How to date your Georgian-Era Jewelry: Part 1
White enamel rococo memorial band, c.1762
The Georgian era is a historical period from 1714 to 1837 named for the rule of the four Georges (as monarchs of the United Kingdom) as well as the short reign of George IV's brother William IV, who ruled from 1830-37. It was a time of great change. In England, each new king's rule came with new challenges and new fashions. In France, these years encompassed the rise and fall of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, the French Revolution, Napoleon's Empire, and the crowning of French Empresses Josephine and Marie Louise. In America, revolution. In Russia, the reign of Catherine the Great.
Across Europe, it was a period characterized by great shifts in style, reflecting changes in leadership, and marked by the aesthetic movements of Baroque, Rococo, Neoclassicism, and Romanticism. These shifts in style can be seen in the jewelry of the era and can be very helpful in dating pieces. In this blog, we will focus specifically on the early 18th century to around 1770, offering a kind of guide by which you can roughly date your early Georgian pieces.
Stuart Crystals & The Roots of Mourning Jewelry
After the execution of Charles I in 1649, royalist supporters wore jewelry in memory of the deceased King to show their continued support for the Stuart monarchy. Some of these pieces were made of carved faceted rock crystal, known as Stuart Crystal, which were mounted over the King's initials in gold wire, displayed on a background of his hair, and set in a simple gold ring. These royalist pieces of jewelry found popularity again during Charles II's restoration in 1660, and in the 1680s when they were worn to condemn the deposition of James II and the Stuart monarchy.
Although Stuart Crystals predate the Georgian era by several decades, the style of laying faceted crystal over gold wire initials on hair was used widely in early Georgian and pre-Georgian 'memento mori' and mourning jewelry.
A heart-shaped Stuart Crystal with the CR scribe and crown in gold thread, sitting on a bed of blue silk. It has a basket back and chased shank, formerly covered in black enamel, c.1660-1690
Gold commemorative ring for Charles II and Catherine of Braganza, formerly enameled. The oval bezel is set with a faceted crystal enclosing plaited hair and CR KR below a crown in gold wire. The foliated hoop formerly covered in black enamel, c.1685-1705
The late 17th and first half of the 18th-century were characterized by the Baroque style. A lot of jewelry from this period features striking symmetrical designs and lacy aesthetics favoring large stones, giving off a delicate yet big and bold look. Popular themes and motifs included bows, flowers, and feathers.
The bow is one of the most prevalent features of Baroque jewelry, originating with the ribbon used to fasten a jewel to a robe, which turned into a popular motif in jewelry itself. This bow brooch design is from the 17th century. Lang Antiques Jewelry University
Bodice ornament of diamonds and hessonite garnets set in silver and gold scrolling openwork; the settings engraved with flowers on the reverse, probably the Netherlands, c.1680-1700
Gold ring, with an octofoil bezel set with table-cut diamonds with radiating gadroons behind, forked shoulders, and a pierced foliated hoop, Spain, c.1700-50
Georgian Stuart Crystals & Mourning Jewelry
Over time, Stuart Crystal jewelry moved away from its royalist origins and became more personal, with late 17th and early 18th century examples featuring the initials of loved ones flanked by memento mori symbolism on a background of hair. These could be set in rings, slides, pendants, or earrings.
Stuart crystal skull and cipher slide/pendant fitting with an inscription on the back, ‘Ob 18 Ap 95’, c.1695
Left: Gold mourning ring set with a faceted rock crystal enclosing the initials CP in gold wire, the foliated shoulders enameled, c.1680-1720. Right: Gold mourning ring set with faceted rock crystal enclosing a monogram in gold wire. The hoop with a skeleton and crossbones on black enamel, inscribed inside M Frend obt 9' May 1709 aeta. 59., c.1709. Both ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London
It was common at the turn of the 18th century to see Baroque influences in Stuart Crystal mourning jewelry. In particular, the shapes of the crystals became more rectangular with sharper facets between 1700 and 1720. Some pieces from this era pair memento mori motifs with Baroque floral imagery like acanthus.
