Jewellery in the early nineteenth century, despite the Industrial Revolution and rapid mechanisation of Britain, largely focused on the styles of the past. Jewellers attempted to revive old techniques in order to recreate designs from antiquity. Classical motifs became particularly popular during the early years of the nineteenth century, looking back to the 'glories' of Ancient Greece and Rome.
Whilst this information might not be surprising, you might not have known that Georgian jewellery predates the practice of hallmarking. As such, it is often difficult to ascertain exactly what materials in what quantities have been used in pieces of Georgian jewellery. Silver was the most commonly used metal to craft pieces of jewellery, although 18ct gold was sometimes used for particularly fine and expensive pieces. Pinchbeck was a metal that was invented in the early eighteenth century and made by combining zinc and copper. Pinchbeck was often used to make cheap pieces of jewellery in the Georgian period, although it fell out of use by 1854 when low carat gold was legalised.
As the quote from Fanny Austen-Knight suggests, the Georgian period saw an increase the use of gems in jewellery and the adornment of clothes. Pearl, garnet and different coloured topaz all became popular, making jewellery much more colourful than before. Jane's topaz cross quickly springs to mind, using faceted amber topaz to make a truly delightful piece. The use of precious stones other than diamonds made jewellery more affordable for the burgeoning middle class, and crosses like Jane's became more and more popular. Matching sets also grew in popularity as a way of showing your wealth and esteem, able to afford not just one precious stone but many.
I love Georgian and Victorian jewellery – so much nicer than most of the modern styles, and there is always the wish that the items could speak – I wonder what tales some of them could tell us! Jewellery is so very personal, and can give you clues about the personality of the wearer.
I often wonder what ‘old-fashioned jewels’ of her mother’s Elinor took to the jewellers in London (in ‘Sense and Sensibility’) and what was the outcome of her negotiations with the jeweller, I wonder? This ws on the never to be forgotten occasion when she discovered that she was in the company of the very superior Mr Robert Ferrars, but he was far too busy concentrating on the design of his new gold and pearl toothpick case to give her much of his notice!