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Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Everything old is new again

Like almost every woman I know, I’m fond of the shiny stuff. Be it a gorgeous outfit, pretty new book cover or decadent chocolate dessert, if I see something pretty I just seem to feel better. Today, I’m talking about jewelry and particularly pieces made during the Georgian Period.

During the reigns of the British Kings George I, II, III, and IV (1714 – 1830) social change, wars, trends, and the increasingly affluent and expanding middle class, ensure that there was plenty of demand for British and Continental workmanship. However, since every piece was handmade, the quality often varied. Today, its rare to stumble upon jewelry from the Georgian era as much has been was taken apart and refitted to reflect later trends.

Depending on wealth and social status, a Georgian woman’s basic daytime jewelry might consist of a necklace, perhaps of agate or coral, or a gold chain or chains. Rings were delicate, perhaps worn on every finger, with gemstones of amethyst, garnet, opaline glass, amber, and often set with diamonds too.

And if you believe earring styles have changed over the last 300 years you’d be wrong. Single drop earrings, hinged gold hoops and even wear-it-three-ways styles bear a striking resemblance to the styles found in shops today.

Long gold chains are very distinctive of the Georgian era. The pattern of the links revel stamped dots, stripes or circles which explains why they would have taken weeks to make. In France, chains of the period tended to be flat, gold links of different shapes and sizes, often combining with cameos or plaques at symmetrical points to create a truly dramatic piece.

Cameos are known to have been collected since the 4th Century and have waxed and waned in popularity ever since. Carved into hardstones of agate, onyx, malachite or lapis, they use the naturally occurring bands of color to bring the central motif to light. Less detailed carved shell cameos were lighter and less expensive to make and often featured mythological subjects such as cupid and Psyche, rather than the more detailed hardstone carvings.

Berlin Iron Jewelry is the most surprising feature of the Georgian period. The company can be traced to 1804, but instead of gold and jewels, cast iron was shaped into very fine, detailed lacy jewelry and lacquered black to prevent rust from forming. Berlin iron was made by molding shapes in wax, impressing these shapes in fine sand and then filling with molten iron.

Production reached its peak between 1813 and 1815 when the Prussian Royal Family encouraged its citizens to contribute their gold and silver jewelry towards funding the uprising against Napoleon during the war of liberation. Prior to this period, iron jewelry was worn during mourning, but they quickly became a symbol of patriotism, especially evident in pieces engraved with “I gave gold for iron” or featuring the portrait of Frederick William III of Prussia.

As with everything, there is a great deal more I could say on the subject of fine jewels. In fact, I think I’ll continue this theme over the next few months with a further look into evening jewels, mourning jewels, and love tokens for both men and women. Take care.


  1. This is a fascinating post, Heather. I'm particularly intrigued by the Berlin iron jewelry. I'm going to have to do some more research on that, myself.

  2. I know, the Berlin Iron was a complete surprise to me. At the beginning I didn't quite believe it belonged in the era at all. More good stuff to come too.

  3. Absolutely fascinating Heather. I've never seen anything like the Berlin iron jewelry before but its gorgeous. I'm really looking forward to seeing more on this. Thanks for posting.

  4. Great post, Heather! I love the iron jewelry. I have a plastic necklace that harkens to that style. I love it!

  5. I would totally wear the iron bracelet. Great post. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  6. That first line cracked me up, Heather :) It's nice to know some things never change, don't you think? I bet if those Georgian ladies were around today, they'd be lining up to see SITC 2, too - lol! Great post, very interesting :)


  7. Love the post, Heather. And I now SO want an iron bracelet. ;)