Today marks the start of a series talking about the different periods in jewelry. We’ve glazed over them with a paragraph dedicated to each in this post. But let’s start breaking them down one by one.
I think it’s always good to start at the beginning. If it was good enough for Maria in the Sound of Music, it’s good enough for me. That said, we’ll start with the Georgian Period and the four Georges. Yes, of course there was jewelry prior to the time we’re discussing today. Folks have been adorning themselves since Adam and Eve and the fig leaves. But here at Katie Callahan & Co., we don’t specialize in the “ancient” jewelry, so it’s probably makes sense to start from our starting point. Which is with the four Georges in about the year 1714.
Georgian Period Jewelry
The period we’re discussing ran generally (there’s some debate around this) from the years 1714 to 1837. As I hope you can guess, that’s longer than the reign of any one monarch, even though typically, at least for a while, the periods were aligned with the ruling class of the time (Georgian, Victorian, Edwardian. . .). In the case of the Georgian Period, there were actually five monarchs on the throne, one after another. Four Georges and a William: George I (r. 1714-1727) – 52nd in line for the throne, George II (r. 1727-1760), George III (r. 1760-1820) – the longest reigning king in English history, George IV (r. 1820-1830) along with William IV (r. 1830-1837). Their joint reign covered most of the 18th century and into the 19th.
There was a lot going on back then. Marie Antoinette met with an ugly ending, Mozart was composing, Napoleon was stomping around, Louis and Clark were stomping around in the “New World”. The Industrial Revolution was revolutionizing just about everything, science was making leaps and bounds into new frontiers and there was this new thing called “rail travel” that was opening up the world to many. All of that was the backdrop for the stunning period in jewelry that we call the Georgian Period.
Yes, it was the British monarchy and its kings that created the parameters around that which we call Georgian jewelry, but ideas, trends and designs were being shared all over Europe and America. Regular folks in Europe were breaking out of long-standing rules around which items of clothing and/or what kinds of jewelry could be worn based on your societal rank or income. During the Georgian Era those regulations were largely laughed off and ignored, making jewelry more available to everyone. Most of the world felt light-hearted and very social and their jewelry reflected the sentiment. Fashion trends of the time were bright and fanciful, even for the men and changing with lightening speed – gaining popularity in one country then moving to another and months later, back again to the first.
Jewelry styles were mostly broken up into day and night pieces. By day, a woman might wear a cameo, small colored stone rings, earrings, a necklace and most notably a châtelaine. Think of the châtelaine as the precursor to the purse. Women’s fashions didn’t lend themselves to carrying hand instrumentation and necessities (a pencil, reading glasses, a key, vinaigrettes, a watch, etc.) but the large belts of the time did lend themselves to holding the necessary items a woman of good fashion would need throughout her day. The châtelaine became possibly the most popular adornment of the day. Even the men got in on the trend. Gemstones used for “daytime” jewelry would have included: Rubies, topaz, emeralds, and garnets were used frequently, along with agate, amber, carnelian, coral, ivory, pearls and turquoise.
But come nighttime, jewelry took a much more elaborate turn. The evenings belonged to diamonds. Rose cut and mine cut would have been prevalent at this time. Some were foil backed to offer up more and brighter sparkle. The diamond rivière (river of light) necklace was born. How better to sparkle in the candlelight than with a strand of diamonds in your décolleté? The style was so popular that it was often replicated with gemstones or paste and has, even to this day, been altered very little.
Also popular were parures (jewelry sets, usually including a necklace, earrings, ring and bracelet), along with gkirandole and later pendeloque style earrings. Brooches, were all the rage, including portrait miniatures, mourning jewelry, at times including braided hair (we talk about this in detail in our post Victorian Mourning Jewelry: Macabre or Just Love?), and “amatory jewels” – pieces to be given to your lover – both legit and on the down-low. Rings were often found with a larger center stone surrounded by smaller stones in a cluster setting and again consisted of rose and mine cut stones. And let’s not forget the hair adornments. There were tiaras, coronets, diadems, bandeaus, combs and hairpins. All most always decorated with gems or cut steal – anything that would catch the light.
But alas styles began to change and there was a very young and stylish queen on the scene. Things didn’t snap from Georgian to Victorian styles overnight. Mourning jewelry, for example, was still incredibly popular during Victoria’s rule. But as with all things that succumb to the change of time, so did Georgian Jewelry. We’ll switch a bit more abruptly and dive into Victorian Jewels on Monday. If you’d like to gobble up even more about the Georgian time period jewelry, there is an amazing (but very pricey) book that will keep you captivated and also hold things down on your coffee table: Georgian Jewellery 1714-1830 by Ginny Reddington.
What’s your favorite type of Georgian jewelry? Tell us in the comments below. We love to hear from you!