The Georgian era, almost fully set in the Age of Enlightenment, boasts a magnificent history of evolution and discoveries, of hopes and beauty. A time of highly-changing ways of life, it lived through a never-before-experienced way of approaching culture and fashion.
The industrial revolution triggered endless and relentless changes, from the rapid increase of factory-based work to the abolition of slavery in England that brought about more freedom than the world had known in the past centuries. With more liberty in culture and society manners, fashion and more specifically jewellery both shared the spotlight under the Georgian era.
At Carus Jewellery, we feel it is especially important to write about the history of our antique jewellery so you can make the best choices when it comes to selecting pieces on par with your style, that reflect the moods and values you stand by in life. A neo-classical Georgian piece, for instance, would touch the romantic, Greek mythology aficionado in you, just as a delicately-crafted memento mori brooch would echo your melancholic depths.
With a large panel of ever changing styles, the Georgian era, spanning well over a century is the very image of craft, quality and innovation. To this date, Georgian jewellery is still worn and collected with as much pleasure as it was back in those flourishing days, with the remembrance of evolving times and values. From pearls to symbolism, dive with Carus into the fascinating history of the Georgian Jewellery.
The Georgian Era: A society marked by significant changes
Set between 1714 and 1830 (with many lengthening the period until 1837), the Georgian era was named after four Hanoverian Kings of England, namely George I, George II, George III and George IV, although it also includes William IV’s reign.
A period of significant changes, the Georgian era was marked by the Industrial Revolution which started around 1760 and profoundly changed the world to birth the society we now know, replacing a highly rural society with a factory-based one, thus increasing the living standards for the largest part of the population.
Further major historical events deeply tainted the Georgian era; such as the abolition of slavery in England and Napoleon’s campaign of Egypt at the very end of the 18th Century. This century was an era of wars, discoveries, and cultural development that all combined, greatly influenced jewellery as we know it today.
Georgian Jewellery: Breathtaking Craft and Beauty
The oldest antique jewellery period, the Georgian jewellery era was based on thorough, minutious handcrafting that is legendary to this day since it involved high quality materials finely worked into irregular, natural shapes respecting the stones and metals.
The early Georgian period saw many pieces of jewellery disappear as they were most often melted, reshaped or remounted to create new pieces of jewellery to keep up with the movements and trends of the period. What is to be remembered is the quality of the craftsmanship and the innovations thought up to match the rising demand of the newly developed society.
While diamond and gold 18K were very much en vogue and sought after for evening pieces, the Georgian era witnessed a rise in the use of less noble metals, such as silver, to set the stones. Iron and steel were also largely used, as was the pinchbeck, named after its inventor, a zinc and copper alloy that was created as a substitute for gold to relieve the low stocks in precious metals.
The beauty of the Georgian Jewellery also lies in the ability for jewellers back in the day to adapt the skills to the stones. Not only were the stones carefully cut by hand, but as they were rare and expensive, settings were created for each gemstone, rather than adapting the gemstones to the setting.
Irregularities and asymmetry are law in Georgian style jewellery, and the craft then lied in the precision as well as in the innovation and thought put in the creation of new metals and gemstone substitutes.
Pastes and enamels, new creations of the 18th century that allowed for creativity and color, became appropriate and sought after jewellery as wars tore Europe apart and more expensive materials became scarce.
Georgian Jewellery: Innovation beyond measure
The Georgian era saw a boom in innovation in terms of jewellery trade. Inspired by French, Italian, German and Egyptian fashions and cultures, jewellers created nature-inspired motifs and intricately designed pearl and gem-based jewellery items to follow the trends of the evolving cultures all around Europe.
The Georgian era rendered accessible jewellery to the emerging middle class, when it had reserved the privilege to the aristocracy until then. Jewellery was not to be reserved for evening use exclusively, instead, expensive jewellery such as diamonds was worn for the evening.
Multiple use jewellery was a trend, where a brooch could double as a pendant, or earrings called day and night earrings could be disassembled into two pieces and combined together again to create a drop earring for the evening.
During the day, one could also wear jewellery set with emeralds, rubies, topaz and various glass overlays and pastes that made jewellery more accessible and creative.
The invention of metals such as pinchbeck and Berlin iron echoed vividly the current society economy. For instance, Berlin iron, with its beautiful matte black finish, was created as a reward for the population’s war effort. Indeed, wars were partly funded with the precious materials melted from the people’s jewellery - they would give it towards the war and would be given back a replica of their item made from Berlin iron, often engraved with German words standing for “I gave gold for iron”.
A popular design, the cameo, remained a favourite until the Victorian era, and saw the use of amber, ivory, pearls and coral increase drastically. Colored foils were all widely used to improve the brilliance and the reflectivity of gemstones, especially less valuable ones.
Georgian Jewellery: Motifs and Influences
Bows, ribbons, leaves, feathers and foliage were a common sight in jewellery of that time.
Although nature-inspired patterns were all the rage all throughout the Georgian era, a definite evolution in shapes and delicacy can be witnessed as years passed. An early Georgian style would still be greatly influenced by a heavy Baroque style, large, lace-like, symmetric and intricate.
On the other hand, around 1750, the Rococo movement inked the jewellery styles with delicate, open and asymmetrical designs that were the total opposite of the Baroque that had boasted such bold designs up till that time.
Georgian jewellery featuring Greak and Roman motifs, called Neo-Classical Georgian, was created in the 1760s during the excavation of Pompeii’s ruins and is highly sought after even today. However, it is also rare to come across as many pieces were handcrafted and were lost, damaged, molten or remounted in time.
Napoleon also greatly influenced Georgian jewellery styles as he brought in motifs of pyramids and papyrus leaves after his Egyptian campaign. All throughout the century, Georgian jewellery was equally marked by human figures, such as eyes, hearts and hands, and Memento Mori jewellery - “Remember you will die” was a common sight traditionally ordered by women for their family.
It is always interesting to see how influential our environment is when it comes to jewellery, fashion and more generally societal trends. Thanks to the length of the period, Georgian jewellery morphed into many different styles and is split into earlier and later Georgian movements, much like the Victorian era, building a foundation for jewellery as we know it today.
Georgian Jewellery: The birth of modern jewellery
Without a doubt, the innovation showcased by Georgian jewellers paved the way to our modern jewellery, combining the established elegance of diamond and gold with newly introduced gems such as emeralds or topaz.
The rural exodus triggered by the industrial revolution and various wars increased the standard of life of many in Europe and in the USA, allowing them access to fashion and culture until then reserved to the aristocracy.
In keeping up with rising demand, and to offer jewellery despite low stocks of expensive materials such as gold, Georgian jewellery not only created new materials but new ways of thinking jewellery, a fun, colorful way that defined jewellery in our modern era and that we, at Carus Jewellery, are proud to present to you.