How to Date your Georgian-Era Jewelry: Part 3
This week's blog is part 3 of a series of blogs on dating your Georgian-era jewelry. This blog will in the gaps from last week's blog on the period from 1770 to 1837. Given how much change there was across Europe in this specific period, it's perhaps not surprising that there were more shifts in style and fashions than we could fit into one blog last week, so here's part 2 covering 1770 to 1837.
Georgian ouroboros ring, the snake eating his tail, the symbol of life, death, and renewal. The circle of life. Antique Animal Jewelry
The Ouroboros motif (literally 'tail devourer' in Greek) is the symbol of a snake with its own tail in its mouth, creating an endless loop. It is a motif that has been found in jewelry since ancient Egypt, but enjoyed particular popularity during the 18th century in mourning jewelry, as a symbol of eternity (the endless cycle of life and death, the eternal soul, and eternal love), and in the 19th century, it was used in romantic jewelry exchanged by lovers.
Antique French ouroboros earrings from the 18th century, the 18-carat gold embossed with scales, the eyes set with garnets - Antique Animal Jewelry
A mourning ring in 10k gold with a hair locket under glass. The locket is framed by an ouroboros detailed with crosshatched black enamel scales and a red enameled mouth and eyes - Erica Weiner via Pinterest
Late 18th-century Ouroboros brooch, pave-set with sparkling foiled quartz stones likely sourced from the Bristol quartz mines in England, with ruby accents for the eyes. The setting is silver-topped 9k rose gold typical of the period, and the style and workmanship of the setting as well as shape and cut of the stones date it c.1750-1800, with similarity to specific pieces dated c.1770-80s
Georgian ouroboros opening rings that reveal hidden messages or souvenirs like hair, c.1800
A jeweled clasp of diamonds and black enamel, with a central locket containing locks of twisted brown and grey hair belonging to George III and Queen Charlotte, within a diamond ouroboros snake (representing eternity) with ruby eyes. On either side is an enamel rectangular panel with GR and CR gold crowned ciphers on black ground - Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021
Ouroboros high-carat gold and enamel bangle, c.1820 -1830. The body of the serpent has detailed cross-hatched enameling and its head is densely enameled and set with diamond eyes. On the interior is a locket section under crystal and the initials AA
Georgian ring with a black crosshatched enamel ouroboros snake, coiled around a landscape agate, with patterned enamel band. the back inscription reads ‘ Thomas jones ob 11 October 1837’
Armillary spheres (also known as spherical astrolabes, armillas, or armils) were tools used by astronomers to study the night sky and make calculations. Armillary spheres show the movement of planets in the sky, indicating the lines of celestial longitude and latitude, as well as the ecliptic (the plane of Earth's orbit). They usually consist of a set of spherical rings centered around Earth or the Sun: where they centered around Earth they were very early examples known as 'Ptolemaic', and where they centered around the Sun they were 'Copernican', dated after 1543.
Armillary sphere rings were inspired by the astronomers' tool, and although they may not be entirely usable as actual tools, the rings were worn as a sign of an interest in the heavens, astronomy, and astrology. As a period characterized by exciting astronomical discoveries, they gained in popularity around this time.
Finger ring which unfolds into an armillary sphere. The ring is formed of an outer hoop and three interior hoops. The exterior hoop is chased with enameled black scrolls and the three interior hoops show the signs of the zodiac, stars, and other figures, c.1759. © The Trustees of the British Museum
Gold ring of interlocking hinged hoops, which unfold into a miniature armillary sphere with a crystal bezel containing a lock of hair. The interlocking hoops are concealed when the ring is closed, c.1780
Via Rowan and Rowan
Towards the end of the 18th century, neo-classicism was becoming more and more popular (first in 1760 with George III's rule and interest in cameos and artifacts being uncovered at Herculaneum and Pompeii, then later in the 1800s with Napoleon's neoclassical reign as Emperor of France). Around this time, rings with oval and pointed oval-shaped bezels became fashionable - from mourning jewelry to love tokens and friendship rings.
Gold ring with a pointed oval/marquise/navette shaped bezel with a composition in seed pearls (symbolizing purity and love) of a dove bearing an olive branch, perched on a tree. The scene is set over plaited hair, showing it to be a personal gift, under a rock crystal cover, c.1775-1785
Gold navette shaped ring, set with a chrysoberyl surrounded by pastes set in silver, c.1780
Oval ‘altar of love’ ring with a white enamel border, c.1780, high carat gold
Opaline oval-shaped ring with an enameled urn. The back bears the inscription ‘Lady Catherine Bouverie ob 7 July 1783’, c.1783 - Antique Animal Jewelry
A gold ring with a pierced marquise bezel of a floral design set with clear glass pastes. The backs of all the stones are engraved with lines and set in closed mounts over foil. It would have shone like diamonds when first made, but the foil backing has degraded, making the stones appear soft grey in color, c.1780-1820
In the mid-late 1700s, James Tassie (1735-99) and the chemist Dr. Quinn developed a glass paste that could successfully replicate the fine detail of antique cameos as well as the sheen and cut of modern gems, but at a much lower cost. Tassie became known for creating imitation antique engraved gems, cameos, and intaglios, using his white enamel paste often referred to as 'Tassie paste'. He made quite a name for himself, even receiving a commission from Catherine the Great (Empress of Russia) for a collection of around 15,000 of his artistic and detailed copies which he delivered upon in 1781. His rings set with portrait miniatures were particularly popular.
