Most recently popularised by Netflix’s Bridgerton, Regency jewels in all their glory have taken the world by storm. The epitome of luxury, we have all been enchanted by the dazzling necklaces resting upon our favourite characters’ clavicles, or the tantalising tiaras on their head. But what did those in the Regency era actually wear? Read on as we twirl and courtesy our way through the wonderful world of Regency era jewellery.
Everything You Need to Know About Regency Era Jewellery
The Regency era, formally lasting between the years 1811 to 1820, makes up a portion of the late Georgian period. More broadly, many deem the Regency era to begin after the French Revolution in 1789, lasting up until Queen Victoria’s accession to the throne in 1837. The period is named after the Prince Regent, who ruled by proxy in lieu of his father’s absence, King George III, who due to illness, was deemed unfit to rule. Following his father’s death in 1820, the Prince Regent became King George IV. A lover and patron of the arts, the future King George IV’s tastes set the stage for an era characterised by glamour and gloss. Life during the Regency era wasn’t all fun and games, however. The Napoleonic Wars were also waged during this time, between the years 1803 to 1815, pitting the French Empire against varying European powers in a series of conflicts.
King George IV by Sir Thomas Lawrence, circa 1814, Source - Wikimedia Commons
Whilst only making up a small proportion of the population, the aristocracy were unequivocally responsible for setting the fashion and jewellery trends of the age. British high society, known as the “ton”, indulged in all manner of lavish parties, picnics, romantic ventures and gossip columns. Lady Whistledown and her scandalous circulation of gossip would have certainly benefitted from the invention of the printing press in 1814! The social season was at its most extravagant during the period between November and July, in which the country’s most esteemed aristocrats descended upon London town for the season, in order to secure their status in society.
Amongst other of life’s pleasures, the ravishing Regency ladies of the day adored their jewels. This period was also the first time in which jewellery was available for the masses, no longer being simply the preserve of the elite.
Neoclassicist and Romantic Influence
Before delving into the most popular pieces of jewellery in the Regency era, let us set the cultural scene. The Regency period was heavily influenced by Romanticism and Neoclassicism, spanning across everything from literature to architecture and the visual arts. Think figures such as Jane Austen, Lord Byron and Percy Shelley and you’re along the right lines! Jewellery during this era was undoubtedly impacted upon by these movements. The Romantic movement heavily idealised nature, placing great emphasis upon its importance and beauty. Floral and foliate motifs were thus out in full force across the myriad jewellery styles of the Regency era, whilst fashions from the far-flung empire also made their way into Regency jewellery trends.
Denoting the years 1804-1815, the “empire style” was a key characteristic of Napoleon’s court. Motifs were widespread across fashion, architecture, jewellery and the like, and included symbols such as stars, bees, grape vines, oak leaves, claws and animals of all sorts - to name but a few! The snake or ouroboros symbol was also a prominent motif in Regency era jewellery, mainly taking the form of the ouroboros ring, symbolic of the cycle of birth and death.
Joséphine - Empress of the French, 1808, Source - Wikimedia Commons
Moreover, the Neoclassical era, lasting between 1760 and 1830, also overlapped with Regency era England. It was only natural that Neoclassical influences were felt within the realms of Regency era fashion and jewellery, too. Greco-Roman influences are seen in the use of lighter, more figure-hugging materials, with waistlines being drawn in just below the bosom.
Nowhere are the influences of these movements more prevalent than in paintings from the wider Regency era. Emulating a Greco-Roman statue in her dress, Empress Joséphine of France is depicted as adorned with Cameo portrait necklaces and tiaras, alongside strands of lustrous Pearls. The Russian Empress, Elizabeth Alexeievna, is likewise depicted as dripping with Pearls, Cameos and headdresses. It’s clear Daphne and the other lovely ladies of Bridgerton certainly channeled these influences too!
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A popular choice throughout the Georgian period, the Regency era was similarly familiar with the wonders of Paste jewellery. Whilst we’re certain that Regency women adored sparkling gemstones as much as any modern day woman, these beauties were not always the most practical materials to satisfy the lavish tastes of the time. At a fraction of the price of the real deal, Paste was all the rage.
