Sustainable luxury, centuries of craftsmanship

Sam Mee: The Antique Ring Boutique founder:

My fascination with Georgian grandeur

"When I think of the 18th century, images of unprecedented luxury, decadence and indulgence flood my mind. It's a period that celebrated proportions, grandeur and bold displays of status. My love for collecting mirrors and furniture from this era stems from the unmatched craftsmanship. The theatricality of the age is encapsulated in the jewellery – ostentatious and grand.

"In time, the Georgian era has become a hallmark of British ring design. It birthed jewellery that is a mix of majesty, international influence and nature. Georgian rings were designed to shimmer under candlelight with gemstones like rubies and garnets set in gold and silver. The craftsmanship, adaptability and vibrant gemstones make them a timeless fashion statement.

"When sourcing Georgian pieces, the item's authenticity is vital. Given the number of replicas available – especially those made in the following Victorian era – distinguishing genuine Georgians is a nuanced task. Legitimate Georgian jewellery, with its whimsical patterns and romantic undertones, exudes fairy-tale charm no matter its condition.

"While Georgian rings never go out of fashion, the trends are cyclical – from the rage for pink topaz in 2022 to the current demand for foiled-back gemstones. Collectors want unique or unusual pieces. Georgian tiaras, which have made a fashionable return, are also trendy for weddings. A common query from customers is the care these vintage pieces require, given their sensitivity to water and the need for meticulous maintenance. But every moment spent caring for these beautiful pieces is worth it."

Georgian-era rings: how to buy and what to look for

The Georgian Era is named after the Hanoverian English monarchs who ruled during the 18th and 19th centuries: George I and George II (both pictured, below) and George III and George IV. This time is remembered for growing wealth, wars and rivalries with other world powers, fabulous social engagements, scientific advancements and extravagant styles.

George I and George II

Georgian-era fashion and jewellery heavily accounted for the expression of individuality and the use of impressive designs, colours and patterns. This reflected the trends of the time — and it’s no surprise that these stunning ornate pieces remain in incredible demand today.

What is the Georgian era?

The Georgian era, a significant period in British history, commenced with the ascension of George I in 1714 and spanned until the demise of George IV in 1830. This period, however, often includes the brief reign of William IV, extending the Georgian era to 1837. A unique subperiod within this era, known as the Regency, encapsulates the regency of George IV as the Prince of Wales during his father George III's illness from 1811.

Notably, the Georgian era brought fundamental shifts in culture, society and fashion. It was distinguished from the preceding Stuart period’s flamboyant styles and the following Victorian era's comparative conservatism. It was a period of significant social change that saw prosperity for the upper classes, the expansion of Britain's colonial empire and a distinct and lasting legacy.

George III and George IV
(Image: King George III and George IV)

What makes a ring Georgian?

Georgian rings were adapted according to the occasion. Georgians would move from day to evening pieces, reflecting the era's showy attire. In fashion, this was marked by extravagant wigs and headdresses. Above all, the Georgian period is celebrated for its rare, expertly crafted jewellery, characterised by vibrant gemstones and intricate detailing.

An example of a Georgian repousse ringA cushion-shape chrysoprase surrounded by skilful repoussé style gold work. The split shanks reveal a gold flower

What styles were used in Georgian rings?

Although named after the ruling British monarchy, Georgian-era jewellery actually featured international influence. France, Italy and Germany, for example, all shaped the art and design of the time.

In Georgian antique rings, nature-inspired motifs were widespread. This reflected the period's appreciation for natural beauty. The extravagant trends of the Baroque and Rococo movements also greatly impacted jewellery designs.

Roman Georgian ring
 The head is Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, (64/62-12 BC) son in law of the Roman Emperor Augustus.

A fondness for Greek and Roman aesthetics revived the use of cameo rings in 18th and 19th-century jewellery. Intricately carved coral, agate and shells adorned both necklaces and rings.

Overall, the Georgian approach to jewellery balanced proportions. Sizes ranged from grand, over-the-top designs to more delicately detailed, minimalist pieces.

What cuts were used?

Gem cuts during the Georgian era varied. Rose and old mine cuts were popular, while some table cuts remained in use.

An open work flower, set with rose-cut diamonds in silver and step-cut emeralds in gold

Key Georgian gem cutting styles included:

  • Rose Cut: Dating to the 16th century, this important cut in antique jewellery history is characterised by a round shape with a domed top and a flat bottom. Georgian rose-cut diamond rings were popular during the era.
  • Old Mine Cut: This style features a rounded square cut with numerous facets. In many ways, old mine bears a close resemblance to today's popular cuts. Georgian old mine-cut diamonds were, of course, crafted by hand, so often feature uneven or imperfect surfaces opposed to today’s precision work.
  • Table Cut: This featured a square shape with a flat top and bottom. This cut was less prevalent, although pieces can still be found today.

