed-set stones to increase the refraction of light, producing a magical lustre and shimmer. It is important to note that over time these foils will have faded or tarnished and must be kept away from water.
Image source; Charlie Luxe Vintage. Georgian 15ct Gold Foiled Amethyst Gemstone Earrings. "By foiling the reverse, Georgian jeweller's were able to acheive what we achieve today with perfectly symmetrically cut gemstones. The foiling technique improves the optical performance of the stone, and creates a fabulous effect when peering into the stone."
Cameos and Intaglios
Cameos and Intaglios are a form of carving designs into hardstones such as agate, onyx or lapis. Cameos tend to be large and dramatic, being carved to stand out in relief from its background, whereas intaglios are sunken by being carved into the surface, they also would be smaller in size and more understated. Both styles originated from Italy, often including a carved portrait of a loved one or featuring a mythological or religious motif.
Image source; Pinterest. A Rare Georgian Onyx Intaglio Roman Soldier Ring
The custom to wear jewels to commemorate a death started hundreds of years before the Georgian era, but because of the publication of the book ‘Night Thoughts on Life, Death and Immortality’ by Edward Young, a revival of mourning jewellery began in England, and then spread to the rest of Europe and America. Memorial rings were by far the most common type of mourning jewellery, being handed to anyone who could afford one.
Image source; Charlie Luxe Vintage. Georgian Pendant.
The Georgian era was a period that has gone down in history as a time for industrialisation and romanticism which in turn has had a huge impact on the development on all future jewellery styles. There are still plenty of Georgian treasures buried away to be rediscovered, however most of it has ended up in private collections or converted into new jewels.
We love to hunt for Georgian jewels as the allure of their history and age always entices us. We'd love to know what you love the most about Georgian jewellery!