What was the Georgian Period?
The Georgian period covered the reigns of five English kings, four named George and one William. The reigns of George I, II, III, IV, and William IV lasted from 1714 to 1837. Georgian refers to the English art and culture produced during this era. In terms of jewellery design, although the name of the period references England, this nation wasn’t the sole influence. Historical events in France, Germany, and Italy also influenced Georgian jewellery motifs and designs.
Notable Characteristics of Georgian Jewellery
Jewellers handcrafted all the jewellery of this period with incredibly labour-intensive processes. The artisans had to hand hammer gold ingots and other metals into thin sheets before even starting to fabricate pieces. and rarity of a complete suite contribute greatly to its value.
18th Century gold and diamond Iberian articulated brooch
Locating jewellery from this period can be very difficult. Georgian period jewellers often melted down what they considered out-of-date pieces to make newer pieces reflecting current trends.
Since gold assaying wasn’t enforced until the 1900s, you won’t find authentic Georgian jewellery with stamps. Also absent are maker’s marks. These marks indicate the firm responsible for producing the jewellery. However, no one enforced them until the 1900s.
Georgian period jewellers often set gemstones in closed back settings. These included foil backings under the gems to enhance their scintillation by candlelight. (If you acquire such a piece, be aware that contact with water will ruin the delicate foil).
The back of a Georgian pendant and brooch c. 1830 with closed back setting
Georgian Jewellery Metal Work
The hallmark of Georgian jewellery is its incredibly ornate metalwork. Only hand fabrication could achieve this level of artistry. Furthermore, hand-crafted jewellery doesn’t have porosity (surface pitting in the metal). You’ll often see this in jewellery made with modern casting moulds.
Metals commonly used in jewellery during the period include silver for gemstone settings; 18k or higher yellow gold; steel, iron, and pinchbeck (83% copper and 17% zinc).
A common metalworking technique of the period, repoussé involved hammering malleable
metal into intricate designs and patterns. In 1750, the invention of the rolling mill eliminated
the need to hammer the metal first into thin, uniform sheets.
This metalworking technique, very popular in the 1820s and 30s, involved intricate wirework
designs. Cannetille resembles embroidery-inspired filigree.
Citrine cannetille work brooch
Motifs in Georgian Jewellery
Popular motifs included flowers, crescents, ribbons, bows, leaves, feather plumes, and sprays of foliage. Enamelling and glass overlays were also popular. Until 1750, the Baroque style dominated, with its total symmetry and heavy ornateness. After 1750, the emergence of Rococo style brought open, light, and asymmetrical lines to jewellery. Notable archaeological discoveries, as well as wars, also affected Georgian jewellery motifs. From 1706 to 1814, the ruins of Pompeii were excavated. In the 1760s, Roman and Greek motifs, such as Greek keys and laurel and grape leaves, were all the rage. Today, this Neo-Classical Georgian jewellery is very much in demand. The news and discoveries of Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign (1798-1799) brought pyramids and papyrus leaves as motifs into Georgian jewellery. His European wars inspired Fer de Berlin jewellery.
Popular Gemstones and Cutting Styles in Georgian Jewellery
Jewellers used diamonds almost exclusively until coloured gemstones made a resurgence in 1750. From that point forward, you’ll commonly find gems like diamond, ruby, sapphire, garnet, topaz, coral, shell, agate, chrysoberyl, and pearl in Georgian jewellery.
In 1780, paste or glass was introduced as a gemstone alternative.
Notable gem-cutting styles included:
• Table Cut: square shape with a flat top and bottom.
• Rose Cut: round shape with a domed top and flat bottom.
• Old Mine Cut: rounded square shape with many facets.
Closely resembles today’s modern round brilliant cut.
• Cabochon: rounded top and flat bottom.
• Briolette: faceted teardrop shape.
Delicate 15ct Georgian ring
set with rose-cut pink and green tourmalines
What Were the Hot Items in Georgian Jewellery?
As we’ve seen, families had memorial or hair jewellery created to commemorate departed loved ones. This was a popular and very personal jewellery item during the Georgian period. Many mourning rings had seed pearls. Other fashionable pieces included girandoles (ribbons or bows with three dangling gemstones). Also rings in navette, oval, and rectangular shapes.
Wearing bracelets of any kind in pairs was very stylish. Necklaces, dog collars or chokers were popular necklace styles. Riviere necklaces featured a strand of gemstones in individual mountings linked together. Jewellers often used diamonds and other gemstones. Very fashionable during the Georgian period, Riviere style necklaces remain popular.
Georgian mourning ring
set with garnets and seed pearls
Before purses or pockets, people carried their important tools or accessories dangling from pins or hooks attached to their belts. Decorative as well as practical, these belts, known as chatelaines, could hold scissors, watches, writing instruments, notebooks, eyeglasses, etc. (They enjoyed widespread use until the 1900s). Over the years, people dismantled many of these to use the tools as pendants.
En Tremblant Settings
An en Tremblant design attached parts of the jewellery to a trembler to create movement. Hair combs and brooches made excellent en Tremblant pieces. If you find a Georgian jewellery piece with such a design, intact and still trembling, you’d have quite a prize.
Fer de Berlin (Berlin Iron) Jewellery
Beginning in 1804, Germans donated their precious jewellery to help finance the war effort against Napoleon. As rewards, they received substitutes fabricated from iron. Fer de Berlin was often engraved with “Gold gab ich fur Eisen.” (I gave gold for iron). These jewellery pieces were sand-cast, then lacquered black. After the Napoleonic threat passed, however, this style of iron jewellery remained popular. Today, Berlin Iron jewellery is highly collectable.
These suites of matching jewellery contained convertible pieces. For example, a brooch could double as a pendant. A necklace could separate into two bracelets. Since most sets were split up over the years, you’ll rarely find one intact. The workmanship and rarity of a complete suite contribute greatly to its value.