Georgian diamond and gemstone cuts were designed to impress. Despite their sometimes uneven cuts, they dazzle under light — perfect for that candlelit evening soirée.

How were Georgian rings made?

Georgian-era rings were meticulously handcrafted using labour-intensive methods. Artisans would begin by hammering gold ingots and other metals into thin sheets. This manual effort eventually paved the way for a machine-based fabrication process.

A thin piece of metallic foil is layered under each stone

Typically, gems and stones were set in closed-back settings. The craft of stone cutting, particularly in revealing a gem's refractive properties, was in its early stages. For this reason, most gemstones were enhanced using foiling.

Foiling was used to apply a metallic coating to the gem's back. This extra shimmer helped accentuate the stone’s brilliance under candlelight. Foiling was especially prevalent in closed-back settings for Georgian-era rings. Melting and recycling out-of-fashion pieces for their metal was a common practice, adding to the Georgian era's unique craftsmanship and relative rarity of surviving pieces.

What jewels were common?

In the early Georgian era, diamonds held the spotlight until coloured gemstones' popularity resurged around 1750. Common jewels included ruby, sapphire, garnet, topaz, coral, shell, agate, citrine, pearl and diamonds, of course.

Daytime fashion favoured natural pearl rings, garnets and agate. Sparkly pieces, like Georgian diamond cluster rings, were reserved for grand evening events, courts and receptions. Diamonds also grew in popularity throughout the era as the expanding British Empire trade routes discovered new mines.

However, the Georgian era's gem industry was relatively localised compared to the later truly global spread seen in the Victorian era. The valuation of stones also differed from the modern day. Amethyst, for example, was considered a royal stone in Georgian times, despite its current less valuable status. Scottish agate and topaz pieces from Portugal also enjoyed popularity.

What metals were common?

Gold and silver were widely used metals for Georgian-era rings. A variety of Georgian gold hues were fashionable, including:

  • Rose gold
  • Yellow gold 18 carats and above
  • More rarely green and red gold.
George III monogram

Diamonds were typically set in silver. This continued the trend of Georgians attempting to amplify the brilliance of their stones. Gold rings were often used for colourful gems. The rear of jewellery and ear wires were often gold-crafted to prevent tarnishing skin and clothing.

As Europe experienced wars in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, jewellery trends were impacted. Techniques like cannetille and repoussé, which required less material, gained popularity as metals were more commonly used for war efforts. Cannetille used small wires to create ornate designs with minimal metal use. Repoussé, a technique of crafting intricate designs by hammering malleable metal, was used for its minimal wastage.

Georgians used these metal and gem pairings to create rings that allowed a great deal of self-expression. In an age of increasing social engagement, jewellery became a way to show off one’s personality while respecting the general etiquette of the period.

The Georgian Kings

  1. George I (1714-1727): The inaugural Georgian king of the House of Hanover, George I, inherited the throne following Queen Anne's death. The queen’s lack of direct successors meant the throne eventually passed to the House of Hanover. George I was known for spending significant portions of his reign in Germany and spoke little English. He died in 1727 in his native Hanover, being succeeded by his son.
  2. George II (1727-1760):
    George I’s successor similarly spent considerable time in Hanover. His wife, Caroline of Ansbach, and Robert Walpole, generally accepted as the first British Prime Minister, effectively governed Britain on George II’s behalf during his reign. George II’s son, Frederick, died before his father, meaning the throne was passed on to George II’s grandson after he died in 1760.
  3. George III (1760-1820):
    The first English-born Hanoverian king, George III, spoke English as his first language. He would see the longest reign of any British King in history at almost 60 years. George III is celebrated for several cultural advancements, including the founding of the Royal Academy of Arts. His later years saw George III suffer from a recurring mental illness before he passed away in 1820.
  4. George IV (1820-1830):
    George III’s son, George IV, ascended to the throne following his father’s mental health deterioration. He initially ruled as prince regent from 1811 before being crowned in 1820, with his reign defining the Regency period. George IV was known for his charm and luxurious lifestyle. He died in 1830 without an heir, with the crown passing to his younger brother, William IV.

What was the Georgian era like?

The Georgian era, renowned for its decadent fashion, was also a pivotal period of profound societal and political evolution. It was characterised by refined manners, sophisticated styles and the growing influence of classicism on art, literature and architecture.

