Georgian jewelry is that made from 1714 to 1830, during the reigns of English Kings George I-IV. The Victorian period, the reign of Queen Victoria, began in 1837 and ended in 1901. There are many significant trends in these periods, but perhaps the most popular are faceted gemstones, engraved goldwork, French influence, and imitation jewelry.
During the reign of King George I (1714-27), the opulent French rococo asymmetrical style was predominant in all fields of art. There was no distinctly British style of jewelry, unlike the Victorian period. The jewelry during this early Georgian period consisted almost entirely of designs of nature; flowers, leaves, insects, birds, feathers and ribbons, all with a fine sense of color, form and design, delicate and light in appearance. Valuable stones were more important than the metals, and therefore, the jewelry consisted almost entirely of simple designs encrusted with gems. The most popular motifs for diamond jewelry were baskets of flowers, sprays of foliage, and curving feather plumes.
During the early- to mid-Georgian period, highwaymen made the roads unsafe for the wealthy to travel. As a result, the small but prosperous middle class developed the need for secondary, imitation jewelry. Paste or rhinestones were substituted for diamonds and pinchbeck for gold. The imitation jewelry, however, was of equal craftsmanship and design to jewelry with genuine gemstones and precious metals.
In France, jewelry became more austere and dignified during the last quarter of the eighteenth century as a result of a classical art influence. It was not in vogue for the French to display their wealth, and the imitation gemstones and substitutes for precious metals were popular. Lesser-known gemstones, such as agate, came into fashion. Cabochon-cut gemstones were the rage. When the French political system collapsed with the Revolution, the apprenticeship system for the arts declined and the high standard of craftsmanship was forsaken.
With the beginning of the nineteenth century the pave style of setting gemstones reached a height of popularity not to be exceeded until the 1930's. In the pave style, gems are set close together, low down, and held by small turned over beads, almost as if they were a paved road. With the popularity of pave mountings, diamond jewelry developed a major revival during the first quarter of the nineteenth century.
The Georgian period ended in 1830, and Victoria ascended to the Throne in 1837. Victoria was fond of jewelry and wore it profusely. Her personal influence dominated the development of many styles unique to the period. France had been the leader in jewelry design in Georgian times, but during Victoria’s reign Britain became a major center of jewelry production. Mechanical mass production processes were developed, such as the stamping-out of gold settings by 1835. In contrast to the Georgian jewelers’ delicate use of colored stones, and an aesthetically pleasing and lighthearted approach to jewelry, the Victorian jewelry was heavy-handed with an over-exuberant use of colored stones. If any two words can be characteristic of a period, quantity and variety would stand for the nineteenth century. The Industrial Revolution created a growing middle class, and the successful businessmen, to display their newfound wealth, loaded their wives with jewels.
During the Early Victorian or Romantic Period, 1830-60, the jewelry was imaginative, delicate, and reflected a nostalgia for the Middle Ages. Gold was plentiful, especially because of the 1849 California Gold Rush.
In the Mid-Victorian or Grand Period, from 1860 to 1885, the jewelry became bolder in design as women began to work and gained the right to keep the money they earned. Jewelry continued to be plentiful. With the growing use of electric light, diamonds began to displace colored gemstones for evening wear.
A greater sense of social responsibility and an even more liberated woman emerged during the Late Victorian or Aesthetic Period, 1885-1901. The universities opened education to women, and women began to question the wearing of jewelry. The lesser gemstones became popular - Peridot, Alexandrite, Tourmaline, Garnet, and Opals. With the opening of the South African diamond mines and the expanded American tourist trade, large solitaire diamond rings became popular.
The Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau movements, a result of the revolt against tradition, emerged in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. The Art Nouveau period created a revolutionary style of jewelry. It is characterized by female heads with long flowing hair, delicate enamels, sweeping flowers, and soft-colored stones. The Art Nouveau period ended the nineteenth century in a flourish of originality.