Stuart crystal rings, slide, pendant, and earrings, early 18th century
Baroque ‘coffin’ ring, 1715
Stuart Crystal ring with three little ciphers, 'BHE', beneath a table cut crystal. The tapered shoulders are set with diamonds in silver, c.1725. The merging of the shoulders directly into the ribbed rays on the back of the bezel here help to date the piece as early Georgian era
With new improvements to candles that allowed them to burn brighter and for much longer, evening events like balls and soirees became increasingly frequent in the early 18th century. This meant that a fashion for separate daytime and evening jewelry evolved. In the daytime, women wore simpler, more colorful pieces, several at a time. For example, a woman might wear matching bracelets and earrings, multiple rings on each finger, a pin or brooch, and a strand necklace or two. The evening, however, was a time for diamonds - catching the candlelight brilliantly. Evening pieces were more extravagant statement pieces, sometimes with layers and extra hanging drops. Jewelry could even come with detachable drops and pendants so that they could be removed to be worn for daytime or added to dazzle in the evening.
The rivière necklace (river of light) was a very popular piece of eveningwear. It was a short, choker-style necklace often featuring faceted gemstones, particularly diamonds. Georgian examples are often closed-back and foiled to accentuate the shine, and are set in individual cut-down collets. Later, non-Georgian examples are in prong or claw settings, open-backed, and unfoiled.
18th-century rose-cut diamond rivière necklace set in silver
The 1720s saw a peak in memento mori imagery, with skeletons, bones, and skulls featuring heavily on many rings and other pieces of mourning jewelry. This was particular to the first half of the 18th-century, and such obvious, bold use of memento mori imagery reduced in later years.
Around the 1720s, it also became increasingly popular to inscribe around the band the name and date of death of the deceased. This style grew in popularity across the 18th century. Later, in the 19th century, sentiments on mourning rings became more standardized, with phrases like 'In memory of'.
'1728 skeletal ‘coffin’ ring'
Bone-shaped enamel bands also started to gain popularity amongst mourning jewelry of the 1720s and into the 1730s and 40s. These were not unlike the later rococo ribbon or scroll motif enamel bands, but the inscribed sections here are shaped like bones in a very clear allusion to memento mori
From Granite Pail Antiques
Chatelaines - the everyday jewelry of the practical Georgian woman - were popular right through the 18th and 19th centuries, but around the 1720s and 30s they had a specific look. This look consisted of a classic waist hook with five chains passing to individual containers for tools. This style pre-dates the later versions that have a central larger étui with two smaller side étuis.
Gilt metal needlework chatelaine with five pieces and plaited mesh chains passing to a central container. On each side are cylindrical holders – one for needles and a longer one for bodkins, c.1720
Pinchbeck chatelaine incorporating a scissor case, needle case, etui, and two thimble cases. c.1730-1735. ©Victoria & Albert Museum, London
Before 1725, the supply of diamonds was very limited. Jewelers tried to maximize the faces of stones as much as possible, so cuts were often shallow and irregularly shaped. In 1725, a new source of diamonds was discovered in Brazil, and diamonds became more widely used and less expensive. Around this time and afterward, you will see not just rose-cut, flat-cut, and table-cut diamonds, but also old-mine, cushion, and brilliant-cut. Cabochon and briolette were also very popular cuts for gemstones. These were, however, all still cut by hand so should still have irregularities to them.
The jewelry of this period seems to be designed to show off the cutting of diamonds and other precious stones or imitation stones, with the metal settings concealed as much as possible. Little of this jewelry has survived in its original form, however, as diamonds were often removed and reset in later styles.
In the 1730s, Georges-Frédéric Strass created a kind of glass imitation gem called 'paste', replicating the brilliance of diamonds often at a fraction of a cost. Paste jewelry became popular over the subsequent decades, with Marie Antoinette said to have owned her own paste parure. 18th-century paste is usually of a higher quality than 19th-century, and you can often tell the difference by the quality of the workmanship, with later pieces set in less refined mounts and often mass-produced.
