Friday, September 10, 2010

Gold and Gems, Paste and Pinchbeck--
The Beauty of Regency Jewelry

I love jewelry--my family will attest to the fact. Rings, earrings, pins, and necklaces of all sorts--I could deck myself like a Christmas tree every day and be perfectly happy. In my life, unlike my Regency heroines, I have to show restraint and so I like to look at Regency jewels and relish their beauty.

As fashions turned to classical simplicity in the early 1800s so too did the jewelry worn with them. The heavy silks and brocades of the 18th century were suited to massive jewels, stomachers, brooches and parures. The light muslins and softly draped silks of the Regency lent themselves to delicate necklaces, chains, lockets, and pendant earrings. Bracelets suited the new fashions, armlets were worn above gloves on the bare upper arm revealed by evening gowns, and tiaras transformed into classical diadems.

While goldsmiths and gem dealers made objects of great beauty and individuality (charming sapphires and diamonds above), the industrial revolution was encouraging machine made jewelry and materials like pinchbeck (a form of brass) and delicate Berlin ironwork were becoming popular. Semiprecious stones rivalled diamonds in popularity, and paste (glass) jewels and jet were often chosen to ornament the neoclassical designs.

Pearls were always fashionable and particularly suitable for very young ladies, the white variety symbolizing innocence and purity. Pearls were also a popular daytime jewel, when sparkling stones were not appropriate. 

Descriptions of fashions in the Repository of the Arts from Rudolph Ackermann have a fund of information to offer about Regency jewelry. Pearls and jet often appear in the illustrations. An evening dress from 1818 is accompanied by "Earrings, armlets, necklace and cross composed of jet."  Another describes, "Necklace, earrings and bracelets of emerald and dead gold." I have not yet discovered the appearance of gold in this form but presumably it was not highly burnished. Earrings of the late Regency are variously described as "large, and of the Chinese bell-shape", "a la Flamande" (a long narrow pendant), and "pagoda".

  Medallion necklaces were particularly popular. The medallions might be pendant or integrated within the chain base, and could be cameos, stones, finely painted plaques, or pierced metalwork.

Likewise, beads were highly fashionable. Many materials lent themselves to beading--coral, jet, and hardstones such as agate and jade. Strings of beads might be interspersed with pearls, or precious metal beads as in the highly decorative strand below.      
I have seen some beautiful pieces of Regency jewelry on the BBC Antiques Roadshow, and the Sotheby's auction rooms website. I only wish I owned some along with my more modest pieces!

'Til next time,


For more information on Regency jewelry, please visit the websites below:

November's Autumn Blog

Suite 101

The Three Graces Fine Jewelry


Anonymous said...

Lovely post Lesley-Anne!
Thank you for the link. :)

Lesley-Anne McLeod said...

You're welcome! Your blog is so informative--lots of information for those interested in Regency jewelry. Thank you!