Gold ring, the oval bezel set with a Tassie paste cameo of King George III (1738-1820), England, c.1775
Gold ring, the oval bezel set with a Tassie paste cameo of George, Prince of Wales, later King George IV, England, c.1786 - ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Typically in the jewelry of this period where gems were not set with foils as often, red-colored gems like rubies were often set in gold, while diamonds were set in silver to enhance the whiteness of the stones.
Gold ring with foliate shoulders supporting a heart-shaped bezel mounted with rubies set in gold and diamonds set in silver, Western Europe, c.1780 - ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Micro-carving was a popular technique in the late eighteenth century and into the nineteenth century, particularly in Germany (or Prussia), and pieces were often incorporated into jewelry. The neoclassical craze of the time means that a lot of these micro-carvings feature scenes from Roman or Greek mythology, or Roman and Greek figures, shapes, and motifs.
In France, the neoclassical style channeled the pomp of the Roman Emperors with expensive gemstone parures and cameos abound, while in occupied Prussia, the heavy war indemnity paid to the occupying French left the German states impoverished. This meant that in German jewelry from the time of the French occupation and for a while afterward, pearls, diamonds, and other expensive gems were practically non-existent. Labour and fullness of composition began to be valued above the expense of the materials, and labor-intensive but 'cheap' mediums that had existed before began to be favored more, including hairwork, miniature watercolor, and micro-carving using ivory or wood.
European countries imported ivory from India, Sri Lanka, and Africa. Ivory carvings were mainly a continental specialty. Several towns in southern Germany were famous centers of ivory carving and there were also centers in Switzerland and France. The finest ivory micro-carvings are so finely detailed that they can often only be fully seen with a magnifying glass. Some were made in the tenths or even hundredths of a millimeter range. They were considered 'Mirabilien', miracles made by human hands.
Micro-ivory French rings inscribed 'A l'amitie' and 'souvenir', c.1780
Mourning finger-ring with micro ivory detail depicting a figure on a background of plaited hair under glass. Inscribed, 'Preuve de mon amitié', 'Proof of my friendship', late 18th century
A miniature carving depicting two nymphs garlanding a herm, overlooked by putti. Ivory on blue glass, c.1795. Made by pair of German carvers called G. Stephany and J. Dresch who worked in Bath in the 1790s and were described as ‘the most eminent sculptors in ivory in Europe’ - The Holburne Museum, Bath
Ivory micro carvings on backed-glass of George III and Queen Charlotte, by Stephany & Dresch, who were by this time describing themselves as ‘Sculptors in Miniature on Ivory to their Majesties’, c.1792-97
Antique Animal Jewelry
A bangle with an ivory miniature, c.1830
Harlequin jewelry is jewelry that combines different gemstones of varying complementary colors in necklaces, bracelets, brooches, earrings, or rings, in bands or clusters of gems, or even in the shapes of flowers. They were usually foil-backed and sometimes set with paste instead of gemstones. Acrostic jewelry is sometimes considered to be a type of harlequin jewelry, with the gemstones used to spell out secret messages according to the first letter of each gemstone, but often harlequin jewelry has no discernable message.
The name, 'harlequin jewelry' comes from the term for the 16th-century European comedy actors known as 'harlequins', and the colorful, almost kaleidoscopic costumes they wore. Harlequin jewelry enjoyed a period of popularity in the late 18th and early 19th centuries (particularly between 1800 and 1820), with another later peak in popularity in the Victorian era.
Multicolored gemstone pansy necklace with a detachable drop, c.1790
Harlequin pansy necklace
Antique Animal Jewelry
A Georgian harlequin brooch with gemstones including a central amethyst and a border of aquamarine, rhodolite garnet, topaz, peridot, another amethyst, sapphire, hessonite garnet, and a moonstone cabochon. All are set in open-backed, claw-set collets and set in a frame of 15k gold with delicate cannetille work and heart-shaped florets, c.1810
Georgian Harlequin/Planetary ring. Stones include garnet, beryl, amethyst, jet, pyrite, chrysoberyl, turquoise, coral, citrine, topaz, pearl - Antique Animal Jewelry
Georgian harlequin memorial brooch - the central oval glazed hairwork panel is set within a cluster surround of pinched collet set varicolored gemstones, suspending a tassel drop of five fine belcher-link chains, each with a pinched collet set round-cut gemstone terminal, each with glazed hairwork panel to the reverse (one lacking) and initials to the mount - Via Bonhams
Antique Animal Jewelry
Harlequin gemstone brooches and necklace, c.1820
Miniature telescopes were all the range during the Napoleonic empire (1804 – 1814) and were incorporated into all sorts of novelty items such as fans, perfume bottles, and walking sticks, as well as in jewelry - such as in collapsable miniature Galilean telescope rings. These delightful little gadgets continued to be popular after Napoleon's empire fell.
