My love of jewelry has no boundaries in terms of time. New, antique, vintage — there’s just so much darn jewelry goodness out there! Typically, I buy what speaks to my heart, whether I know much about it or not (from a reputable source, of course). This is how I wound up with a couple Victorian rings from Metier in the past year or so. But as time goes by, I’m thirsting for knowledge about the different time periods of antique and vintage jewelry: Georgian, Victorian, Edwardian, Art Nouveau, and Art Deco. If I’m wanting to know more, then I’m assuming I should take you all along for the historical ride, right? So let’s dig in to this new blog series, and answer the question, “What is Georgian Jewelry?”
Georgian jewelry comes from the time period 1714-1837, in which there were four consecutive King Georges reigning in England (the I-IV). It was truly a tumultuous time in history, including the American Revolution and the French Revolution. Marie Antoinette? Catherine the Great? Yep, also part of this time in history. Because this time period covers over 100 years, you can certainly see an evolution in styles. In the early 1700’s jewelry was more in the Baroque style, characterized by a heavier feeling. Things lightened up in the mid 1700’s.
Jewelry was all made by hand of 18K gold (or higher) or silver. Platinum was not yet discovered, and white gold was not used in jewelry. Gold had to be hand hammered into thin sheets before it could be cut up to make jewlery. This process got a bit easier in 1750 when the rolling mill was invented. Interestingly, Georgian jewlery usually doesn’t bear any hallmark stamps of either the maker or the metal content. It was just not done at this time.
There were many popular motifs during this era, including:
- bows, ribbons and scrolls
- nature: leaves, flowers, feathers, crescents
- Greek, Roman and Egyptian motifs
Diamonds were especially popular, and they normally came in one of the following cuts:
- rose cut: these have a faceted, domed top and a flat bottom (see example in first photo in this article)
- table cut: a square shape with a flat top and bottom
- old mine cut: a faceted rounded square, known as “the brilliant cut” of the time period
Colored stones became more en vogue as well around the mid 1700’s. All stones were set with a closed back, often with a foil backing. This foil made the diamonds sparkle brighter and enhanced the color in other gems. (Due to the foil, it’s very important to never wash your hands wearing a Georgian ring. It will wreck it!) Jewelry was worn mainly by the very wealthy and some of the upper middle class. “Paste” jewels (basically cut glass, often foil-backed) were also popular, and the elite sometimes had paste replicas of their good jewels to wear during travel. That way, if they were robbed, they still had the “good stuff” at home.
Now what about the types of jewelry that were popular? Here’s some key styles from the Georgian period:
Girandole earrings: style where there’s three pear-shaped drops hanging from a bow or some other central element (earrings via 1stdibs)
Unfortunately, there’s not an over-abundance of Georgian jewelry around today. It was often taken apart, melted down, and re-worked. Due to its rarity, you can imagine that quality pieces are an investment. Do you happen own any Georgian jewelry? Or do you know any other interesting facts about the period? I’d love to hear from you in the comment section below!