Foiled Gemstones

Hair Ornament/Brooch
Enameled Gold, Garnets, Foiled Rock Crystals, Pearls
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Foiling is a way of using tinted and silvered copper sheets to enhance the back of gemstones.  The gemstone jewelry of the early Georgian era prior to 1800, was typified by it’s use of foiling. Even though the Georgians had already developed the open back mounting for gems, it was very rarely used until 1800 when à jour settings started to become popular. (À jour literally means in French ‘to the day’ and is loved because it allows the light to shine through a stone.)  As we have developed the mathematics and the technology to properly cut and mount gemstones, foiling gemstones has become a redundant art-form. Although used in other eras, foiled gemstones have come to be seen as a signature element in early Georgian jewelry and is one of the signs to look for when evaluating the age of a piece.

Bodice ornament

England. c. 1760
Bodice ornament, rock crystals and paste (glass) with foiled settings in silver.
V&A Museum

Foiling gems produces a more intense, rich color and enables diamonds to twinkle in the candlelight; before the advent of electric lighting this was particularly desirable.  Foiling acts as a light reflector.  Quality gemstones were in less abundant supply in times past; foiling was an excellent way of transforming less than high quality stones into more desirable ones and also for matching stones as the foiling was also a coloring agent.  It was also a way of creating a stronger, more noticeable look, suitable for aristocracy and officials.   Foiling does tend to tarnish with time so unfortunately we rarely see the original full beauty of very old foiled gemstone jewelry unless it has been restored. 


England, c. 1830
Gold with grainti decoration, set with a green paste, garnets and green foiled aquamarines
V&A Museum

Other materials apart from metal sheets were also used to foil the back of gemstones.  These included: peacock feathers, butterfly wings, colored silk thread and engraved metallic foils. Glass and paste glass could also be foiled.

Pendant - Cupid the Earth Upholder

Scotland, 1902
Gold and enamel pendant with foiled glass, Anna Traquair
V&A Museum


Earrings, gold set with pierced pearls and foiled garnets
Italy c. 1820-1880
V&A Museum

“The possibility of temporarily masking the color of yellow diamonds has, in recent years, frequently led to fraud,” Max Bauer. c. 1890.

Unfortunately, less honest jewelers did often use foils to fool consumers into believing that gemstones were something they were not.  For example, a green tinted foil back could be used to make a peridot a deeper shade of green and convince the purchaser that it was an emerald. It is for this reason that nowadays foiling gemstones is generally considered fraudulent unless there is disclosure. The 1974 edition of Shipley’s dictionary of gems and gemology writes that foiling came in three categories, and the last two of these were fraudulent.  These were: genuine foil backs in order to improve the performance of a gemstone; false foil backs in order to give a different color to a gemstone so to mimic another and imitation foil backs which were the same as a false foil back, but applied to glass. By 1920, the art of foiling had completely gone out of favor because of the association with fraud.  Nowadays, there are just a few specialists who use the art for restoration work.

What I find interesting about this is how attitudes have really changed; the contemporary mind cares about the objective value of a gemstone whereas in days gone by the apparent beauty of the stone was all that really mattered.  This really comes down to the ‘purpose’ behind jewelry; in the Georgian era jewelry was often very much about displays of grandeur and wealth. In other words, all about external appearances.  In the modern era, we very much like to know that something is not a fake, even if it appears exactly the same, we are concerned with truth and objective value. With this in mind, other ways of treating gemstones to be aware of include ‘tinting’ (this was when color was applied to the setting or directly to the gemstone), ‘waxing’, which increases transparency, ‘mirroring’, which involves putting a colorless mineral in the bezel which then acts a reflector and ‘coating’, which involves using similar substances to those used for optical lenses.  ‘Coating’, is against the law unless there is full disclosure and is yet another thing for gemologists to be wary of.

Sources / further reading:

The popular jewelry motifs of the Georgian era were wonderful and varied; please look at my post ‘The Major Motifs of the Georgian Era’ to learn more.


This is a humorful cartoon from Punch magazine, 1849.  Chateline’s were not really used for children!