A ring with a Galilean telescope, French, c.1820. The ring opens up to reveal a Galilean telescope with the combination of a convex or converging lens and a dispersing lens
A ring with a Galilean telescope, French, c.1820. Each lens is enclosed by a narrow frame enameled in white with black script, with each French inscription relating to the lens type. The one surrounding the converging lens reads, ‘qui pourrait attirer mes regards ils sont fixer sur vous’ (who could attract my attention, it's fixed on you), and the dispersing lens reads, ‘de pres et de loin toujours je vous aime’ (from near and far I will always love you). From The Power of Love by Beatriz Chadour Sampson, page 95, also featured in Rings: Alice and Louis Koch Collectionby Anna Beatriz Chadour, page 445
Around the turn of the 19th century, as neoclassicism and the jewelry associated with it grew in popularity, intaglios were a treasured possession. Intaglio is a recessed design carved into stone or gemstone, the opposite of a cameo which is carved so that the image protrudes from the front of the stone. Examples of intaglios from this era often feature highly detailed depictions of Greco-Roman scenes. Wax seal intaglio rings were popular amongst wealthy men with important business and were mostly used for sealing documents and letters, but intaglios were also worn as decorative jewelry and as signet rings.
Following the end of the Napoleonic wars, thousands of gems were made in this style in Italy and brought back by British Grand Tourists, who went there to visit the newly-discovered archaeological sites once they were able to travel safely to the continent again. Intaglios and cameos became very popular for this reason in the years following 1814. Intaglios remained popular until around the 1830s when the lickable adhesive envelope was invented causing wax seal rings to become obsolete.
A Georgian-era signet ring with a hand-cut amethyst intaglio of a merchant's family crest set in 14k yellow gold, completely made by hand (no machinery-made components) with some traces of wax suggesting it was used as a seal by the original owner. The amethyst is faceted towards the girdle and there are some facets to the bottom, which is a cut typical of the time, 18th century
Gold ring with rose-cut diamonds set around a carnelian intaglio of Victory in a chariot. Made in Western Europe, c.1810, the intaglio possibly Roman
A Georgian diamond ring with Roman carnelian intaglio
An intaglio probably depicting Apollo pursuing Daphne who is partly transformed into a laurel tree. Oval carnelian set in a gold filigree mount with a line of black enamel; Italy, c.1820-30. This piece once belonged to the collection of Prince Stanislas Poniatowski (1754-1833), a wealthy collector who commissioned about 2500 engraved gems and liked to claim that they were ancient, with some even 'signed' (with fake signatures) by famous Greek and Roman engravers. After Poniatowski's death, the truth of the gems came out, causing a loss of trust in the trade and a decline in the art from the mid 19th century. Nowadays, ironically, the collection is of increasing interest as most of the gems were the work of a small group of notable neo-classical gem-engravers in Rome, regarded as important works of gem-engraving
The Language of Flowers
The 'language of flowers' is a symbology of flowers said to have come from the early 18th century Ottoman court. In 1819, Louise Cortambert made the custom very popular in Europe, writing a book called ‘Le Langage des Fleurs’ under the pen name 'Madame Charlotte de la Tour.' It detailed the significance of each flower in a kind of dictionary format, and it became popular to use representations of specific flowers in jewelry to send coded messages. This trend took off in the Victorian era, with forget-me-nots in turquoise a popular favorite with Queen Victoria herself, but there are some rare early examples that helped to set up the trend. A particularly popular early motif was the use of a painted pansy or a pansy made of gems, representing the French 'pensée' or 'pense' - meaning thoughts, to think, or 'think of me'.
Gold hoop with beveled edge set with two enameled plaques, one bearing a pattern of pansies, meaning 'think', the other inscribed 'A votre ami', meaning 'of your friend'. Between the plaques can be seen two small green glass stones. This would have been a romantic gift from a man to his love, c.1819-1838
'Pense A Moi' two-way swivel plaque ring made from 18-carat gold. On one side is a pansy and the words 'A MOI'. The other side is set with crystal vitrine (window), behind which is another pansy crafted from the beloved's hair. The plaque is set within a bezel that swivels north/south but inside that frame is an inner plaque that swivels east/west, c.1820