Many of the roots of vintage jewellery through the succeeding two centuries can be found in the Georgian era. This was an era of highly skilled craftsman making hand-made pieces for the rich, mainly in 18 and 22 carat gold.
Different jewellery styles were designated for particular times of the day. During the day, women wore necklaces or chains, cameos, small rings, pairs of bracelets and earrings of any length. The chatelaine, a decorative belt hook or clasp at the waist, was a very important piece of daytime jewellery. The hook allowed a series of items to be suspended including pomanders, sewing implements and keys. Many of the items found in a women’s handbag today might instead be suspended from the chatelaine of the stylish Georgian matron.
For the evening, women favoured rose cut diamonds in necklaces known as diamond rivieres (river of light). The diamonds were linked together in graduating size forming a circle. They were so popular that they were also made of paste and coloured stones set in gold, silver and pinchbeck. Pinchbeck is an alloy of copper and zinc invented by Christopher Pinchbeck, a clockmaker around 1720. It looked like gold, but was lighter and cheaper and used extensively in chatelaines, clocks, watches and buckles. Pinchbeck resisted oxidation for a long time, retaining its shiny appearance.
For the fashionable gentleman, perhaps best represented by the famous Beau Brummell whose statue stands in Jermyn Street in London’s Mayfair club land, highly decorative shoe buckles and buttons accessorised their outfits.
New techniques were developed to set the stones in Georgian jewellery. The closed back setting was invented, with the stones backed by tinted sheets of foil to brighten the stone and make them glint in candlelight.
Jewellery was romantic and nostalgic, with portrait miniatures, hair jewellery, silhouettes and eye miniatures given as love tokens or remembrances. Portraits were painted on rings and brooches; woven hair was set into the back of lockets or brooches. A “lovers eye” miniature was a painted eye presented to a loved one, usually with a compartment on the reverse containing a lock of hair. The eye was supposed to be recognisable to the recipient alone and so could be worn in public whilst keeping the lover’s identity secret.
Other material used by the Georgian craftsman included rock crystal, marcasite, vellum (for portraits) and ivory. Paste, made from glass, was used in Georgian jewellery to replicate the real gemstones. The glass was cut to any shape and foiled on the back to add sparkle. Early Georgian paste had a black dot in the middle of the stone to imitate the cut and depth of the diamond. Often paste sets were made to duplicate sets of jewellery for ladies travelling, in case of robbery.
Garnets were also a very popular and affordable stone, often foil backed to enhance their colour. They were used extensively and made into large sets of multifunctional jewellery.
Seed pearls were used in Georgian jewellery sourced from the Persian Gulf, Sri Lanker and the Red Sea. Faux pearls were made of blown glass and coated with fish scales to add lustre.
The Georgian era was one of romance and the jewellery that has survived is often of the highest craftsmanship.