Jewellery by Antique Era
The Georgian era is a period in British history from 1714 to c. 1830–37, named eponymously after the Hanoverian kings George I, George II, George III and George IV. The sub-period that is the Regency era is defined by the regency of George IV as Prince of Wales during the illness of his father George III. The definition of the Georgian era is often extended to include the relatively short reign of William IV, which ended with his death in 1837.
Georgian jewellery is characterised by the use of rose-cut and table-cut stones frequently taken from older pieces as diamonds were scarce in number. Silver and gold cut-down settings were used for stones and exquisite ‘canitille’ gold-work is seen as the jewellery became lighter and more sophisticated moving away from the heavy enamels of the seventeenth century.
Common motifs are stars, ribbons, scrolls and flowers. Popular trends were memorial jewellery, cameos and intaglios, neoclassical motifs, Berlin iron and painted miniatures. Many Georgian pieces were later re-set to reflect more contemporary Victorian design, making original and intact pieces highly collectable.
Early Georgian jewellery combines elegance with design. Flowers, ribbons, crosses and bows were executed into light and pretty asymmetrical designs. Diamonds, mined in India, mostly cut into rose and table cuts, release more light than ever before. The stones were generally closed in at the reverse with a fine layer of beaten silver ‘foil’ to reflect the light back into and through the stone. Jewellery is mounted in silver and gold and is worn by people in society and those with extreme wealth.
Since love was a major preoccupation of eighteenth-century society there are many jewels of sentiment, containing the hair of loved ones, decorated with the symbols of Cupid’s quiver, bow and arrows, hearts, hands, turtle doves, snakes and pansies.
Later Georgian jewellery illustrates the return to neo-classical principles. Cameos and intaglios are mounted in symmetrical designs often outlined in royal blue enamel. There is a larger range of more light-hearted decorative daytime jewellery. Sentiment remains an important theme with locks of hair and miniatures enclosed in pendants, rings and bracelets identified by monograms. The sheer prettiness of Georgian jewelled bouquets, insects and fireworks exploding upwards demonstrates how this can be achieved.
Queen Victoria reigned from 1837 until 1901. Within this period there are three distinct phases of jewellery design: early, mid and late Victorian.
When Victoria came to the throne and began her marriage to Prince Albert, the early Victorian jewellery style focused on romantic sentiment and tokens of love. Jewellery was richly mounted in naturalistic floral designs such as the formal parure (a matching set of necklace, brooch, earrings, bracelet and sometime tiara) set with precious stones together with more affordable alternatives made in lighter filigree work and stamped gold settings.
During the same period, highly ornate enamelled gold jewellery inspired by the Renaissance and the art of the middle ages also expressed the spirit of romanticism as can been seen by goldsmiths such as Lucien Falize in Paris, and by Carlo Giuliano in London.
With the death of Prince Albert in 1861, the whole country was thrown into mourning and memorial jewellery was very prominent. Colours were out and design was bold and to the fore. Bracelets were widely worn, especially as tokens of sentiment.
Jewellery became strong and bold in design. In Rome, the return to the designs of the Etruscans, Greek and Romans reviving the techniques of filigree and granulation, pioneered by Castellani, was so successful that this became an international fashion.
At this time ‘mass’ production of jewellery started to take place in Birmingham with bespoke and high-end items still being made in London. This started to bring more affordable jewellery to a wider audience.
Towards the end of the Victorian era and after the discovery of the South African diamond mines in 1867 diamonds became the main element in formal jewellery. Jewellery designs focussed on diamonds and more feminine shapes. Motifs such as flowers, nature and serpents, which are considered a symbol of eternal love, were particularly popular.
Jewellery was worn in larger quantities and by more women than ever before. Stones were brought together into stars, crescents, bows, feathers, Greek key, floral and leaf patterns for head and bodice ornaments, while single stones, large and small were linked together into rivières for the neck.
At the end of the century, the desire for novelty drove jewellers to create an ever-increasing range of themes expressing cultural and sporting interests.
Arts and Crafts
The Arts and Crafts movement emerged from the attempt to reform design and decoration in mid 19th century Britain. In reaction to jewellery as a display of wealth and the uniformity of contemporary design, the Arts and Crafts Society was founded by William Morris in 1887, working independently for a clientèle drawn from the intelligentsia. This was to get away from mass production and go back to individually crafted pieces with one person making the whole item. Jewellery from this movement was generally made from semi-precious materials, using metals like copper and silver with gold as an accent material. Stones generally were moonstone, turquoise, garnet, blister pearls and amethyst. Often the stones were cabochon cut rather than faceted.
Led by René Lalique, jewellers of the French Art Nouveau group had similar ideals, seeking inspiration from nature rather than history, particularly the curved lines of plans and flowers. There was an emphasis on artistic settings rather than intrinsic value and new materials such as horn and the technique of “window” or translucent enamelling was introduced. Generally, the lines of Art Nouveau are finer than the Arts & Crafts movement and more quality materials were often used.
With the start of a new century, new beginnings were to the forefront of jewellery design. Platinum started to be used in a more widespread way rather than using silver, initially to accent the stones as it was expensive and scarce. Jewellers turned to the art of late eighteenth century France to provide the motifs for elegant “garland style” diamond jewellery. The brightness and superior hardness of using platinum resulted in much lighter, more precisely modelled settings. For grand occasions tiaras were worn high on the head, while women of means possessed quantities of brooches, bracelets, chains and pendants for daytime.
As diamonds were no longer in short supply and cultured pearls became widely available a string of perfectly matched graduated pearls became an Edwardian status symbol. This passion for diamonds and pearls meant that the Art Nouveau movement was over by 1910, and support for the Arts and Crafts Society also declined.
Art Deco jewellery emerged at the 1925 Paris exhibition of Decorative Arts at which only designs independent of the European historical tradition might be shown. The designs seen were bold and strongly geometric in character, using precious & coloured stones set with black onyx, jade and lapis lazuli in previously unknown combinations.
With the exception of small round and baguette diamonds, stones were cut into a variety of shapes to fit the design. Most were abstract though inspiration also came from the art of China, with carved Jade to the fore and of ancient Egypt with a further exotic touch provided by carved coloured stones imported from India.,
After the stock market crash of 1929 many jewellers survived by using more readily available aquamarines, zircons and citrines, though “all-white” diamond jewellery was adopted by the few who remained rich. The white gold alloy was developed, changing the metal used away from all platinum. A significant invention was the clip, worn individually or in pairs, pinned to hat or bodice, hung as the pendant to a necklace, or placed as the centrepiece of a bracelet.
During the war years, Art Deco jewellery developed further into heavier designs which complemented the fashions of the time. As platinum had been requisitioned for the war effort, gold again became the principal mental for jewellery design. Coloured stones in floral sprays were commonly seen in brooches earrings and bracelets. Flexible “gas-pipe” necklaces (last seen in the mid-Victorian age) were popular again and there was an emphasis on movement within the pieces.
During the 1950’s the brilliant cut diamond was mass-produced along with platinum and gold jewellery in more traditional styles, which was rejuvenated by the mathematical precision of the modern cuts.