The predessecor of the Stuart period, the Georgian era began in 1714, when the first Hanoverian King George took to the throne. If you have seen the Oscar winning 2018 film The Favourite, you may be acquainted with Queen Anne. After her death in 1714, and with no children, the entire country was thrown into crisis - who should take over the coveted throne as King of England?
Luckily, Queen Anne's court had prepared for this with the 1701 Act of Settlement. This meant that the crown should fall on the closest protestant blood relative, and so, the Georgian era began with King George I, Queen's Anne's protestant second cousin from the House of Hanover. He would be succeeded by three more Kings, all named George, before the reign of George IV ended in 1830. Spanning for over a century, the Georgian period was one of much turbulence and change, bearing witness to the industrial revolution, increased population size and rapidly growing social divisions.
Portrait of King George I by Sir Godfrey Keller (c.1714-1725), From the National Portrait Gallery, Source - Wikimedia Commons
Yet, it wasn’t all bad! The Georgian era was one of great accomplishment, and all of these societal changes were all taking place within the midst of a blossoming culture, that of art, fashion, architecture and of course jewellery! Jewellery throughout the Georgian period was eclectic, refined and ornate. From riveting Riviere necklaces to precious Paste jewellery, this blog will take you on a whistle stop tour of the Georgian era, explaining characteristics of Georgian jewellery and what you need to look out for to make sure you have your hands on an authentic piece.
Characteristics of Georgian Jewellery
Georgian jewellery, much like its society at the time, varied greatly throughout the reigns of different king George’s; from the rise of sophisticated rococo in the early 18th century to the romantic regency period under King George IV nearing the end of the era. During this time, women experienced somewhat a liberation in fashion; the tight and restricted nature of corsets were replaced by something much more comfortable and flowing, and jewellery was increasingly seen as a statement, making room for exquisite jewels which were to be flaunted!
Much of Georgian jewellery was crafted from Silver, often paired with gorgeous and glittering gemstones, of which Diamonds were a firm favourite- Georgian jewellery would almost always feature a Diamond or two, especially at the beginning of the era, and who can blame them! Gold jewellery was almost always 18ct or above (with the exception of 12ct Gold) and as the introduction of Pinchbeck and Paste jewellery slowly became the norm throughout the era, this unlocked an entirely new realm whereby people could achieve the look of luxurious jewels for a fraction of the price.
The style of jewellery throughout this time period was very much centred around delicate cannetille openwork and repoussé, with an emphasis on the creation of ornate pieces which were for the most part meticulously crafted by hand! The Georgian’s loved to impress, and they also loved to outwardly display extravagance so it’s no surprise that Diamond rings, pendeloque earrings and juicy gemstone necklaces were a firm favourite for the upper class lady!
This notion increased when King George IV took reign of the throne in 1820, thrusting society into the Regency era. Romance, fashion and jewellery were brought to the fore of society, a society where Jewellery wasn’t just to be worn; think, Netflix’s Bridgerton and Jane Austen to help with your visuals. The Riviere necklace took centre stage, and it would consist of the same gemstone, with similar size and weight, flowing and connecting together just like a river (where it’s namesake came from) for maximum impact. It’s a necklace of timeless nature, everlasting beauty and remains today a lusted after item in any ladies jewellery box; it’s been worn by red carpet royalty like Angelina Jolie and actual royalty The Queen herself! Whether it be cascading Diamonds or serene Garnets, a Riviere necklace is a stunning statement piece which transcends all notions of fashion through time.
For those who couldn’t afford to have the ‘real deal’, there was Paste. By the 1730’s, Georges Frédéric Strass had become famed for his creation of sumptuous Paste jewellery pieces. Paste is essentially glass, and it was the perfect way to emulate not only Diamonds, but an array of coloured gemstones. Being affordable and getting the same look for a snippet of the price meant that all kinds of jewellery became more accessible to a wider social strata, and eventually, as Paste jewellery became ever popular, a small Paste gemstone would be given the same credence as, say, a rose cut Diamond! Read more about Paste jewellery here.
From Foil Back Gemstones to Rose Cut Diamonds, How Can I Tell if My Jewellery is Georgian?
Georgian jewellery to this day remains highly sought after. The exceptional level of craftsmanship has been replicated time and time again, but how can you tell if jewellery is early Georgian or later, and on from this, what do you need to look out for to ensure you have your hands on a true Georgian piece? Other than the decorative and ornate nature of the jewellery, there are a few obvious ways that we can say ‘yes it is’ or ‘no it isn’t’ to beloved Georgian pieces, and one of the first is the gemstones setting.
A tell tale indicator of an original Georgian piece is the closed setting to any stone. This closed back was often paired with a foil, allowing gemstones to have an extra bout of brilliance! The foiling of gemstones involved tinted sheets placed behind any given gemstone and was a way to give even more, note a theme here, scintillation, colour and brightness, quenching the Georgian thirst for decadence.
