The Georgian period covers the reigns of five Kings and lasted from 1714 to 1837. The era includes the reigns of George I, II, III, IV and William IV. It was a time of huge innovation in jewellery making. Most pieces were still handmade and jewellers were regarded as masters of their trade. They were celebrated for creating intricate shapes, setting gemstones and incorporating naturalistic motifs into their designs. The Georgian period of jewellery was one of the most innovative of the twentieth century and is regarded as highly collectable today.
While the reign of the English Kings defines the parameters of this era jewellery, its designs, styles and ideas were mirrors of emerging trends across Europe and the Americas at the time.
The most defining characteristic of Georgian jewellery is ornate metal work – a fine artistry which could only be made by hand. The most common used metals in the era was silver for gemstone settings, 18k or higher yellow gold, steel, iron and pinchbeck which was a material made from copper and zinc.
Jewellers handcrafted almost everything themselves in a labour intensive process which saw artisans hammer gold ingots into thin sheets ahead of the jewellery making process. As gold assaying was not introduced until the 1900s, it is difficult to locate jewellery from the Georgian era as it is not stamped. Marker’s marks indicting the particular firm that had made the jewellery had also yet to be introduced.
One of the most common metal working techniques was called Repoussé. The process involved hammering metal into intricate designs and patterns. Prior to the invention of the rolling mill in 1750, apprentices and jewellers had to do this by hand. When the rolling mill became accessible this process was streamlined and saved time and handwork.
Georgian jewellers often melted down what they would consider to be out-of-fashion pieces in order to create newer pieces reflecting current trends. Popular designs included set gemstones in closed back settings. This common form of mounting is often used to determine if a piece is authentically Georgian as authentic pieces often had enclosed backs and were set over foil.
Garnet, topaz, emerald and ruby were popular stones. Natural stones also featured highly in pieces designed to be worn during the day time, including ivory, pearls, amber and turquoise.
Diamonds were the most desirable stone during the early Georgian period, but coloured stones such as emeralds, rubies and sapphires were later brought back into popular fashion. Jewlers began to experiment with new gem cuts such as the Rose Cut and the Table Cut.
Jewellery styles were typically worn depending what time of day it was. During the daytime for example, women would wear a simple necklace with a chain and a gold watch, a cameo or lace pin, small coloured stone rings and matching bracelets as well as earrings of any length. The chatelaine was a popular piece for women and men favoured elaborate shoe buckles and buttons studded with diamonds and gemstones.
During the evening Rose Cut and Mine Cut diamonds were popular, most notably mounted in a necklace style known as ‘The Rivière’ which linked together a line of silver collets set with matching diamonds that formed a circle around the neck.
In the early nineteenth century German citizens donated their gold to be melted down and put towards finances for the war effort. In return they were given cast iron replicas of their pieces, known as ‘Fer-de-Berlin’. These early iron replicas are highly collectible today.
Mourning jewellery also became popular. Pieces included funeral scenes painted onto ivory and jewellery made with a lock of hair from a deceased loved one. Other necklaces of the period evolved from the ribbon style chockers in the early period to much grander pieces featuring gemstones and cascades. Cut steel became a popular backdrop for necklaces with graduated drops, flowers and garlands.
Girandole earrings were a staple for evening wear. The design featured a central bow shaped motif suspending two pear shaped drops flanking a third larger drop. Another important innovation was the invention of the clip-on earring in 1773. This allowed those with unpierced ears to wear earrings for the first time, but due to the discomfort they caused the wearer they were not that popular.
Brooches featured bows, feathers and crosses which were all frequent themes. Rings were often styled around a larger central stone surrounded by small diamonds and the rise in popularity of magnificent hairstyles among women prompted a surge in tiaras, coronets and bandeaus.
The transition from Georgian to Victorian jewellery was gradual, and many Georgian styles can be seen in Victorian pieces. Mourning jewellery, a Georgian trend, was revived later in the reign of Queen Victoria. Cameos and portrait miniatures also remained a constant throughout both periods.