Various styles were propagated throughout the period. Named “Georgian” after the four English kings, George I- George IV, who reigned during the peak of the British Empire and global influence on the aesthetics and customs of its colonies. Three main styles dominated the period, architectural trends set the course for jewelry and decorative art styles at the time. During George I reign from 1714 to 1727 Rococo, an off shot of the elaborate decorative ornamentation of Baroque architecture and design, was the prevailing style. This gave way to Gothic Revival which took its inspiration from surviving medieval structures and having a decidedly structural and rigid appearance. Neoclassical began in the latter half of the 18th century as a reaction against the sharp, overly ornamented styles of the previous two movements. Harking back to the Classical Western artistic canon, a return to purity was sought emulating the idealized images of beauty and clean fluid lines of Ancient Greece and Rome.
Georgian jewelry was handmade, the pieces show slight irregularities, and the stone cuts may appear cruder than later examples. Surviving examples of Georgian jewelry is rare, much of the original designs were melted down and the stones and metal reused when the piece was deemed too “old-fashioned.” Common themes and design elements of Georgian jewelry include; the Crowned Heart Design usually found on rings and intended as a love token, closed back designs in stone set pieces, Cannetille comprised of tightly wound gold wirework, stylized floral motifs, and Sevigne bow brooches. Wealthy nobility of both sexes wore multiple jeweled objects on a daily basis including jeweled buttons, pocket watches, chains, fobs, and shoe buckles. Ladies often wore full parures, a set of matching necklace, earrings, bracelet, ring and tiara.
In the early phases of Georgian jewelry production, demand for intricate and elaborate designs in gold and diamonds was high. However, due to supply shortages and constant threat of theft by highwaymen, alternatives were created. “Pinchbeck” named after its inventor, was a reasonable substitute for gold, and the look of diamonds was reproduced using paste, rock crystal, marcasite, and cut steel to imitate the color and shine of diamonds. While the reproductions stones were of such high quality, nobility and even royalty became accustomed to wearing imitation stones along with the real thing. Diamond cutters created innovative new cuts for the stones, including the rose cut, cushion, and ‘brilliants’. In the 1750’s colored stones became fashionable again, the classic emeralds, rubies, sapphires were incorporated into jewelry pieces along with new stones such as white imperial-pink topaz, amethyst, chrysoberyl, coral, ivory, pearls, and garnets.
The excavation of Pompeii and its wealth of Ancient Roman architecture and art sparked the Neoclassical trend, manifesting itself in all aspects of life from architecture, philosophy, and literature down to jewelry and clothing. Carved jewelry in imitation of the archeological finds was reproduced in lava, shell, onyx, and carnelian. Women wore jeweled pieces in their hair, high up on their arms, sometimes even adorning their calves, or toes. Dresses also replicated the draped styles of ancient Rome and stomachers, large brooches meant to cover a gown from a low cut neckline to the waist or just above, were common. A fad for cameos erupted after Napoleon’s wife Josephine had antique Roman cameo’s placed on his coronation crown in 1804.
During this period memorial jewelry became popular as a way of remembering loved ones taken by the innumerable diseases, accidents, and violence of the time. This custom became widespread throughout the later Victorian era when overcrowding in the cities lead to very high mortality rates. In a more light hearted custom, miniatures were also a common custom. During the reign of George III it became popular for men to have tiny portraits of their brides to be painted and hidden inside a locket for safe keeping during long periods apart.