Georgian Jewelry: Impacted by an Ever-Changing Time in History
The Georgian period, from 1714 to 1837, is an intriguing and interesting part of our history. It would best be explained as a critical time of change and rapid growth in both the United States and across the pond. In British history, the period spans the reign of the four English kings: George I, II, III and IV. Several wars occurred during this time, in Britain, the most recognized is the Seven Years War, 1756-1763. Britain emerged as the world’s leading colonial power, having gained a number of new territories at the Treaty of Paris in 1763 and established itself as the world’s preeminent naval power.
In the United States, The Treaty of Paris of 1783 ended the revolutionary war and Britain acknowledged America as a independent and sovereign nation. Shortly after, the country named its first president, George Washington, in 1789. The Industrial Revolution was also assisting with the transition to new manufacturing processes.
However, the Georgian period can’t be discussed without including the influence jewelry had on the culture during that time. Fine Georgian jewelry was worn almost exclusively by the wealthy and created all by hand. With the pieces recognized for their ornate and intricate details, the crafting process was very labor intensive. The gemstone of choice was diamond, with the most prevalent cuts being the rose cut and old mine. Colored gemstones, like emeralds, sapphires and rubies, became more widespread in the mid-1700s. Common metals used included silver for gemstone settings, 18k or higher yellow gold, steel, iron and a gold substitute known as pinchbeck.
Detailed below are three types of jewelry that were immensely popular during this period. The crafting of these pieces was influenced by the events occurring at this time and by peoples’ mindset regarding how they wanted to be depicted by others.
Cut Steel Jewelry
Cut steel jewelry is made from tiny faceted and polished steel studs, fashioned to resemble gemstones and riveted to a backing plate. These pieces became popular in France in 1759 when they were worn as a substitute for the fine jewelry that King Louis XV confiscated to help fund his military campaigns during the Seven Years War. The jewelry crafted from the cut steel material was able to be enjoyed by everyone at all levels of society.
The earliest cut steel pieces were made from recycled steel nails machined to have up to 15 facets. However, as the demand grew, designs started to vary from simple to intricate with multiple layers and densely packed studs. Not an easy product to make, the cut steel had to be faceted, polished and riveted in place. To make the pieces more elaborate, manufacturers combined cut steel with precious and semi-precious materials, such as jet and pearls. Rings, brooches, bracelets and frames for Wedgwood medallions and cameos were some of the common types of cut steel jewelry.
In our history, it has been customary that jewels and keepsakes be made to commemorate the loss of a loved one. These pieces were commonly referred to as mourning jewelry. During the Georgian period, it wasn’t uncommon to use a lock of someone’s hair in a jewelry piece. In fact, in the mid-19th century, 50 tons of hair a year were imported to jewelers in the U.K. for hairwork pieces.
The mourning industry gained momentum after Prince Albert died in 1861. When he passed, his wife Queen Victoria only allowed mourning wear and jewelry in court, which in turn caused a type of jewelry revival. Queen Victoria remained in mourning until her passing in 1901 and it’s written that she wore a piece of jewelry made with Prince Albert’s hair every day after his death.
Cameos were in high demand during the Georgian period. Cameos nearly always featured a raised relief image whereas intaglios had a negative image. The pieces were carved in a myriad of materials, including coral, agate and shell. The most common was, and still currently is, shell.
Cameos were favored jewelry of several well-known rulers such as Catherine the Great, Queen Victoria, Emperor Napoleon and his wife Josephine. Josephine is credited with starting the multinational fashion trend for cameos. Her most elaborate piece was a grand tiara in gold set with pearls and large cameos depicting the story of Cupid and Psyche.
One of the best aspects of cameo jewelry is the variety it offers to the buyer. Subjects for cameos included figures from Greek and Roman mythology, flora and fauna, romantic scenes of courting couples or cupid, portraits and religious icons. Renaissance art, classical sculpture and paintings also provided inspiration.
U.S. Antique Shows hosts four antique jewelry and watch shows annually. At the Las Vegas Antique Jewelry & Watch Show, nearly 400 exhibitors grace the floor to display only the finest merchandise obtained from estates and jewelers across the globe. Georgian jewelry will be featured throughout the show and dealers will be able to provide the background of each piece. Cameos, rings, brooches, chains, earrings and pendants are some of the common types of period jewelry pieces that will be available.
For more information on the show, visit VegasAntiqueJewelry.com.