Georgian Period

Because the Victorian era and the jewelry it produced grew out of and yet also stood in contrast and reaction to the tastes and fashions of the long era that just preceded it, the Georgian era deserves mention in a discussion of Victorian personal adornment.

Georgian jewelry production began during the years Great Britain was being ruled by the four Georges, thus the term 'Georgian'. The Georgian period encompassed most of the eighteenth century into the first part of the nineteenth, through the upheavals of colonial populations, the development of a British identity and the revolutions in France.

These were times in which the solid stability of the aristocracy was threatened by the dissolution of fortunes and the departure of sons and daughters to make new ones in foreign lands not to mention the attacks on the nobility taking place just across the channel and the influence of Napolean and the wars.

Among other impacts, the inheritance tax structure from the pre-Georgian years acted progressively with each passage to the next generation to distribute more and more of the wealth stored up in palatial homes and art collections to the crown The merchant with his money made in speculation and trade was rising to challenge the right of the nobly born to run everything to their taste. However
this rising class, self made, wealthy and often well educated desired the patina of the aristocracy as much as they challenged it. Many hoped to marry sons and daughters into the nobility in order to belong at least through marriage to noble houses and to see their children addressed as Lady or Sir or even Lord and these sons and daughters with commoner forebears brought liquid wealth through marriage into these families and saved many ancestral homes. They
also influenced the style and tastes of the aristocracy of which they became part.

Many Georgian Britons from both the noble houses as well as the merchants and many of the not yet wealthy left England and went to the Bahamas, the Americas, India and Australia to transplant much of British class sensibility and culture to these places but with money as the great class divider instead of birth.

Georgian Jewelry DesignInto the first quarter of the nineteenth century. jewelry of the Georgian period was conservative, entirely handmade and consequently individualistic in design. It was heavy and in the late period tended to be ostentatious. There had long been rules as to how and where wealth was to be displayed. The time of day, marital
status, wealth or degree of nobility and age all constrained a person’s choice of clothing and jewelry. The wealthy merchant class could and did display their wealth through personal adornment in disregard of these “rules”. This personal adornment in all of its variety is referred to broadly as jewelry.

Both men and women of this period draped themselves in heavy and richly jeweled chains, rings, shoe buckles and hair ornaments, brooches and buttons. Gemstones and precious metal were sewn into and onto the clothing in a display that some aristocratic British termed “vulgar” and “common”. Outside of London society, in the colonies such as America, they could wear it as they chose without such criticism. American women who had not grown up with all the rules and training in the decorum of personal adornment so dearly held by the British upper classes were often criticized for their lack of good taste and breeding because of the way they dressed and adorned their persons. The quality and design of the jewelry varied owing to the demand of the people at the time. Jewelry worn as an outward sign of wealth and worth did not always reflect good taste and design.

Jewelry settings were designed to display the flash and color of gemstones. They incorporated the rose cut diamonds and precious stones, both cabochon with deep smooth surfaces and the early forms of faceting which increased the showy effects of gemstones and of glass as well. The motif of this period especially in the late Georgian consisted greatly of inspirations from nature, including flowers, leaflets, insects, birds, feathers and ribbons. Due to the relative value of the precious metals and gemstones the same care and attention to detail would also be used to produce look alike items of glass and sometimes lesser metals that could be safely worn to show off the family jewels while the real item reposed safely in the family vault to be passed down as part of the next generation’s inheritance.

By the middle of the nineteenth century, glass was being made that contained enough minerals to make it hard and very refractive. The newer glass could withstand faceting and was produced in bright jewel colors, reds and blues and even clear glass and it had enough sparkle to closely resemble the real thing. Lesser quality stones could be artificially enhanced to look like their more valuable cousins and they also began to appear set into very convincing or even the actual precious metal fittings. . Because the glass or poorer quality stone was often glued into place sometimes with colored glues to enhance the color the jewelry was often referred to as ”paste”. Unscrupulous jewelers or a gentleman needing quick money might substitute paste for a jewel or two in an heirloom set with no one the wiser until the piece was evaluated or broken up for new pieces. The stage is now set for the emergence of a new period which would embrace the innovations of the one generation and reshape them for the tastes and realities of the next.