Artistic and cultural life in this era flourished, led by eminent Romantic poets like Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats and Byron. Renowned writers, including Austen, Swift, Defoe and Shelley, depicted the lavishness and social norms of Georgian society. Meanwhile, scientific breakthroughs coincided with the Industrial and Agricultural Revolutions.

Significant political and military events — including the Seven Years’ War against France, the brief Scottish Jacobite uprising, American War of Independence and Napoleonic Wars — dominate this era’s historical timeline.

This period also witnessed an expanding empire. This brought new trade routes, influence from new countries and the introduction of previously unseen items. The Grand Tour, a social custom among the young upper class of touring Europe (particularly Italy), peaked in the 18th century. This tradition contributed to European art collections, fashions and paintings in England.

In an aesthetic sense, the Georgian era marked a transition towards elegance and nature-inspired designs. Jewellery, frequently depicting miniature portraits and intricate designs, became more accessible and in demand.

Why is the Georgian era popular now?

As Britain's wealth and global influence grew, at home, the aristocracy revelled in fabulous social events. These grand occasions necessitated exquisite jewellery for evening wear, in particular.

The shift in fashion during this time was greatly influenced by the designs of Georgian jewellery. Upper class men and women spoiled themselves with in brightly coloured flamboyant styles with exaggerated details. Rings, earrings, necklaces and bracelets of this era needed to match style of high society. 

Influenced by a melting pot of world events, extravagant fashion and meetings of cultures, the Georgian era emerged as a high point in British jewellery craftsmanship, often achieved through labour-intensive processes.

This creates an enduring legacy for antique Georgian pieces — combining alluring designs with expert, detailed craftsmanship that ensures its lasting popularity.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I identify a Georgian ring?

Identifying a Georgian ring involves recognising several telltale features. These include closed-back settings, often with a foil backing to amplify radiance. Repoussé motifs, intricate shapes, portraits and imaginative gem cuts are also common, with diamonds frequently used. A popular trend was parures – jewellery sets that included necklaces, earrings, tiaras, brooches and bracelets, with brooches occasionally worn as pendants.

Are Georgian rings hallmarked?

Hallmarking of Georgian rings was uncommon. Enforcement of gold assaying only began later, so it's quite rare to find Georgian rings bearing hallmarks or makers' marks.

What is a Georgian mourning ring?

In the Georgian Era, mourning rings emerged as a heartfelt tribute to departed loved ones. This encapsulated the period's sentimentality. Mourning pieces, along with lockets and pendants, served as tangible memorials — celebrating the lives and memories of the deceased. These memorial rings would often include the deceased’s name and date of death, with black enamel designs, skulls and even hair incorporated into their design.

How old is a Georgian ring?

True Georgian rings, made during the reigns of Kings George I-IV (1714-1830), are 193 to 309 years old. Owing to their age, they are classified as antiques rather than vintage pieces, testaments to a centuries-old period of elegance.

What were the symbols on jewellery in the Georgian era?

Georgian jewellery was imbued with symbolism. Eternity rings, for example, were typically studded with vibrant gemstones and often carried hidden messages through gem arrangements.

The era also embraced everything from floral motifs to macabre elements like skulls. From micro-mosaic jewellery inspired by the Grand Tour to designs featuring birds, bugs, or even human forms, the jewellery reflected the era's diversity of influences and fascinations. For example, the excavation of Pompeii during the 18th century inspired many jewellers to include laurels, grape vines, keys and leaves in their rings’ designs.

What is the Regency era?

The Regency era is a sub-era within the Georgian period. During King George III’s reign, the monarch suffered from an often-debilitating mental illness. As his condition worsened, King George III’s son was made Prince Regent in 1811, giving name to the Regency era. The Regency officially lasted until his ascension to the throne as George IV in 1820. However, the entire late Georgian period is generally known as the Regency Era.

How do you clean Georgian rings?

Cleaning Georgian-era rings can often be done using a soft, small brush and warm water. However, it’s essential to take care — especially with closed-back foiled rings. Water may get trapped in these pieces, damaging the materials over time. If in doubt, always seek expert advice on cleaning your Georgian rings.

How can you tell Georgian jewellery?

Georgian jewellery, a product of meticulous craftsmanship, often displays slight imperfections due to its two-century longevity. The use of silver for clear stones and gold for coloured ones is typical. Expect closed-back, foiled settings and the prevalent use of rose cuts, among others. Pieces with synthetic stones, white gold, platinum, or unusual gemstones like tanzanite will not be genuine Georgian, as these materials were not used in the era. Hallmarks are also rare.