written by JC Blackburn
The Georgian Period was a great time of change, innovation and adventure. While the period is named after the four consecutive ruling King Georges of England (I, II, III and IV), it also encompassed all the extraordinary events and grand personalities of the era around the world. It was the period of Louis XVI, Mary Antoinette, Napoleon, the French Revolution, George Washington, and Catherine the Great of Russia.
The jewelry that came out of the Georgian Period cannot be defined in a singular style or trend but more of a mosaic sparked by transitional societal events and changes that produced a medley of vibrantly colored, ornate and innovative jewelry for the times.
While diamonds were still very much reserved for the very wealthy and nobility classes, the 18th century began to make them more accessible due to the new mines being discovered in India and Brazil.
Gemstone cutting techniques of the Georgian era were still rudimentary compared to what we see today. Diamonds were usually cut as rose cuts, faceted on the top and flat on the bottom or, on larger stones, as cushion old mine cuts which were often deep with a “window” effect when viewed from the table. To create more brilliance and dispersion out of the diamonds, jewelers would set them in a closed back setting with foil wrapped around the inside of the cup.
Because diamonds were considered formal jewelry and almost exclusively worn at night under candlelight, the soft glow of the candle flame against the foil and facets would create a brilliant display of light and the desired effect would be reached.
Colored Gemstones were considered less formal and would be worn either day or night. These included pearls, garnets, amethyst, agate, lapis lazuli, coral, amber, ivory, carnelian among many others. Most gemstones that were translucent such as ruby, emerald and sapphire would be set with foil backs for added vibrance of color when light shined upon them.
The invention of the rolling mill around 1750 was a game changer for goldsmiths of the era. All jewelry was handmade during the Georgian period so with the advent of the rolling machine, the jewelers no longer had to manually hammer out a sheet from a solid block of gold. Jewelers could now quickly and easily roll out thin sheets of gold to bend, hammer and drill into jewelry as needed, which greatly reduced the cost of labor, which increased jewelry production and, in turn, helped to make jewelry more affordable.
Georgian era jewelry used lots of high gold content alloys, often 18k and higher. It was traditional for jewelers to make their diamond pieces silver-topped, where the stones sit, and gold-backed so the metal wouldn’t tarnish skin and clothing. Colored gemstones were usually set in all gold. Claw style settings were widely used to assure the stone had plenty of prongs and the stone would be secure.
Pendeloque (pear shape) drop earrings and necklaces were very popular in the Georgian era. In 1811 Napoleon Bonaparte commissioned a 28-diamond necklace with pendeloque drop diamonds in a graduating cascade for his wife Archduchess Marie Louise of Austria for bearing him a son and heir to his name. This only added to the popularity of the pear shape drop in earrings and necklaces.
The Georgian era saw incredible change in the world and, as usually happens, trends changed right along with it. Art often reflects what’s happening in the world, and with jewelry it’s no different. The beauty of Georgian jewelry is to see a story in a piece of jewelry. To ask yourself: why was that color combination used or this shape used for a piece? A period piece of jewelry is a piece of history captured in a masterful work created from rare metals and gemstones. It represents both who we are and where we came from, in the form of rare, wearable fine art.