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

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

The Eras of Jewelry Defined

Although there is some disagreement about precise dates and categories, these seem to be the most agreed upon definitions of the historical periods of antique and vintage fine and collectible jewelry  in the English speaking world.  Often these periods overlap and of course changes in styles can often be more nuanced and gradual than these categorizations might suggest.  However, for the practical purpose of understanding the history of antique jewelry, these are the best definitions as I see them.  I have also given an approximate overview of some of the basic characteristics of each period which I will be adding to over time, so if you find this useful as a reference please do keep checking back in.

Georgian Jewelry (1714-1837)

A GEORGIAN DIAMOND AND ENAMEL RING

Christie’s Sale 5388, 13 June 2012, London, King Street
A GEORGIAN DIAMOND AND ENAMEL RING

Some characteristics of Georgian jewelry:  gems set in gold / claw settings for paste / Motifs included bows, flowers, giardinetti, feathers, leaves, arrows, quivers, lyres / cannetille work / types of jewelry included stomachers, aigrettes, girandoles, chatelaines, buckles, buttons, pendeloque earrings, pairs of bracelets, necklaces secured by ribbons, slides and rings, enamel work/ Etruscan revival beginning 1830

Victorian Jewelry (1837 – 1901)

Victorian Jewelry can be further broken down to:

Early Victorian Romantic jewelry 1837-1860

Mid-Victorian Grand jewelry 1861-1880

Late Victorian Aesthetic jewelery 1880-1900

A Victorian coral demi-parure

Christie’s Sale 8127, 16 January 2013, London, South Kensington
A Victorian coral demi-parure

Some characteristics of Victorian jewelry: Gemstones such as diamonds, emeralds, coral, amethyst, garnet, turquoise / Tortoiseshell / Human hair / Sentimental and nostalgic items / Black and dark colored mourning jewelry / Matching sets (parures) / Cameos / pique / Jet / Revival themes that took their  inspiration from ancient cultures (Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Gothic, Renaissance, Assyrian, Etruscan), Canetille continued.

Arts & Crafts Jewelry 1894-1923

AN OPAL PENDANT

Christie’s sale 7634, The London Sale: Jewels, 10 December 2008, London, King Street
Arts & Crafts Opal Pendant

Some Characteristics of Arts & Crafts Jewelry:  Hand-worked / lack of mechanization / natural materials / simple designs / colorful uncut stones / rejection of Industrial Revolution / often silver

Art Nouveau Jewelry 1890 – 1914

Brooch/pendant, carved opal, demantoid garnet, diamonds, 18k yg, platinum, c. 1890, a circ carved opal depicting a sea nymph, rising/setting sun with circ-cut diamond center, and ocean waves, with grad oe diamond border above and demantoid-set yg foliate wreath border surmounted by two stylized fish below, three hidden pendant loops, sgd "Marcus & Co."

Brooch/pendant with carved opal, demantoid garnet, diamonds, 18k yellow gold, and platinum, c. 1890. A carved opal depicting a sea nymph with ocean waves by Marcus & Co.

Some characteristics of Art Nouveau jewelry: Curves / Natural motifs / Mythical creatures such as dragons, mermaids, fairies and sprites / Gems such as pearls, opal, moonstone, aquamarine, tourmaline, rose quartz, chalcedony, chyrsoprase, and amethyst / Enamel /Glass/The female form and face / Long pearl strands / no diamonds

Edwardian or Garland Jewelry 1901-1915

AN EDWARDIAN DIAMOND PENDANT

Christie’s Sale 7853, Jewels – The London Sale, 9 June 2010, London, King Street
EDWARDIAN DIAMOND PENDANT

Some characteristics of Edwardian or Garland Jewelry: More ostentatious display of wealth / diamonds, emeralds and rubies / bow, garland, leaf motifs / intricate detailing / platinum settings

Art Deco Jewelry (1920-1939)

An Art Deco diamond, emerald and onyx ring

Christie’s Sale 6704, 5 September 2012, London, South Kensington
Art Deco diamond, emerald and onyx ring

Some characteristics of Art Deco Jewelry: Bold geometric designs / Vertical lines / Contrasting primary colors / Gemstones included diamonds, black onyx, lapis lazuli, rubies, emeralds, sapphires, jade, torquoise, topaz / Cabochon and carved gemstones / Amber, bakelite, celluloid and enamel work.

Retro or Cocktail Jewelry (1940-1959)

18 karat gold, platinum, ruby and diamond clip brooch by Chaumet, circa 1945.
For more information see here.

Some characters of Retro or Cocktail Jewelry: Motifs included stylized flowers, animals and bows as well as mechanical motifs such as tank treads, padlocks and chains/ Enamel work / Jeweled brooches / Thin sheets of gold created to conserve metal whilst giving an impression of substances / Gemstones were often small and included diamonds, synthetic rubies and light sapphires / Rose gold / bold / inspired by Hollywood / chunky, raised gemstones / synthetic gems / patriotic themes / large and gold / brooches / wide bangles

Modernist Jewelry (1930-1960)

catphoto

Ed Wiener modernist jewelry sterling silver brooch with stone
C. late 1940’s – early 1950’s
Click on image for more information.

Some characteristics of Modernist Jewelry: Rejected the ‘fussiness’, feminine and decorative styles of Art Nouveau / Rejected the rigidity and structure of Art Deco / Inspired by ‘Art’ (sculpture and painting) / Often worked in silver and copper / No concern for value of materials, not used to express wealth / Used found objects / Surreal motifs /Geometric or biomorphic / Masculine / Semi-precious stones such as garnets and opals and unusual stones such as cat’s eye / African and cubist motifs / Primal forms / Unexpected materials such as acrylic and wood / Influenced by Bauhaus, Surrealist and Dadist / Hand-working and one of a kind designs

Sources / further reading:

http://www.collectorsweekly.com/fine-jewelry/modernist

http://www.mschon.com/Modernistjewelry.htm

http://www.trocadero.com/auermaf/

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

http://www.vam.ac.uk/page/a/art-deco/

http://www.antiques-bible.com/retro-jewelry/