June 24, 2015

Closet Histories no. 4.10: 18th Century Jewelry

Georgian set of Pink Topaz. From the book “Georgian Jewellery 1714-1830”
 Like the ladies of the previous centuries, and those of the future, 18th century women liked their jewelry! I like their jewelry too, collet necklaces, garnet parures, great sparkling stomacher brooches! After a long break from Closet Histories, lets ease back in by admiring some Georgian jewelry!

Georgian ladies wore necklaces, earrings, and brooches, but also shoe buckles, jeweled buttons, and chatelaines! Not always all at once of course, and sometimes for day jewelry was kept understated or none was worn at all. Ladies could also wear silk ribbons as necklaces when they felt real bling would be too showy, or was too far out of their price range. The first real costume jewelry began in the Georgian era, with "paste" aka glass gems set into less precious metals copying the look of finer jewels.

Georgian jewelry was often made in sets called parures, with matching and interchangeable pieces. Whether made of sparkling amethysts, gold and diamonds, or colorless glass, the charm of Georgian jewelry remains.

Germany, 1730-1760, Marcasites, enamel and silver  V&A
 This silver necklace made up of enameled plaques had the option of changing out the plaques for others, giving the owner versatility. The enamels were probably intimidating turquoise which would have been more expensive.

France, 1760, Opaline and colourless pastes set in silver openwork  V&A
 The V&A says of this piece:

        "This necklace would have fitted closely around the neck like a choker. Very sophisticated imitation jewellery was made in Europe in the 18th century, and it was sold by many of the leading jewellers. Before Australian opals became accessible, the opal was a rare stone. Here its shimmering beauty was achieved by setting a pink foil beneath a milky blue glass."

While royalty may have jewelry made of diamonds, lesser mortals made due with glass!
England, 1760-1780, Silver, garnet  V&A
 Stones, whether precious or mundane, were set with a metal foil back to make them sparkle and shine even more.

France, 1740-1750, Opaline, pastes, faceted, set in silver  V&A
England, 1790-1800, 15kt gold and rock crystal  Ruby Lane
 "The name Parure was first applied in the 17th century and referred to a set of three or more matching pieces of jewelry usually reserved for royalty or aristocrats. The old French word Parure means adornment. The height of the popularity of the Parure was between 1760 and 1830, the Neoclassic Period. This set dates to 1790 to 1800. The riviere (necklace) is decorated with 26 glistening pink topaz foil backed rock crystals ranging in size from 5/8" (1.6cm) to 3/8" ( 1 cm) and set in 15kt gold crimped collets. The necklace has a detachable pendant/brooch which has a height of 1 1/2" (3.75cm) has an integrated loop that enables it to be worn separately as a brooch or pendant or together with the drop suspended from the center of the necklace ."

The back of the above parure, showing how the stones are set and backed in gold.

Portugal, 1750-1760, Chrysoberyls and silver  V&A
 This brooch is particularly pretty isn't it? You can really see how the stones are an old cut here, no fancy brilliant cuts in this piece!

18th century brooch, Mounted in silver with coloured foil backs  Christies Auction House
Russia, 1760, Brilliant-cut diamonds set in silver  V&A
 "These two bow brooches are from a set of three. The bows would have been worn together: the largest on the front of the bodice, the smaller bows on the shoulders. It is rare for such magnificent diamond jewellery to survive intact, because succeeding generations tended to melt it down and re-make it in the latest fashion."

Spain, 1750, Gold openwork set with table-cut emeralds  V&A
 "Slide and pendant with table-cut emeralds set in gold openwork. The slide is in the form of a bow with two foliated units below, the lowest being a cross, struck with an unidentified mark"

England, 1760, Rock crystals and paste (glass) with foiled settings in silver  V&A
"This jewel would have decorated the front of a bodice from the neckline to just below the waist. It was known as a stomacher. The faceted rock crystal and glass stones have a foil set behind them to increase their sparkle. They are cut to resemble rose-cut diamonds. Very sophisticated imitation jewellery was made in Europe in the 18th century, and it was sold by many of the leading jewellers."
18th century, Spanish, gold and emerald  1st Dibs Auctions
18th Century, Christies Auctions
 "A pair of late 18th early 19th century green paste earpendants. Of girandole design, the pear shaped paste triple drops to oval single paste surmounts with circular paste accents and bead and foliate detail, in gilt metal mounts with coloured foil backs, later hook fittings"
18th century, Diamonds, Christies Auctions
18th century, miniature and coral brooch pin
 A rather strange trend in late 18th century and early 19th century was for portrait miniatures of isolated bits of ones lovers face! Usually a single eye, but also sometime just the lips, these miniatures seem a bit strange to modern eyes but also quite romantic!

Portrait miniature of Mrs. Russell, 1781 - John Smart (c. 1740 - 1811)
Miniatures were very popular in the 18th century. Worn as jewelry set into in brooches, pendants, bracelets and more! 

18th century,England  V&A
Another popular trend in jewelry was the continuing fashion for mourning jewelry. Whether made with the hair of the deceased, ladies mourning in graveyards, or even with skull motifs, mourning jewelry was popular into the early 20th century. 

One could go on and on diving into the details of 18th century jewelry, but I simply wanted to give you a general idea of the styles popular in the era. I know I would love to own a piece of Georgian jewelry one day!


  1. Oh wow, there are some beautiful things here!!

    I'll be honest that I have a lot to learn about dating brooches, and would really have struggled to date the examples you gave here. I can't really tell the difference between 20th century ones and older ones.


    1. Thanks Porcelina! One way to date brooches like these is by the cut of the stones, though many 1950's pieces emulated earlier 18th century designs, you can see how the stones (or pastes too) were cut very differently in the 18th century versus the factory made rhinestones of the mid-20th century. Perhaps I will do a post on the timeline of brooches through the ages sometime :)

  2. Goodness me, are these pieces utterly breathtaking. I found myself genuinely studying and trying to commit each piece to memory, as I hold onto the hope that one day I might luck out and find a piece of 18th century jewelry in my vintage buying travels and I want to be sure I know what one looks like, if I am presented with it (in so much, I mean, as assuming it wasn't labeled as being a Georgian piece). I haven't found any yet, but I did just list what is my earliest find for the shop so far yesterday: a c. 1840s - 1870s (though it could very well be a bit earlier) hair (mourning/memorial) brooch.

    I've never ever held a piece of 18th century jewelry. I swoon at the mere thought and truly hope that I get to one day.

    Thank you very much for another stellar closet history post. I enjoy them beyond words!

    ♥ Jessica

    1. I would melt from joy if I ever found a piece of 18th century jewelry out in the wild mis-labeled and affordable! I have only seen jewels like these at the V&A, I could ooh and ahh in their jewelry room for hours if left unattended!


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