During Georgian and Victorian times, Chatelaines were considered an essential part of a married woman’s or head housekeeper’s outfit.  Since the medieval era, ladies who managed households very often wore one.  They were only known as chatelaines after 1830, before that they were known as an  ‘equipage’.

19th century ladies wearing ‘chatelaines’.
1787 print from ‘Le Magain’.  This lady is wearing two chatelaines.

Essentially, chatelaines were a decorative metal belt accessory which was worn at the waist, usually hung from a chain, from which household tools and practical items were hung.  These items, called accessoires, nearly always included keys and could also be such things as a watch, household seal, a scent bottle, a coin purse, a pencil, a locket, a notebook, a pair of scissors, a pincushion, thimble or a sewing needle and thread etc. These accessoires were held in containers called nécessaires or, sometimes, étui.


Vienna, c 1760
Gold, enamel Chateline
V&A Museum

ChatelaineVienna, c. 1760

Gold, enamel chatelaines

V&A Museum


c 1850, London.
Cut steel Chatelaine
V&A Museum

The chatelaine signified the lady’s status as manager of the household and signaled to the servants, if there were any, who was in charge. The word ‘chatelaine’ literally means in French ‘mistress of the castle’.  But it wasn’t always women who wore then, men did also, with appropriately masculine tools such as knifes and watches attached. Chatelaines could be made from gold, pinchbeck, silver or silver plate, gilt, copper, stamped metal or cut-steel.  Some could be very elaborate with much cannetille, applique and repouse work.  Mid 18th century models were often ornately embossed with Rococo scroll work.  Sometimes,  they had mother of pearl or agate panels. Enameled chatelaines, like this one, were less common.


England, 1765-1775
Chatelaine with painted enamel on copper, with gilt-metal mounts and attachments
V&A Museum

Their role as either ornament or for practical use changed with the years. Towards the late Victorian era they were often worn more for decorative reasons or were even adapted for evening wear, with a place to keep dance cards and a fan.  They were even considered a normal part of ‘formal’ wear.  The general trend throughout the Victorian era was for chatelaines to become smaller.  The Art Journal reported the following in 1883: ‘…the long and inconvenient châtelaine, with it’s noisy toys, has shrunk to the dimensions of a watch-chain and swivel, worn at the lady’s waist so as to show outside her dress…’ Chatelaines were still worn as late as the Edwardian era.  However,  they became to be seen as increasingly old-fashioned and cumbersome until their use finally died out altogether.


c.1875, England
Chatelaine, Iron embossed and chased
V&A Museum
You can already see the move towards a smaller style

What I find interesting about the chatelaine is how an item that was once so ubiquitous and so much part of the culture could be all but entirely forgotten in the modern day.  If someone from the Georgian or Victorian era knew that the chatelaine was no longer worn, it would almost be as strange to them as if we traveled into the future and found that the bracelet was no longer worn.  It seems as though the decline of the chatelaine is tied in with the movement towards a more youthful and less responsible culture as well as a more streamlined silhouette. Perhaps the desire to be respected, to be seen as a ‘matron’ and someone in charge of a household was replaced with the desire to be seen as carefree, unencumbered and young.  Regardless of the genuine reasons for the end of the chatelaine, they are still fascinating historic and artistic objects that are considered very collectible.


London, c. 1755-1756
Chatelaine, gold cast embossed and chased.
V&A Museum

19th century advertisement for chatelaines.

Here is some 18th century verse about Chatelaines by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu:

Behold this equipage by MATHERS wrought
With fifty guineas (a great pen’orth!) bought!
See on the tooth-pick MARS and CUPID strive,
And both the struggling figures seem to liue.
Upon the bottom see the Queen’s bright face;
A myrtle foliage round the thimble case;
JOVE, JOVE himself does on the scissars shine,
The metal and the workmanship divine

In 1938, there was a brief attempt to bring back the Chatelaine as a brooch.
Sources / further reading:

The Language of Stones

Gem set ‘regard’ brooch, Early 19th century

Sotheby’s Lot 76, The Jewelry Collection of the Late Michael Wellby

Another lovely trend in the Georgian and Victorian eras was ‘acrostic’ jewelry. Acrostic jewelry was a beautifully subtle and poetic way of sending a sentimental message by way of the first letter of each stone, the first letter of which spelled out a word. Acrostic jewelry was a product of an era in love with poetry, when word play, coded messages and subtle verbal games fascinated the populace.