A Georgian necklace of faceted opaline and colorless pastes, set in silver, made in France, c.1740-50
Pendant set with pastes in a silver openwork bow with flowers, and with a pendant dove, made in Portugal, c.1750. ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London
A French necklace of sliver, hinged panels, set with colorless and opaline pastes, c.1760. Opal is replicated by pink foil beneath milky blue paste. This necklace would have been worn like a choker
By the 1740s, Rococo style had begun to flourish in English design. The emigration of many Huguenot artisans from France played a key role in the style's spread to Britain, and introduced more open, light, and asymmetrical lines to jewelry. Rococo jewelry is often considered more elegant and refined, yet still has many motifs in common with Baroque style, such as bows, flowers, and ribbons.
Diamond brooch, rose-cuts set on foil with one drop pearl, note the asymmetrical rococo style, c.1740
Rococo Mourning Jewelry
By the 1730s, the bands of mourning rings were often twisted into ribbon or scroll motifs, with inscriptions enamel-inlaid to the outer shank, and ring heads with ribbed rays. Early examples of this type date from the late 1720s - 1740s, but this style remained popular into the 1760s, with occasional examples made well into the 1790s.
Around the 1740s, you can see even more of a move away from the traditional Stuart crystal mourning rings and towards a more pronounced Rococo style. Many such pieces still use elements of the memento mori and Baroque styles, but the crystal or gemstone bezels were smaller, with smaller stones and a more elegant design. These Rococo pieces of mourning jewelry often featured skulls or skeletons instead of gold wire initials, or just have plain gemstones with gold or silver enameled bands.
Although it had been made and worn for centuries, in the 1740s mourning jewelry gained an enormous boost in popularity in England. This revival may be due, at least in part, to the publication of a very popular series of poems in 1742, called Night Thoughts on Life, Death and Immortality, by Edward Young.
This gold mourning ring is enameled in white, commemorating the death of a baby. White, rather than black, enamel was used for children, spinsters, or bachelors. The ring is set with rose-cut diamonds and is inscribed 'Matthew Arnold died 10 May 1742 aged 8 months'. England, c.1742
Left: An early Georgian mourning ring with a memento mori death’s head motif beneath faceted quartz crystal, inscribed 'Ann Cruttenden OB: 20 Jul: 1742 Æ: 67' on black enamel, c. 1742. Right: similar mourning rings from Georgian Jewellery by Ginny Redington Dawes and Olivia Collings
Memento Mori gold and black enamel 'emblems of mortality' scrolled Rococo band dated 1745. The enameled scrolls read: 'Mary Mount Ob 26 June 1745 aet 59', and the front scrolls are decorated with a skull, crossbones, and a gravedigger's pick and shovel
A white enamel mourning ring in rococo style with a skull – 'Char Pomfrett OB:16 July 1752 AE 20'
Via Art of Mourning
Georgian crystal ring with a skull beneath the crystal and a black enamel rococo band, inscribed ‘John Ranch ob 29 Oct 1761 aet 73'. - Antique Animal Jewelry
Five rotated views of an exceptional skeleton ring, inscribed 'G. Sitwell Arm [army] OB 20 Feb 1722 Aet 66', c.1766. From Georgian Jewellery by Ginny Redington Dawes and Olivia Collings
An unusual double mourning ring commemorating husband and wife, Zephaniah and Hannah Leonard, who died on the same day, April 23rd, 1766. With scrolled enameled sections and coffin-shaped rock crystal quartzes underneath which lie paper skeletons.
Until the 1740s, most high-quality jewelry worn by the upper classes throughout Europe was made almost exclusively using diamonds, until colored gemstones made something of a resurgence in fashion. From the 1740s onward you will start to find much more high-quality jewelry featuring rubies, sapphires, garnets, topaz, chrysoberyl, pearls, imitation gems, and more.
Old-cut diamond cruciform ring, c.1740, with seven sized foiled stones in closed-back settings
Portuguese chrysoberyl necklace, earrings, and ring, c.1760
Necklace with two alternate pendants of topazes and rock crystal set in silver openwork in a ribbon and flower pattern, probably made in France, c.1760
Giardinetto or Giardinetti (Italian) is a design depicting a vase of flowers or a flower basket, used mostly on brooches, rings, and sometimes pendants. The flower bouquets were often created using an array of colorful gemstones such as rubies, emeralds, and sapphires, and they were very popular around c.1740-1780 (though they were first made in the late 17th century), being exchanged as love tokens by lovers or friends.
