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The Choker Necklace

This supposed drawing of the Austen family shows Mrs. Austen wearing a fashionable black ribbon choker.

Chokers (necklaces that sit tight to the throat) have been popular throughout history– from Anne Boleyn’s famous “B”, to Empress Sisi’s simple black ribbon. Today they can be found made of anything from hemp to diamonds.

choker necklace
Georgian Aquamarine & Diamond Garland Choker

During Jane Austen’s lifetime, chokers were worn in many forms, from this vintage Georgian aquamarine and diamond creation, tied on with ribbon, to strands of pearls, to a simple ribbon tied about the neck. During the French Revolution, female French expatriots used to wear a thin red ribbon choker as a silent testament to their own narrow escape and in memory of their many friends and family members who were not as lucky. Soon all of London wanted to wear the red ribbon, beginning one of the first times in history when a ribbon has been used as a gesture of solidarity and sympathy with a class of victims.

Ribbon chokers might also be accented by a jeweled slide or cameo pin.

choker necklace
Georgian society women had a penchant for black ribbon chokers. Left: Young Georgiana with her Mother, Georgiana, Countess Spencer (1761) Right: Actress Sarah Siddons, 1785.

Here are a few images of chokers throughout history, from Anne Boleyn (1507-1536), to Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1744–1818) to Queen Victoria (1819–1901) and Mary of Teck (1867–1953) who preferred the style with ropes of pearls.

choker necklace
Chokers have been a popular choice for Britain’s queens.

 

Laura Boyle is an avid Regency enthusiast. Find more fashion information or purchase your own choker necklace from her shop, Austentation: Regency Accessories

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Changing Tastes in Georgian Jewelry

Georgian jewelry was made between 1714 and 1830 during the reigns of the four English kings named George. Varying styles of jewelry were produced during this period.

The styles moved from Rococo during George the first’s reign through Gothic revival and Neoclassical (hearkening back to the Greek and Roman empires). Neoclassical styles reached their height during Napoleon’s reign. Neoclassical was all the rage in both England and France. Napoleon funded extensive excavations at Pompeii creating a vogue for the Neoclassical as more Roman houses and artifacts
were revealed.

All Georgian Jewelry was handmade. This was a period of discovery and innovation. Glass paste copies of real gems were developed as well as a substitute for gold called “pinchbeck” named after its inventor. The early Georgian fashion called for the use of large stones set in an elaborate rococo style.

Cameos, intaglios, mosaic, acorns, the Greek key, Urns, Doves, Phoenix, Wheat, and plumage were all popular Georgian motifs.


Men wore more jewelry in those days than is the custom presently. Miniatures, tiny portraits of a loved one, were already popular. A man’s locket with a secret became a fad during the reign of George III. The first ‘lover’s eye’ locket miniature may have been commissioned by Mrs. Fitzherbert for the Prince of Wales after their secret marriage in 1785. These lockets contained a painting of the eye area and a wisp of hair drooping across the forehead. This miniature was both intimate and anonymous.

Large jewelry in the form of bracelets, index finger rings, girandole earrings, memorabilia jewelry, crosses, hair combs, buckles, aigrettes, and tiaras were favored in Georgian
times. Dog collars or chokers as we call them today were popular in the period 1770 to 1790.

A wreath tiara similar to this one was purchased for Princess Charlotte’s wedding. Parliament granted the Princess the sum of 10,000 pounds for jewelry at her marriage in 1816. She purchased “a most superb wreath of brilliants, forming rosebuds with their leaves, a diamond fastener for her manteau, a diamond cestus, ear-rings, and an armlet of great
value, with a superb set of pearls from Rundell, Bridge & Co.”

At the beginning of the Georgian period diamonds were used to the almost total exclusion of other stones. To meet the increased demand for white stones in the first half of the 18th century, paste, rock crystal, marcasite, and cut steel were employed with increasing sophistication.

Originally, rhinestones were rock crystals gathered from the river Rhine. The availability was greatly increased when around 1775 the Alsatian jeweller Georg Friedrich Strass had the idea to imitate diamonds by coating the lower side of glass with metal powder. Hence, rhinestones are called Strass in many European languages. Strass is known as the creator of the best and most long lasting paste jewelry. Most paste and rhinestones are simply leaded glass made in colors and cuts that mimic gemstones. Because leaded glass has such a nice luster it gives a look similar to a gemstone, particularly at a distance.

Paste diamond imitations made it possible to make inexpensive copies of the real thing to guard against theft by highwaymen. Diamond alternatives were soon produced with such quality that it was entirely respectable for even royalty to wear them.

At this time diamond cutters were introducing exciting new types of gem cuts such as rose cut, cushion, and ‘brilliants’. In the 1750’s colored stones came back into vogue. Then emeralds, rubies, and sapphires were worn again along with new stones like white-imperial-pink topazes, amethyst, chartreuse chrysoberyl, coral, ivory, pearls, and garnets.

Lava, shell, onyx, and carnelian became popular with the introduction of carved classically themed jewelry. This Neoclassical style began with the discovery and excavation of Pompeii in the mid 1700s. Finds there greatly influenced fashion, architecture, interior design, and philosophy and literature. Cameos became very popular after Napoleon had antique Roman cameos placed on his coronation crown for his 1804 coronation.

Bezels, foilbacked stones, low flat goldwork, and cobalt blue and black and white enameling are common features of Georgian jewelry. Georgian pieces can sometimes be detected by the way the stones are mounted. Unlike the open work favored today for gem stones, Georgian gems were often set over gold or silver foil with their backs enclosed with metal as rhinestones generally are today. In more recent jewelry foil backing always indicates a fake stone.

Gold with high karat content was preferred. However, Berlin iron made in that city from 1806 was popular during the Napoleonic Wars as a show of patriotism. Pinchbeck a cheap replacement for gold was used for faux pieces.


Given the uncertainty of life and the state of medicine in those days, it is no surprise that memorial jewelry was common. However, it was not yet such a major force as memorial or hair jewelry was to become by Victorian times when the overcrowding of cities, poor sanitation practices, and plagues would take a terrible toll on families. The strands of hair in this pendant are believed to be Jane Austen’s, taken by her sister Cassandra just before her coffin was closed in 1817.


Reprinted with permission Sharon Wagoner, Curator of The Georgian Index. Visit this site for a historical
tour through Regency London!

Additional information from Wikipedia

“Charles has been buying gold chains & Topaze crosses for us…” – Jane Austen

complete any outfit with this beautiful Topaz cross

  • Inspired by the necklace that Charles Austen gave his sisters in 1801.
  • 18K white gold plated pendant and chain.
  • 5x8mm Yellow Topaz stones with a 4mm White Topaz centre stone.
  • Pendant measures 32 mm x 23 mm
  • Chain measures 47cm / 18″.
  • Comes in a delightful gift bag.
  • The finishing touch to your Jane Austen costume.