The Late Georgian period includes the reigns of the four English kings named George. It was an era of opulence and self indulgence in fashion, design and luxury, as exemplified by Catherine The Great's coronation gown with its 75 yard train and her crown with more than 2,500 diamonds and pearls. This period in history was rife with social and political upheaval; the American Revolution, the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars were all fought in this era, with Napoleon crowning himself Emperor of France in 1804.

A classical revival ocurred during Napoleon's First Empire, with dramatic results to fashions of the day. The styles moved from Rococo during George the first's reign through Gothic and Neoclassical. Ancient Greece and it's motifs were highly favored in the late 1700's and early 1800's. Jeweled bands were worn in the hair, high on the arm, and sometimes on calves, thighs, and toes. The tight bodices, full skirts and ruffled lace collars of the late eighteenth century were replaced by delicate draped dresses in soft fabrics, cut low at the bosom and high at the waist, with short puffed sleeves. These styles often included splits up the sides to the knee or thigh and were worn with bare legs or flesh colored tights and sandals. Jewelry styles changed similarly; the large, heavy pieces which were so common were discarded in favor of smaller, more delicate designs, often with draped chains and classical motifs.

Upswept hair became the vogue, accented by long earrings. A single drop, or the 3 drop “chandelier” style were common. Short necklaces complemented the low necklines of the times. Popular styles included “rivieres”, a row of diamonds or gemstones graduated in size; and cameos and mosaics in the “en esclavage” style of several plaques with two or three rows of draped chain between each. Diamond-set bows, floral sprays and feathers were favored motifs for brooches. “Cannetille” work was popular, made up of tightly wound gold wirework.

All Georgian jewelry was handmade, and the styles and types of jewelry produced showed tremendous innovation. Stomachers were large brooches which covered a gown from the low cut neckline to the waist or just above. “Chatelaines” were worn at the waist, incorporating work implements suspended by chains. These might sewing implements such as scissors as well as decorative fobs. Chatalaines were worn up until the beginning of the 1920's.

In the early part of the Georgian period diamonds were used almost exclusively. To meet the increasing demand for white stones in the first half of the 18th century, paste, rock crystal, marcasite, and cut steel were used with increasing sophistication. Paste was a technique in which a special glass was cut and faceted and backed with foil to imitate the sparkle of diamonds. Cut steel jewelry consisted of faceted rosettes of polished steel set in intricate designs. Diamond alternatives were soon being produced with such quality that it was considered respectable even for royalty to wear them. At this time diamonds themselves were being cut in new styles as well; as rose cut, cushion, and “brilliants”. In faux pieces, gold was replaced by an alloy of copper and zinc called “pinchbeck” which was named after its inventor.

In the 1750's the use of colored gem stones was revived. Emeralds, rubies, and sapphires were in vogue, and were worn along with new stones such as amethyst, chartreuse, coral, ivory, pearls, garnets, and white-imperial-pink topazes. As carved classical themed jewelry became popular, the use of lava, shell, onyx, and carnelian became widespread.

Social and political changes were also reflected in jewelry fashions. The war in early nineteenth century Germany brought forth a whole new style of jewelry. Citizens were encouraged to donate their gold jewelry to the war effort, and in return they received lacy black cast-iron replicas of their pieces. The style caught on, and was manufactured through the middle of the century. At the time of the French Revolution, morbid motifs came into vogue such the brief fad of wearing a thin, red ribbon tight around the throat to simulate a guillotine victim. In other revolution jewelry, pieces of stone from the Bastille prison were used.

Memorial Jewelry, which incorporated a loved one's lock of hair under glass also became popular during this time. These “mourning jewelry” pieces often featured inscriptions, garnets, seed pearls, black enamel and onyx. Also worn were miniature painted portraits of loved ones in pendants, brooches and bracelets. "Eye Miniatures," a highly personal form often identifiable only to their wearers became very popular.

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Site last updated November 4, 2006 Shirl A. Steward

  Barbara Rosen Antique & Estate Jewelry