Left: Gold giardinetti ring set with rose-cut diamonds, rubies, and emeralds in silver collets. Right: Gold giardinetti ring set with rubies and table- and rose-cut diamonds in silver collets, with chased flowers and leaves. Both c.1730-1760, both ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London
A gold and silver ring combining the giardinetti theme with sentiment - crowned ruby and diamond twinned flowers or hearts on a stem with emerald leaves - c.1760
The Invention of the Rolling Mill
With the invention of the rolling mill in 1750, hand-hammered, labor-intensive metalwork techniques like Repoussé were less frequently seen, and stamped sheet metal designs began to be easy to manufacture. If a piece looks like it's made from a uniform sheet of silver or gold, it was likely made after 1750.
Queen Anne Style
'Queen Anne' jewelry was a popular style in the 1750s, misleadingly named after Queen Anne, whose rule was 1695-1714. This style saw necklaces that were usually non-graduated rivières mounted in gilt metal with rose-cut, collet-set pastes. Most 'Queen Anne' necklaces have a distinctively oval-shaped removable pendant drop suspended from the center stone. 'Queen Anne' earrings were chunky looking, with thick back-to-front fittings. These were worn very close to the earlobe and most often consisted of two oblong pastes (the lower one slightly larger than the upper) soldered together with smaller stones.
'Queen Anne' amethyst paste necklace and earrings set in gilt metal, c.1750
One of the most popular pastimes of the mid-18th century was playing at the card table, particularly playing the game Quadrille. Jewelry with playing card motifs or depictions was popular around this time.
A Game of Quadrille, oil on canvas by Hubert-François Gravelot (1699–1773), c.1740
Enamelled ring depicting four cards: three aces of different suits and a 7 of hearts. Gold and silver, set with diamonds, mid-18th-century - From Rings by Diana Scarisbrick
Around the 1750s, masked balls were all the rage. Often held publicly, the nobility and royalty could freely mix with lower classes (though they were usually still wealthy enough to afford the latest fashions). Hidden behind a mask class and title didn't matter and the night could take you anywhere with total anonymity and no consequences. Lip rouge and masks were worn by both men and women, as were the little black dots/beauty spots/'mouches' you can see on the rings below. They were worn as a kind of lover's code, sending a message depending on where on the face they were worn. In a similar way, masquerade rings were often given as love tokens, sometimes with hidden lockets revealing concealed messages.
Italian ‘carnival mask’ ring with an enamel bezel, set with a female face with rose-cut diamond eyes and a garnet border, Venice, c. 1760. From Jewels on Queen by Anne Schofield, via The Culture Concept
Georgian porcelain masquerade ring circa 1750 - Antique Animal Jewelry
Gold, ruby, enamel, and rose-cut diamond masquerade ring. Around the heart inside the locket is the inscription 'pour vous seule' (for you alone). This belonged to the Earl and Countess of Rosebery. Mid 18th century. From Le Grand Frisson: 500 Years of Jewels of Sentiment by Diana Scarisbrick.
A masquerade ring with a hidden message under the bezel reading 'je cache mes amours,' meaning 'I mask my love.' Forget-me-not flowers on the ring shoulders complete the romance. Mid 18th century.
Masquerade ring with rose-cut diamonds and enamel, Western Europe, mid 18th century
The Metropolitan Museum of Art via Diamonds by Diana Scarisbrick
An enamel carnival mask ring with diamond eyes and a ruby order, opening to reveal an enamel heart and the message 'POUR VOUS SEULE' (For you only), joined to a shank inscribed 'SOUS LE MASQUE LA VERITE' (Under the mask, the truth), 18th-century
In the 1750s, Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais - Clockmaker to Louis XV of France - created what is believed to be the first watch-ring to reliably tell the time, for Madame de Pompadour. Soon after, he made several watch-rings for Louis XV using the same mechanism, and the trend took off across Europe. So highly-skilled and rare was the horologist who could successfully make such a ring, that many who were successful over the following century sprung to fame as a result, finding royal buyers and patrons. Examples from before the 1750s were very rare, unreliable, and belonged only to royalty.
