Lavish, opulent and refined, the Georgian era is known for its grand architecture and some of history’s most colourful characters. It was a time of great change, encompassing everything from the dawn of the Industrial Revolution and the birth of British Empire to the abolition of the slave trade.
During this fashionable and elegant era, five kings reigned, Marie Antoinette was captivating french society with her gravity defying hairstyles, and the rich and influential partied hard. And of course, anyone who was anyone knew that no party frock was complete without some exquisite jewellery.
CRAFTED FOR CANDLELIGHT
Georgian jewellery is defined by its brightly coloured gemstones, hammered gold and intricate motifs, and the designs of the period were greatly influenced by historical events overseas, particularly in France, Germany and Italy. Hand made pieces were crafted by artisans, who painstakingly forged thin sheets of gold before embellishing them with sophisticated patterns and precious stones including garnets, emeralds, amethysts, rubies, coral, topaz and pearls. For those who couldn’t quite stretch to expensive gems, simulated stones made from paste presented a more affordable way to accessorise.
It was a period in which those with money were obsessed with being upwardly mobile and keeping ahead of trends. Fashions changed quickly, so jewellers would often be found melting down pieces and re-shaping them to fit with the latest styles - which means that finding a truly original piece of Georgian jewellery can seem a little bit like hunting for a needle in a haystack.
While there were no maker’s marks or gold assaying until the early 1900s, there are a few ways that an expert is able to spot genuine pieces from the Georgian era. Gemstones were commonly set in closed back settings, often with foil backings to make them look extra sparkly by candlelight.
The majority of Georgian jewellery is made from yellow gold or silver, but there were also amazing pieces forged from steel, iron and pinchbeck (a mixture of copper and zinc). The famous Napoleonic Cut Steel Tiara was discovered by Sweden's Queen Silvia after hiding in a cupboard for over 100 years.
Rose cut diamonds were the height of fashion. Originating in the 1500s, it reached popularity in the Georgian era, with the way the diamonds were cut being seen to mimic the spirals of a rose bud. The diamonds were cut by hand and very different from the cuts of today, glowing rather than sparkling for a more subtle, romantic and understated look.
Like all vintage jewellery, the pieces of the Georgian era have rich and vibrant histories. Whether worn by rosy cheeked young women hoping to catch the eye of Mr Darcy at a garden party, or as an accompaniment to a lavish ball gown in glittering Mayfair, every item has a story to tell.
Georgian jewellery is synonymous with courtship, romance and excitement, taking us back to a time when aristocrats rubbed shoulders with poets and great works of art were created. But there’s much more to it than simply looking pretty. The Georgians were trailblazers, pushing through with radical ideas and challenging the way people thought about politics, society and religion.
Some say the Georgian era was also the birth of girl power, with Mary Wollstonecraft writing the first feminist manifestos ever published. There was still a long way to go, but women were starting to find their voices and forge their way in the world - not just shrinking violets who were there to be seen and not heard. So, whether you fancy yourself as a Lady Hamilton, Mary Shelley or Ms Wollstonecraft, Georgian jewellery is the perfect way to express yourself.