It is not always possible to date antique jewellery if the piece has not been hallmarked. and, of course, there is reproduction antique jewellery to deal with. But there are some pieces that are clearly of a particular era. I thought I would talk about a few of these and discuss what makes them so recognisable.
The first pieces I wanted to look at are from the Georgian era, that is, that period from the 1714 to 1837. This is a very long period, loosely covering the reigns of George I, II, III and IV, and including in that era are the years from 1830 to 1837 when William IV was King. The Georgian period saw massive change, starting with the industrial revolution, the French Revolution, the loss of the American colonies, the settlement of Australia as a penal colony, and the Napoleonic wars. It was a period of almost constant warfare. During this time, clothing and jewellery styles changed considerably. Most of the jewellery that is available to us now comes from the later part of the Georgian era.
There are a number of items of Georgian jewellery items which could be discussed, including girandole earrings, fobs, lace pins, cut steel and pinchbeck items but I have narrowed it down to three pieces – a chain, a bracelet, and a mourning ring.
The first piece of jewellery is a gold chain with a pendant attached. You can see the characteristic links of a Georgian chain here. It might appear to be heavy and quite chunky, but it is extremely light. This was because gold was scarce, particularly after the Napoleonic Wars. Jewellers attempted to produce pieces that used as little gold as possible whilst also looking impressive. They are also hand made. This chain chain has three rows of links, two plain and the middle one textured, with the backs being fattened. The use of pink topaz is also typical of the last half of the era. Jewelry was designed to have the greatest effect for the least cost so gemstones such as amethysts, citrines, topazes and aquamarines, mainly of Brazilian origin, were used, mounted in light yellow gold settings. The backs of the pieces were usually closed.
The second piece is a beautiful bracelet which has elaborate cannetille work on the front and clasp with gold swirls and flowers. Cannetille work became popular in England around 1790 and in France after 1815. It was very labour intensive, involving very fine gold wires being wound into tight coils and scrolls, and bead granulation. The stones are chalcedony. The band is a fine woven gold mesh, very typical of the era. Often these bracelets were made as pairs. Similar bracelets made of pinchbeck can be found.
The final piece that I want to discuss is a mourning ring. Mourning rings from the Georgian era vary quite a lot. Some have sepia paintings, others have gemstone borders with hair centres. One style, though, was very simple and plain. From around 1780 to 1810, rings with wide ‘cigar-shape’ bands were produced, often made in rose-gold. Cigar band rings have wide shoulders next to the bezel, and then narrows slightly to form the band. The central bezel is round, oval or rectangular. It is curved to fit the shape of the finger. There is a central compartment for hair, then either a plain gold border, or one with enamel or pearls.
So there you have the three Georgian pieces.