A type of flint glass, Paste is so much more than an imitation gemstone, and certainly holds its own against their twinklier cousins, namely the Diamonds, Emeralds and Rubies of the world. Paste enabled elaborate jewellery to become more accessible to those outside of the aristocracy, but it was also utilised in the creation of jewellery suites (just like the ones we see in our favourite period dramas). Think tiaras, rivieres, fringes, festoons and the like, Paste was often the preferred material, emulating gemstones in stylish fashion. Cut and polished by hand, Paste was a labour intensive material which was of the finest quality.
Antique Paste jewellery almost always went hand in hand with foiling. Composed of a thin layer of coloured foil covering the back of the gemstone, foiling brought a sensational sparkle to Paste, improving its luminosity and the vividity of its colour. The popularity of foiled jewellery was solidified during the Regency era, adored for its versatility. So whether your social season was galore with balls and parties, or you were merely a middle-class member of society, Paste jewellery had its place in everyone’s repertoire! What better way to feel like a regal Regency lady than with a gorgeous antique Paste jewel or two?
Charming and characterful, antique Coral necklaces are a firm favourite of ours at Lillicoco. Discovering that Coral necklaces were also a sought-after choice in the Regency era has only made us love them more. Possessing a rich history, Coral was believed to ward off any evil and protect its wearer against all ills. Beloved for its medicinal properties as well as decorative, Coral was also believed to promote prosperity in health and relationships.
Vivaciously vibrant, all-natural Coral beads were carefully strung onto a necklace in myriad styles. Coral was also a wonderful material to be used for cameo portraits in jewellery, another highly popular trend in Regency era England. Chokers and simple round necklaces were the fashionable choices of the day, chosen to complement their low necklines. Coral during the Regency period was shaped into smooth, rounded beads and ranged in hue from a pale pink to a rich red-orange. We can just imagine the fanciful aristocratic ladies of the era frolicking around at a picnic, with a Coral necklace adorning their neck.
Varvara Ivanovna Narishkine, née Ladomirsky, 1800, Source - Wikimedia Commons
By now we are all familiar with the sentimentality associated with the wider Georgian period. Unsurprisingly, those in the Regency era were also no strangers to a romantic gesture given in the form of jewellery. The importance of courtship, romance and marriage during this era cannot be overstated. In this instance, Bridgerton certainly rings true! Portrait and eye miniatures were all the rage, utilised by lovers to capture a forbidden or far-away love. People would sometimes last for months without seeing their loved one, so, naturally, they had to get creative with their memorialising. And what better way to remind them of their most beloved than with a portrait miniature?
An unknown young woman, Portrait Miniature ca.1800 (painted), Mary Ann Knight (artist), Source - The Victoria and Albert Museum
First appearing in the European Royal Courts of the 16th Century, by the 18th Century, portrait miniatures were in widespread use by the time of the Regency era. Largely the preserve of the wealthy members of society, portrait miniature painters were flourishing in this period. Often haloed by Pearls or other popular gemstones, Ivory and Enamel were the preferred materials on which to paint these intricate images, which then became set into jewellery, the most common of which was pendants. Men’s snuff boxes also took from this jewellery trend, often depicting a portrait miniature on their inside. Not to mention, this was the perfect place for them to hide an image of any mistress or illegitimate lover.
Perhaps a lock of a lover’s hair was even kept encased within a piece of jewellery, to quite literally take a piece of their lover with them wherever they went. Sometimes even entire pieces of jewellery were woven from hair, a fashion which peaked during the Regency era. Acrostic jewellery was also a popular way to court a lover. Borrowed from the ingenious French fashions, acrostic jewels definitely rank as some of the most romantic. Hidden messages were conveyed, and love was declared, all through the medium of gemstone.
From ravishing Paste suites to Pearl-studded headresses and portrait miniatures, the Regency era truly had it all. Longing to emulate the style of the Regency beauties you’ve been gazing at on your screens? Pair your favourite piece of antique jewellery with a floaty, floral dress and you’re halfway there!