The Major Jewelry Motifs of the Georgian Era

There were many popular motifs during the Georgian era (1714-1837) , many of which were traditional from prior to the Georgian era and also continued to be popular through subsequent eras and are still worn today. However, there were certain jewelry motifs during the Georgian era which were particularly recurring. It may be that I have missed one or more, in which case I will be returning to this post to update. Also, as I find representative pictures for more of the common motifs, I will add them.

Here are some of the major motifs:

CRESCENTS AND STAR-BURSTS

With the new interest in astronomy, these cosmic themed motifs became popular.

An early 19th century diamond locket brooch

An early 19th century diamond locket brooch
Of old brilliant-cut diamond starburst design, the central locket compartment enclosing a later fishing fly, circa 1820  Christie’s Sale 5642

NATURALISTIC

(included flowers, acorns, wheat, birds, fruit, leaves and feathers)

Naturalistic jewellery, decorated with realistic flowers, fruit, leaves, plants or feathers, appeared in the early 19th century along with the ‘Romantic’ movement. Particular meaning was often attached to specific plants.

A Georgian topaz brooch

A Georgian topaz flower brooch (note the ribbon)
 circa 1820,
Christie’s Sale 5383
Jewels at South Kensington
7 October 2008

Brooch

Paris, France c. 1820-1840
V&A Museum
The brooch has rose, forget-me-not, oakleaf and acorn motifs. The rose motif presumably symbolises love while the oak would represent strength and longevity. These and the forget-me-nots may relate to the strand of hair in a locket in the back and it is possible that the brooch was intended as a wedding gift. The brooch is in the tradition of European romantic jewellery of the first half of the nineteenth century.

BOWS AND GARLANDS AND RIBBONS AND SCROLLS AND ‘GIRANDOLE’

Bows, garlands, ribbons and scrolls were a regularly repeated motif.
This example below with the three drop gems is called a ‘girandole’
which was very popular in the Georgian era.
Bodice ornament and pair of earrings

Girandole bow bodice ornament and pair of earrings set with topazes,backed with foil, and sapphires. All the stones are set in gold.
Circa 1760, France
V&A Museum

MOURNING / MEMENTO MORI

There is a great deal of surviving mourning jewelry from the era.  Many of the motifs were urns, Neo-classical plinths and obelisks, weeping willows, angels, cherubs, names and dates of the dead and portraits of the dead.  Often these motifs were incorporated into locks and medallions.  Hair work was often incorporated in a variety of forms. ‘Memento Mori’ means ‘remember you will die’ in Latin and people of the era would wear skulls and coffins to remind themselves.

Bracelet

c. 1775-1800
V&A England
Gold set with seed pearls, watercolour on ivory and hair

LOVE TOKENS

Motifs used in love tokens included cupids, doves, the ‘altar of love’, butterflies, romantic messages, initials and names.

Also the ‘crowned heart’ was popular, signifying a lover’s rule over the heart.

Necklace

V& A Italy
Date:
ca. 1810-20 (made)
Shell and gold bracelet with cupids, doves and the altar of love

Necklace

France, ca. 1810
Butterfly bracelet, gold set with hardstone mosaic panels
V&A museum

Pendant

Brooch with bow and dove motif
Portugal ca. 1750
Pastes (glass) set in silver openwork
V&A Museum

CROSSES / RELIGIOUS

Necklace

Gold, Turquoise and diamond cross ca. 1830 England, Britain
V&A Museum

ACROSTIC – THE LANGUAGE OF STONES

Sentimental message were also conveyed using the initial letter of each stone in the design. This is referred to as ‘acrostic’. This particular pendant below has the stones of Lapis Lazuli, glass in imitation of Opal, Vermeil ( the old name for garnet ) and Emerald which spell LOVE.

Pendant

V&A Museum  England, Britain
Date: ca. 1830
Materials and Techniques:
Gold with lapis lazuli, glass in imitation of opal, garnet, emerald and gold

GIARDINETTI (‘Little Garden’)

‘Giardinetti’ (from the Italian, meaning ‘little garden’) was another popular theme. A giardinetti piece had tiny flowers arranged in a vase, pot or basket, usually made from precious stones. Also stylized flowers without vases or pots or baskets were often seen.

Ring


England,
c. 1730-60
Materials and Techniques:
Gold and silver set with rubies and diamonds
V&A Museum

NEO-CLASSICAL

Popular neo-classical motifs included arrows, quivers, lyres, Greek keys, laurel leaves, eagles, Greek arches, the phoenix and scenes and characters from Roman and Greek mythology

A Pair of Georgian Lyre Earrings

A Pair of Georgian Lyre Earrings
Silver topped gold earrings in a delicate design in the shape of a lyra and laurel branch, set with silver tone seed pearls and small turquoise cabochons
http://www.aspireauctions.com/auction302/37879.html

HANDS

Hands, singular or clasped, were another recurring motif.

The hand motif has long symbolized a multitude of things, including affection, loyalty, solidarity, family and love.

Ring

Europe
c. 1800-50
Gold gimmel fede ring with three pivoted hoops, joined by a small pin. V&A Museum

SNAKES

Symbolizing eternal love

Ring


England
c. 1800-30
Gold ring set with rubies
This ring may once have been owned by George IV (1762-1830). He may be wearing it in a portrait by Sir Thomas Lawrence in the Wallace Collection (559).
V&A Museum

LOVERS’ EYE AND MINIATURES

Popular from the late 1700s, Lovers’ eyes were miniatures, normally watercolour on ivory.  They depicted the eye or eyes of a loved one or family member. They were worn as bracelets, brooches, pendants or rings. Miniature portraits were also popular. Miniature portraits were often worn as brooches or  inside lockets.

Eye miniature00.jpg

File:George Engleheart - Portrait of Unknown Woman - circa 1780 - Victoria & Albert Museum.jpg

George Engleheart – Portrait of Unknown Woman – circa 1780 – Victoria & Albert Museum

ARCHAEOLOGICAL REVIVAL

An archaeological revival gold head ornament, by Castellani

Archaeological revival gold head ornament, by Castellani
Christie’s Sale 6968

Between the years of 1800 to 1889, there were a number of important archaeological findings which greatly influenced jewelry design. These included Egyptian, Etruscan, Greek (Hellenistic) and Roman.

Sources / further reading: (please also look at my list of sources you will find in the drop down menu at the top of this page)

http://gemgossip.wordpress.com/jewelry-history/

http://www.collectorsweekly.com/costume-jewelry/egyptian

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Engleheart

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eye_miniature

http://www.webring.org/l/rd?ring=hairworkwebring2;id=3;url=http%3A%2F%2Fsentimentaljewelry.blogspot.de%2F2006%2F06%2Feye-miniatures.html

http://www.langantiques.com/university/index.php/Girandole

http://www.langantiques.com/university/index.php/Crescent

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