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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.

 

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Quince Paste: Sweatmeat to Kings

The quince, when ripe resembles a firm, yellow pear. With an aroma reminiscent of roses and apples, this is one of the oddest of period fruits. Containing perhaps the highest pectin count of any tree fruit, it’s tart flesh lends itself beautifully to jams, jellies and “cheeses”, recipes which benefit from the addition of large amounts of sugar.

A botanical illustration by Franz Eugen Köhler, Köhler’s Medizinal-Pflanzen

Originally, Quince Preserves were shipped to England from the Mediterranean, Spain, France, Portugal and points south. It wasn’t until the sixteenth century that records of their being grown natively exist. Many Medieval texts hold recipes for jellies, and fruit pastes made from the Quince. These were called chardequince or chardewarden, where the fruit was often mixed with pears for a pleasing flavor.

A delftware charger with a selection of white and red quince “marmalades” (paste candies) as they were made in early Stuart England, showing both printed and knotted varieties.

According to Historicfood.com, “Other names were cotoniack, quiddany and diasetonia. The last was a term used by the London apothecaries, who prescribed these sweet pastes and jellies for helping the digestion. This was the reason why quince pastes were served after the meal during the banquet course. In 1629, John Parkinson, the Covent Garden based herbarist to James I, wrote:

“There is no fruit growing in this Land that is of so many excellent uses as this, serving as well to make many dishes of meate for the table, as for banquets, and much more for the Physicall vertues”.

White and red quince pastes were both popular, the latter sometimes being coloured with barberry juice or cochineal. Quinces were also considered to be an aphrodisiac – probably the reason why seventeenth century London prostitutes were known as marmalade madams.

The following recipes are from a Mr. Borella, confectioner to the Spanish Ambassador to the English Court in the mid 18th century.

Quince Paste
Let your quinces be full ripe, boil them till they are quite tender, drain and sift them as usual; reduce the marmalade (on the fire) to a paste-consistence, stirring continually, accord­ing to the quantity of quince-marmalade; refine a pound of sugar to three quarters of quinces; mix them together on a very flow fire without boiling, put it into what form you please directly, and dry as usual.

Red Quince Paste
To make the paste of a fine red, bake the quinces in the oven a long while, then peel and sift them in a strong hair-sieve; dry the marmalade over a slow fire a little while, to about half the consistency of a paste then to redden it the more, keep it a good while on a slow ashes-fire, stirring some time; and to add to this redness, put a little steeped cochineal, and reduce it on a flow fire, to a thick paste; that is, when it loosens from the Pan; put as much sugar as marmalade, or paste, soak it a little while on the fire and let it cool, just enough to work it well with the hands, and finish directly as usual.
From Borella, The Court and Country Confectioner (London: 1770)

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