We often take chains used in jewellery for granted and don’t look to closely at them but they can tell us a lot about the era when they were made. Chains have been crafted for centuries, starting as simple ring chains and then developing into more ornate chains once soldering was invented over 5000 years ago.
I am concentrating on the later part of the Georgian necklace here, also loosely described as the Regency period, up until the beginning of Victoria’s reign. The chains of this period are unmistakable because, although they might appear to be heavy and quite chunky, they are extremely light. Gold was scarce, particularly after the Napoleonic Wars, so jewellers attempted to produce pieces that used as little gold as possible whilst also looking impressive. They are also hand made.
Women wore chains of all lengths. A variety of links were used, including belcher, curb, fetter, cable and Venetian. The long chains were usually about 83 to 115 cms long. Some were often guard chains used to attach a watch, lorgnette or seal. The shorter chains were about 36 to 46 cms. Chains worn on their own were usually belcher links made up of textured chunky rings which were stamped out of thin gold sheets decorated with tiny geometric patterns on a matt background.
The clasps are usually barrel shaped or bobbin shaped, some set with gems. Another typical clasp used was shaped like a hand, sometimes wearing a gem set ring.
Another example of a Georgian chain has three rows of links, two plain and the middle one textured, with the back being fattened.
Other chains were very thin and were used in festoon style necklaces with cameos or plaques containing pietra dura pictures, for rivière necklaces or in drop earrings.
Chains began to increase in weight after the Regency period due to new gold discoveries. Gold deposits were found around the world, including in the USA in 1848, in Australia in 1851, in South Africa in 1886 and in the Yukon and Klondike in Canada in the mid to late 1880s. These discoveries were to have a big impact on all jewellery manufacturing.