In terms of Georgian jewellery history, the period spanned from 1714 to 1830 encompassing the reign of George I, George II, George III and George IV (many consider ‘true’ Georgian period to exclude George IV’s reign). During this era there were many developments in technology and fashion, both of which had a huge impact on the jewellery trends of the time.
Materials and Techniques
A variety of metals and alloys were used in the crafting of jewellery during this era. The most popular type of metal was silver, although some more highly priced pieces were made from yellow gold, rose gold or on occasion red gold. For pieces of slightly less value, steel, iron and an alloy called ‘pinchbeck’ (named after its creator, Christopher Pinchbeck and made by combining zinc and copper) were very common.
Despite the availability of resources such as these metals and diamonds that had been discovered in Brazil during the 1730s, many Georgian jewellers would also recycle old metal- melting down jewellery that had become less ‘fashionable’ and using the old materials to create new pieces. Because of this technique little original jewellery was retained and true Georgian era jewellery is now fairly rare to come across, therefore it is often has a very high value.
It is often difficult to identify the exact composition of metals in Georgian jewellery as hallmarking jewellery had not been initiated yet (and wouldn’t come into practice until the 1900s). Consequently these items would need professional judgement to determine their exact age, origin and makeup.
Georgian jewellery was most commonly hand crafted. The style trends of the time demanded intricate metal work and techniques such as repoussé, which was the hammering of malleable metals into complex and detailed designs (used frequently in pieces such as memorial bracelets).
With regards to gemstones, diamonds were almost exclusively used up until 1750. Later other gemstones grew in popularity and effects created by overlays, pastes and enamels were more frequently used, creating a more colourful variety of jewellery.
The concept of open back settings (often favoured for how the light affects the look of the stone) had not yet become common and therefore closed backs were used to set most gemstones and pastes.
Another way in which the stones were treated was foiling; a technique which consisted of painting a metal coating around the gemstone to enhance the stone’s brilliance. The favoured cuts of gems during this era were Rose cut and Old Mine cut, however a few Table cuts were also still in use.
At the turn of the 19th Century the availability of gold and precious gems decreased as a result of war spreading throughout Europe (namely the Napoleonic wars, 1803-1815). Gold and precious gems had to be sacrificed towards the war effort, leaving little for jewellery manufacture. Due to this there was an increase of popularity in Cannetille- the use of lots of tiny wires that intricately wrapped around each other to create delicate and ornate pieces of jewellery- as it used very little metal compared to other techniques.