Our Pages

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Diamonds are a girl’s best friend

but so too were garnet, tortoise shell, and pearl during the Georgian Era. These examples below, courtesy of The Three Graces http://www.georgianjewelry.com/ are excellent examples from the late 18th and early 19th Century.
Can you tell the difference between diamond and paste? I’ve never tried with real gems, but I’ve read about it often enough to think I would have a hard time of it. Paste jewels are made by careful design and craftsmanship of glass. They were not seen as inferior jewels made to copy real ones and unlike diamonds could be cut into any shape or size required. Below are two pieces. One diamond - one paste. But which one is which? Can you tell? I'll add the answer into my comments later in the day.


As with anything, over time the cut of gemstones changed. The simple flat cut (see garnet pendant at top) of the 16th and 17th Century evolved into beautiful rose cut styles (see flower brooch above right).

Of course, every perfect stone requires the perfect setting. The closed setting of the 17th century – where the entire underside of the gem was enclosed, became the box setting of 18th Century. A narrow band of metal, or collet (right), enclosed the stone. The setting was either then closed or left open, depending on the quality of the stone. Foiling, adding a sliver of foil under the gem in a closed setting, brightened and intensified the colors considerably, even bringing a poorly cut gem into brilliance. These days the collet and closed settings have been supplanted by the claw (my engagement ring) and millegrained settings.

The high shine of cut steel jewelry was achieved from the unlikely source of horseshoe nails of 18th century England (yes, you read that right). Time consuming and difficult to make, cut steel jewelry was made by the use of steel studs set into a backing plate (by screws or rivets). Most commonly the studs were facetted but other shapes, such as crescents, vesica and frustra were also used. Cut steel jewelry became a lucrative industry in the mid 1700’s in Oxfordshire and as demand increased manufacturing of cut steel buttons and jewelry was thriving at Birminingham by late 1700’s. Quite honestly, if I had a choice between cut steel and diamonds I might be tempted to go with cut steel. The pieces can be truly gorgeous.

Of course, there are many other styles of jewelry that I haven’t covered yet. Indeed, I've found the most breathtaking parure's (boxed sets)  that I might die just to have. But death and love are the subject of my next blog. I hope you come back and see. In the mean time, take care.

All photos courtesy of The Three Graces www.georgianjewelry.com
A truly beautiful location for rare and antique jewelry.


  1. Wow, Heather. You've really delved into jewelry of the time. And it is GORGEOUS! Thanks for sharing it with us.

  2. Heather, what beautiful jewelry!! You find the most amazing things. ;)

  3. Beautiful references for us. Thanks! :) I'm going to take a wild guess and choose the cross as the real thing. Can't wait to see the answer.

  4. Funny, Samantha, my guess was the opposite.

  5. Sparkle Sparkle Sparkle Sparkle Sparkle! I love it! Wonderful post, Heather, and NO, I cannot tell the difference. Looking forward to seeing which are which :)

  6. All right - time to put you out of suspense.

    Diamonds to the right - paste to the left!

    Lydia - great guess!

  7. No way! The paste are so much sparklier! I'm all about the paste!

  8. I guess the true test would be when you held them up to the light. But both are beautiful! An interesting and helpful blog, thanks.

  9. These are all lovely - no clue which is real and which isn't. I have to agree with you: I love the cut steel! Never seen it before, and it really is beautiful.
    Wonderful post, Heather!

  10. Heather,
    Thanks for sharing such interesting things about jewelery,
    The cut steel is amazing,

  11. Very interesting post Heather.
    The beauty of these pieces reminded me, just last week a lady showed me a beautiful late 19th century scorpion broach that she bought at a boot sale for $20. She took it to get appraised and was told the stones were pink Garnets and diamonds. (I thought Rose quartz) It is valued at $6 000.
    Good find huh.
    Thanks for the useful info on jewelry.

  12. Great post Heather. And had I not seen the answer I would have guessed right as well. Old diamons tend to be less bright, so that's what I was looking at.
    Looking forward to your next blog. Sounds very interesting.
    Tam :)

  13. oh, wonderful post, Heather. I have to say that my ex-husband is a highly reknowned Jeweler where we live and does customized jewelry for large companies like Jared's, Kay's and several others. So I was able to chose correctly. We owned our own jewelry repair business at one point and we had diamonds in the shop and all over our house. So I've seen quite a few in my time.

    Diamonds are made from carbon, the word is greek which means invincible. The best way to tell which is real or not is this: Diamonds have small imperfections (small little black spots in them if you look through a jeweler's loupe) any other material will not have these. The better the diamond the fewer the imperfections. My grandmother's ring which she made into a necklace pendant is a rare diamond with very few imperfections. My ex said it was the only damn near perfect diamond he's ever seen. I had to quit wearing it though as the setting was aging and the diamond was about to fall out. So it's tucked safely away in my jewelry box.

    Even the untrained eye can spot some of these imperfections in a diamond and many of today's diamonds can be seen with the naked eye (no loupe required.) Just thought I'd share. =)