Foils were often sympathetic towards the original gemstones colour, but the Georgian's loved playing with colour - especially in the regency period (1800-1830s). The regency era, when Jane Austen was writing, loved romantic pastel colours - which saw Pink Paste jewellery fly into the furore. This could be pink glass gemstones itself, but peach and blush toned foil was another way to transform an innocent white Paste gemstone, giving your husband-to-be an flirtatious flash of rose at a regency ball under the glow of a candlelit ballroom.
Another gemstone setting which is utterly Georgian are "pie-crust" or collet settings. These distinctive settings were often accompanied by Paste, smooth button-backs or flat backs and can be found in suites of Georgian earrings and rivieres.
The Georgian’s loved a variety of gemstones from Rubies to Amethysts, but during the earlier part of the era Diamonds were revered as a firm favourite. Georgian cutting techniques were not yet advanced enough to create perfectly symmetrical stones, so all Diamonds had to be individually cut by hand. If you had a peek into a 18th or early 19th century jewellery box you would see a bevvy of Old Mine or Rose Cut Diamond rings! Take a Georgian Diamond ring for example, if you looked closely at an original piece you would be able to see the uniqueness and individuality of the rose cuts, with no two being the same- who says there isn’t beauty in imperfection?!
One of our favourite gemstone cuts at Lillicoco are flat cut Garnets, especially Perpignan Garnets of course. The flat cut was an early gemstone cut that really showed off the beauty of foiling, and the inherent juiciness of the gemstone itself - which was why Garnets were the perfect match. The Georgian's loved Garnets just as much as we do, so if you are just starting a Georgian jewellery collection or if you want to know if your inhereted jewellery is truly Georgian - then a flat cut Garnet piece is a must!
Other than stylistic features, gemstone settings and cut, it really takes a professional eye to be able to indicate whether or not a piece is authentic. Hallmarks also go a long way in allowing us to date an item, but not all Georgian pieces have them, so you’ll need to spot other features to help you!
Georgian Jewellery Styles, From The Weird to the Wonderful
Feminine, floral and fabulous are just some of the words that spring to mind when we think about Georgian jewellery! It was all about how the jewellery looked, so you’d often see an array of coloured gemstones nestled in and amongst complex and ornate designs. Sentimental jewels were also rife, take the acrostic ring for example, on which gemstones were arranged in a manner that would spell out a word from the first letter of each stone, hence a ‘regard’ ring would consist of: Ruby, Emerald, Garnet, Amethyst, Ruby, Diamond.
For the upper classes of society, an evening ball was commonplace. It was important to ‘dress to impress’ and it was because of this, ‘day and night’ jewellery was born, namely a distinction between jewellery worn in the day versus the night. During the day, ladies would wear what they classed as more subtle stones such as Garnets and Pearls, whilst the dearly beloved Diamond was reserved for the evening, to capture the eyes of onlookers by twinkling beneath the candlelight (cue the Riviere!).
Earrings were grand and heavy, and they were often ‘pendeloques’, with a bow motif suspended between two gemstones. Brooches would sometimes feature portraits, or even a ‘lover’s eye’ - a phenomenon which became well known after a lovesick George IV sent his lover Maria Anne Fitzherbert an intricately drawn picture of his eye contained within a brooch as part of his love letter!
Love Georgian Jewellery? Read These Blogs To Know More!
If you have seen all of this before, and you want to know an unusual style of Georgian jewellery, then you have to know about Iberian jewellery. The Iberian peninsula encompassed the jewel-toned seas of Portugal and Spain, with vibrant trade routes through France, Italy, the Middle East and India. It would truly take an antique jewellery afficionado to identify Portuguese Paste from say English Paste, but this style of Georgian jewellery was in another league of their own. Crafted against the blazing sunshine of southern Europe, these pieces had olive-green Chrysoberyls, tangerine Citrines, incredible filligree work and superb black dot Paste.
So, we have spoken about Iberian jewellery, but what about Italian? The 18th century Italian jewellery style "Giardinetti" was equally as popular on the shores of England as it was a 1000 miles away. These "little gardens" were petite floral sprays and precious posies, with flat cut Garnets and Rubies, refreshing Emeralds and Paste gemstones, and are one of the most collectible Georgian jewellery types.
Lastly, we couldn’t write a blog on Georgian jewellery without paying tribute to mourning jewellery! Mourning jewellery was an unequivocal part of the Georgian era, through which people wanted to remember their loved ones by creating sentimental pieces which could be cherished and passed down through generations. Georgian mourning lockets would have heavily featured hair from the deceased, whereas Georgian mourning rings were usually crafted from Gold, and featured black Enamel, Jet or Onyx, which only seems fitting given their dark and gothic nature. Intrigued? We’ve actually got an entire blog on mourning jewellery where we explore its macabre and moody history.