The simple yet intelligent designs of acrostic jewelry captured the imagination and made wonderful gifts for friends and lovers. Acrostic rings were particularly popular items and ‘Regards’ rings were even given as engagement rings during the Victorian era.  During the Georgian years, padlocks with keys or hearts were often worn as pendants or brooches.

Acrostic jewelry is believed to have first been invented in Paris in the 1809 by Jean-Baptiste Mellerio (1765-1850), jeweler to the French aristocracy. The fashion soon took off also in England and America but remained especially popular in France.  It is said that fashionable French women even wore particular stones whose beginning letters corresponded to the names of the weeks. Empress Marie Louise had three acrostic bracelets made by the jewelers Chaumet with messages of love between herself and Napoleon.

It’s important, when you come across a piece of antique jewelry with an arrangement of colored stones, to question whether there is a message being conveyed by way of the names of the stones.  Sometimes, this might be quite difficult to interpret, especially if the piece comes from a non-English speaking country, so this is definitely something to be aware of. Also, certain stones have changed their names; for example the word for garnet used to be ‘vermeil’.

A few of the popular acrostic messages in jewelry were:


Diamond. Emerald. Amethyst or  Aquamarine.  Ruby.


Diamond. Emerald. Amethyst or  Aquamarine.  Ruby. Emerald. Sapphire. Tourmaline.


Ruby. Emerald. Garnet. Amethyst. Diamond.

(The word ‘regards’ had a much deeper and more passionate meaning in times past than we ascribe to it today.)

Seed pearl and Gem set ‘regard’ brooch/ pendant, Early 19th Century
Sotheby’s Lot 74 The Jewelry Collection of the Late Michael Wellby

Je t’aime

Jet, Emerald, Topaz, Amethyst, Iolite, Malachite, Emerald.


Fluorite. Ruby. Indicolite. Emerald. Nephrite. Diamond.


Lapis Luzuli. Opal. Vermeil. Emerald.


England, c. 1830
Pendant, gold with lapis lazuli, glass in imitation of opal, garnet, emerald and gold.
Here, the pendant has the stones of Lapis Lazuli, glass in imitation of Opal, Vermeil ( the old name for garnet ) and Emerald which spell LOVE.
V&A Museum


Amethyst. Diamond. Opal. Ruby. Emerald.

Sources / resources:,_Duchess_of_Parma


Pinchbeck was invented in by Christopher Pinchbeck around 1720 and was guarded as a family secret for many years, although there were many copies. It is a type of brass made from copper and zinc to resemble gold.  It is lighter in weight than gold and stays unoxidized for a very long time.

Pinchbeck’s great benefit was that it brought a gold colored metal to ordinary people.  It was also good for those concerned about theft, particularly when riding on stagecoaches; the wealthy often liked to leave their real gold at home and bring along Pinchbeck replicas.


Christie’s Sale 7800


Pinchbeck Chatelaine c.1730-1735
V&A Museum

Many pieces throughout the 18th and 19th century are made from Pinchbeck, particularly chatelaines but also a wide range of other jewelry and watches. Pinchbeck was eventually replaced by 9 carat gold in 1854 and electro-gilding in 1840.

Pinchbeck typically comprises copper and zinc in ratios between 89% Cu, 11% Zn; and 93% Cu, 7% Zn.

Today, Pinchbeck is considered quite rare and collectible. It has a distinctive look which you can learn to recognize once you have handled a few Pinchbeck pieces.

Pinchbeck and enamel watch c. 1740
Sotheby’s No8848

A related metal is Bath Metal which is like Pinchbeck but has a higher zinc content (approx 45%)  It was developed also in the 18th century.  It has a white color. It was, however, not used frequently in jewelry.

Sources / Resources:

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:


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


(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


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, 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


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.


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


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.


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


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


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



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


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.


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.


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


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, singular or clasped, were another recurring motif.

