Georgian jewellery is very light as the gold used was hammered, by hand initially and then by rolling mill, very thinly. The period also saw increased use of diamonds and coloured gemstones as the mines were opened up in Brazil and availability increased. Diamonds cuts became more sophisticated as technology improved. High quality paste jewellery was produced as was jewellery made from non-gold metals, particularly imitants like pinchbeck. The back of jewellery was usually enclosed and foiling of gems was common.
There was a considerable variety of rings worn in the 18th century.was Rococo style rings were fashionable from 1730 to 1760. They were asymmetric, moving away from the formulas of the three drop girandoles and the pendeloque bow and drop. The Rococo style was best illustrated by the popular Giardinetti or ‘little garden’ rings. They were comprised of little bunches or vases of flowers made up of small gemstones and glass. They were fairly light rings and the survival rate has been low. Neoclassicism was popular by 1770 and rings that were long ovals or rectangles of enamel with borders and a middle decorated with a classical motif or geometric pattern. Often diamonds, paste or pearls were used.
Sentimental rings were popular. Those in the shape of a heart, with or without clasped hands, were still common, versions of the Fede, the Gimmel and the Claddagh rings. Acrostic jewellery, spelling out words like ‘dearest, regard and adore’ in gems were shared between lovers. The French ‘Toi et Moi’ (You and Me) ring which comprised two stones set in a ring next to each other without touching each other achieved prominence when Napoleon gave one to Josephine in 1796. Other sentimental rings had handpainted miniatures set in a ring with a pearl surround.
The wearing of memorial rings and mourning rings were a part of every day life. Memento mori (Remember you must die) rings acknowledged the inevitability of dying. Imagery such as skulls, coffins and crossbones were included in enamel on the outside of rings with an inscription such as ‘hope of an eternal life’ (but in Latin) inscribed inside. Gradually these memento mori rings became mourning rings but with inscriptions such as ‘For thee I morne as one forlorne’.
Between 1720 and 1765, during the Rococo period, rings changed from a single enameled gold band to having a narrow enamel band, slightly scrolled and often with a central stone, under which hair might be encased or memento mori imagery.
Around 1765, the Neo-classicism style saw the central bezels become larger, with more prominent hair compartments. The bezels also became flatter and were often surrounded by seed pearls, black garnets or turquoise.
Towards the end of the century, the bezels changed shaped and became navette shaped, ovals with pointed ends. These navettes contained the sepia miniature paintings, full of imagery, such as a weeping female mourner, an urn on a plinth, a ship, an anchor, a broken branch, and/or a weeping willow. Sometimes, the plinth would have an inscription with the details of the person being mourned.
Part II will be posted next week.