The Georgian period stretches over more than 100 years and covers the reigns of George I, II, III and IV. It was a period of much change - agriculture was revolutionised, sumptuary laws which controlled dress according to social class were gone, and transport networks across Britain improved rapidly.
Ladies were no longer tied to the home - they visited friends, travelled and they were well read in literature, art and politics. Fashionable balls, dances and soirees were the order of the day, and newly discovered diamonds from Brazil cut by more modern methods sparkled wonderfully in the candlelight. Georgian life (for the more wealthy, of course) could best be described as outdoor pursuits in the day and an elegant salon life at night.
The most desirable gemstone of Georgian day jewellery was garnet. These were often flat cut, foiled and arranged in naturalistic floral designs, in the popular Maltese cross motif or faceted like rose cut diamonds and set in rivière necklaces. Other popular day jewels were paste, agate, coral, pearls, turquoise, carnelian, ivory and amber. Coloured gemstone or paste rings were worn, often on every finger, along with gold chains and pairs of bracelets.
At night diamond rivière necklaces along with coloured precious, semi-precious and paste pieces (pictured) were popular. Closed back settings were used throughout most of the eighteenth century. Formal jewellery was very often made in parures - boxed matching jewels such as necklace, earrings and a brooch. For the very wealthy, parures with as many as sixteen matching pieces were worn including hair and dress ornaments, bracelets and so on.
The grandiole was the most desirable earring style for night wear and consisted of a central bow shaped ornament from which there were suspended three pear shaped pendants. Harlequin jewels were also popular, and this was the fashion for combining dissimilar but complimentary coloured stones in jewellery. Harlequin jewels were often foiled and may even be set with pastes. Paste is one of the great joys of Georgian jewellery; since the care and workmanship that went into the finest pieces make them highly collectable and valuable today.
Despite such an incredible love of their jewels, there's surprisingly little left from the 18th century in its original form. Gemstones were removed and metals melted down in later years, to turn the piece into something more in keeping with the fashion of the day. The French revolution (1789-1799) is partly responsible for the destruction of so much jewellery, since jewels conflicted with the ideals of the new regime.
Mourning rings are perhaps the most plentiful survivors from the era - these were given by all who could afford them by provision in their will. Samuel Pepys, for example, left 123 rings on this death in 1703. This important mourning jewellery tradition would carry on into the 19th century, and it is here that we move onto Victorian jewellery.