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


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


Symbolizing eternal love


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


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


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);id=3;


Cannetille is considered to be related to filigree or to be a kind of filigree.  It differs from filigree in as much as cannetille is three dimensional and filigree is flat.  Specifically, cannetille is created with curled, twisted, spiraled, scrolled, beehived or coiled wire.  It can also have tendrils and repoussé (places of raised metal). Like filigree, it can either have a backing or be open work. Cannetille is usually gold, although not necessarily.

Cannetille appeared to emerge in England and France in the 1820s and continue in popularity into the 1830s. Some say it was inspired by the Portuguese, others by India, others say it appeared to emerge independently in France, then spread to England.  Regardless of origin, cannetille flourished in the period of peace and artistic expression after the Napoleonic wars. The word ‘cannetille’ is also used to describe a type of French embroidery method which has a similar appearance and technique and is created using gold thread. It appears that this is where cannetille jewelry might well have found its inspiration.

File:French - Cannetille Ware Bracelet - Walters 572332.jpg

French Cannetille Ware Bracelet, circa 1830 – 1839, Walters Art Museum

After the Napoleonic wars gold was very expensive and in short supply. Cannetille jewelry could be created to give the appearance of a much larger piece using less metal. The styles of cannetille jewelry seemed to be nostalgic and reminiscent of many European folk styles which are still made and worn today.  By the 1820s and 1830s cannetille jewelry was being worn all over Europe, reaching a height in 1830. Brooches and parures were the most popular.  When bracelets were worn, they would be worn one on each wrist, as had been the style for centuries.

Starting in 1830, Castellini of Rome led an Etruscan and Greek revival in the world of jewelry.  Many revival pieces also incorporated cannetille.

Greek revival hair ornament with cameo and cannetille. Apollo on his chariot. circa 1830.

An early 19th century portrait miniature and gold bracelet

Christie’s Sale 5414, The Sunday Sale, 28 September 2008, London, South Kensington
An early 19th century portrait miniature and gold bracelet
The central oval painted ivory portrait miniature depicting a young girl, to a three colour gold border with flowerhead and cannetille detail and mesh bracelet with cannetille terminals, circa 1830

Cannetille is very time consuming to create and requires great patience from the jeweler.  Of course, all Georgian jewelry was made entirely by hand.  There are two main methods for creating cannetille: Thread cannetille and plate cannetille.  Thread cannetille is when the piece is made entirely from gold threads and has other decorative elements soldered on to it.  Thread cannetille is particularly lightweight.  Plate cannetille is made from a thin plate, usually open work,  and then has decorative elements soldered on to it. Larger pieces tend to be made from plate cannetille.


Pair of gold and gem set pendent earrings, Circa 1825, composite – Photo Sotheby’s
 Fine cannetille work with circular-cut and pear-shaped foiled back garnets and cabochon turquoises.

Cannetille in the Georgian era was often set with gems such as pink topaz, citrine, chyrsoberyl, garnet, turquoise aquamarine, amethyst, glass and paste. Glass and paste were considered just as high status as gems and would be set along side them even on the most expensive pieces. Gems in the Georgian era were foiled.

A late 19th century Etruscan revival necklace
Christie’s Sale 5641, Jewels at South Kensington, 14 April 2010, London, South Kensington
Late 19th century Cannetille Etruscan Revival Necklace
Citrine and gold cannetille brooch, c.1820-1830.  V&A Museum. Previously belonging to Jane Morris, wife of William Morris.


Cannetille continued into the Victorian era although dwindling in popularity by the end of the mid-Victorian era.  Even though there are some cannetille Art Deco pieces, cannetille never returned to the popularity it experienced in the Georgian era. There are some very convincing cannetille reproductions masquerading as much older than they are so caution is advised when purchasing.  In the Victorian era, cannetille style jewelry was sometimes made in molds by the English; if you exam it very closely with or without a loupe you can generally see that it is made all from one piece of cast metal rather than many fine soldered pieces.  Mold made pieces are obviously not as valuable although they can still be desirable.

Sources / further reading:

Castellani and Giuliano: Revivalist Jewellers of the Nineteenth Century. Exhibition catalogue. London: Wartski, 1984.