A collection of Georgian watch-rings
Antique Animal Jewelry
Although cut-steel was produced as early as the 1600s in Woodstock, near Oxford, it wasn't until the mid-1700s that it became really popular. Around 1759, King Louis XV of France publicly requested donations of precious jewelry to help fund the Seven Years War. In need of substitutes for their donations, people turned to cheaper cut-steel jewelry. With England exporting so much of it to France the fashion soon took hold in Britain too.
There are three different key ways to date a cut-steel piece. If the piece has painstakingly crafted screwed studs with up to 15 facets, which can be removed, polished, and screwed back in, it is likely an early Woodstock-produced piece. Later pieces had riveted studs that could not be removed but were still intricate, with many facets. If the studs have only five facets or the pieces are corroded, they are likely low-quality late 19th-century mass-produced pieces.
Pair of bracelets, bands of cut steel sequins; oval clasps decorated with circular and shuttle-shaped faceted steel studs. The two can be joined together to make a necklace, England, c. 1780-1800
Antique Georgian cut steel bracelet in the shape of a snake
Antique Animal Jewelry
Roman & Greek Motifs
The 1760s in Britain marked a transition from Rococo style to Classicism. The imaginations of people across Europe had been captivated by two archeological excavations underway at the time: Herculaneum and Pompeii, and a revival or reinvention of the styles of antiquity began to dominate. This was not quite the later Neo-classical style of Napoleon's French empire but featured designs inspired by the discoveries, including realistic or naturalistic representations of laurel branches, Greek keys, and grape leaves.
This shift can be seen clearly in the changing imagery of mourning jewelry, where urns, broken pillars, mourning women, and weeping willows began to be more widely used. Hair of the deceased was often incorporated into the designs or set in a compartment at the back of the ring. From 1760 there was also a new vogue for memorial medallions or lockets.
Mourning ring with the unusual motto 'Je Cheris Ta Memoire' (I cherish your memory), inscribed 'M.Droz ob 8th May 1777 ae 37'. The tiny watercolor depicts a lady mourning beside an urn, with a skull and crossbones on the plinth, c.1777. From Sian Harlowe Antiques via Instagram
©Victoria & Albert Museum, London
©Victoria & Albert Museum, London
Reflecting this move towards a classical-inspired style in what is generally considered to be the first wave of Neoclassicism, George III's reign saw a resurgence in popularity of cameos, many of which were brought back from Herculaneum or Pompeii or were copies or inspired by discoveries made there depicting scenes of antiquity.
Various cameos, some of which were purchased by George III from the collection of Consul Joseph Smith of Venice in 1762, with one possibly purchased for George III in 1769. They depict: Victory, a peasant with a plough drawn by two horses, and possibly the myth of Prometheus
Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021
In 1767 the jeweler James Cox invented a process to back silver with gold, to prevent silver-backed necklaces from marking the skin or tarnishing clothing. If you see a Georgian piece backed in silver and then in gold, it likely dates from after 1767, or has been done later.
Before the 1770s, a very popular style of earring had been Girandole earrings. These were designed with a central bow-shaped motif suspending two small pear-shaped drops and a third larger drop between them. They were an extremely popular evening wear design, like candelabras, catching the light beautifully.
©Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Girandole earring with rose-cut dendritic agate drops set in silver gilt, probably French, mid-18th-century
In the 1770s, this style gave way to the popular pendeloque earrings. No less charming, but less rococo in their symmetrical aesthetic, pendeloque earrings have a rounded or navette-shaped top, with a bow motif below, suspending a single matching larger drop.
Pair of pendeloque earrings, white topaz set in silver openwork, made in Portugal, c.1780-1800
Pendeloque earrings with chrysoberyl set in silver with gold beaded filigree highlights, Portuguese, 18th century. The tops can be removed to be worn alone for a simpler look by day or with full length at night
That's all for this week's blog, but next week we will be picking up where we left off, looking at trends and style shifts in jewelry from the 1780s to 1837, so stay tuned! For a handy little recap, take a look at our photo timeline below.