Jackie and Marcia from The Spare Room Antiques on Collecting and Wearing Georgian RIngs
A collector of Georgian rings, I am enamored by The Spare Room Antiques and equally impressed by co-owners Marcia Moylan and Jacqueline Smelkinson. Not only are they experts on the subjects of all classifications of Georgian and early Victorian jewelry—they are down-to-earth, a hoot to hang out with, and collectors themselves of Georgian rings, many of which I have tried to pry and purchase off of their fingers to no avail.
This dynamic duo have been the closest friends for over 50 years and have been in business together for almost that long. Jackie introduced Marcia to her husband; they have helped each other through childbirth, raising children, taking care of grandchildren, all while starting up an antiques furniture and ceramics business. They expanded into jewelry after their first trip together to London, where they fell in love with 18th century jewelry and found rare pieces—a trip they have made every year since then—scouting out new resources, working with trusted dealers and bringing home new finds for their customers and choosing a piece or two for themselves.
Listening to them talk while perusing their cases at an antique show or fair –if you aren’t already a collector you just might become one. For this article I ask them to chat about why they believe this time period has been so popular, particularly in rings over the past several years, what styles were most coveted then and now, how they collect and wear their own pieces and what to look for when you are starting or adding to a collection of Georgian rings.
“There are so many attributes to Georgian rings: they can be mysterious and soulful, each one with its unique character,” says Marcia. “But there is a lightheartedness that was indicative of the time period which our customers are tapping into today.” Jackie finishes Marcia’s sentence, which is a common practice between both women. “Back then there was a new found freedom—woman wore jewelry as a part of fashion and there was an expression of individuality which I think resonates with a wide age group of contemporary women. It definitely resonates with us!”
Jackie continues, “We saw the exuberance of colored stones: the vivid hues of bright pink topaz, the rich deep almandine garnets and amethyst and the paler gems of chrysoberyl and aquamarine, in addition to the big three—emerald, ruby and sapphire. And, paste was really big, substituting for diamonds, yet also imitating the intense rich colors of natural gems.”
Marcia adds,” there was an expressiveness of love and sentiment in acrostic rings (in which the first letter of each gemstone spells out a term of endearment), poesy, memorial and amatory rings. There were styles such as giardinetti rings (small flower pots) and other florals such as pansies, which translated from the French pensee, which means think, and in the language of rings ‘think of me’ or ‘think of the giver’ –some pansies also were acrositcs. There were the various silhouettes such the single gemstone ring, flanked by a rose cut diamond on each side of the shank, hoops and half hoops, five stone, ultra dainty square flat cut gemstone eternity bands and clusters and navette style rings.”
She adds, “The jewelers would get the rough stones, cut them and the instinctively picked up gems and creatively put the rings together, offering uniqueness to styles that were more popular.”
“The Georgian time period ranged from 1714- 1830, and during much of this era due to the naïve cutting techniques, rings were foiled back to camouflage imperfections and add intensity to the color of the rings,” says Jackie. “One they added the foil they had to close the back of the ring—the gleam and sparkle of the ring coming from the mix of foil, the cut back collet settings and the glow of candlelight. ”
Marcia and Jackie offer up a bit more explanation on paste, Georgian memorial and the art of regal blue enameling and certain rings on which it would be found:
-Memorial or Mourning Rings. In the later part of the 17th century, the creation and distribution of mourning rings were a common bequest in people’s wills which continued through the 19th century. Some styles are simple: a ribbon shaped enameled gold band with a person’s name and the dates they were born and died. Others are more ornate, with rose-cut center diamonds and other gemstones. Memorial took on many different styles throughout the 18th century. Those who were married and had reached adulthood were commemorated with black enamel designs. A child or an unmarried person was commemorated in white enamel jewelry. There were also sepia tone memorial scenes painted on ivory, often with hair and seed pearls. In contrast, memento mori, which “remember you must die,” was designed to be worn by the living as a reminder of their mortality. Popular in the 17th and 18th centuries, these rings often used imagery of skeletons, skulls and coffins.
-While memorial rings were often shown in black and white enamel, rings deep regal blue enamel depicted nobility. It then translated into rings which diamonds were set into the shape of forget me nots. But most desirable then and now are bagues de firament rings which translate into “ring of the sky”-with diamonds evoking shooting stars and the blue representing an evening sky.
-Paste became the rage in all forms of jewelry and originated in France and was worn by royalty and those in high society. It spread to England quickly. The process was invented by jeweler Georges Frédéric Strass, who used a high lead content glass, which could be hand-faceted, hand-cut and polished, and was extremely reflective. During this time, diamonds and other precious stones had to be cut around the shapes in which the gems were found. Also known as “stras”, paste was also foil-backed and in closed settings, which enhanced the brilliance, color and depth of the stones. Georgian paste often has a black dot painted on the culet, which helped give depth to the stone and – inspired the term “black dot paste”.
Jackie explains, “You can get really creative with Georgian rings and you don’t necessarily have to wear them with other rings of the time period when you stack them—that is the beauty of them—you can have a half hoop Georgian style with a Art Deco eternity band and Victorian five stone and they will all work together.”
As for the way in which Jackie and Marcia choose to wear their Georgian rings, they are more of the stacker variety then the true Georgian way of wearing one-on-every-finger.
-Jackie prefers to wear a stack of all Georgian styles of at least four or five on one finger and maybe a wider and then a shorter stack with a large stone ring next to it on the same hand with another stack on the other hand.
-“My colors are richer hues amethyst and garnet. I then mix in some rose cut diamonds or paste. I also wear the same number on rings on each hand for a few reasons. If I am at a show and need to take them off —I will know how many I was wearing. The holds true for when I am traveling to find new merchandise and I take off my rings to try on rings we might purchase for our inventory.”
-“I absolutely adore the ultra thin eternity bands with the square cut stones and for larger rings, I also go for paste cluster styles that look like diamonds.”
-“I just love to have a good time with them, wear them and enjoy them. I am probably not as careful as I should be or advise my clients to be. I have also been to lazy to have a tiny stone cut for one of the ultra-thin eternity bands so I have filled in that space with nail polish but I would never recommend you do the same thing and that you only buy rings with all the stones intact”
“I also throw all my rings in one pouch which is a definite no no for Georgian ring collectors.”
-The opposite of Jackie, Marcia is fastidious when it comes to ensuring her rings are all put away neatly when traveling or when working a show.”
–“ I might wear them as much as Jackie—but I don’t wear as many as Jackie at the same time. I will stack Georgian rings but never more than three on one finger—I don’t feel I can carry off more than that.”
“While I do try and switch my looks around, I am partial to these two matching deeply chased bands that I wear surrounding a five stone gemstone ring .”
“ On my other hand, I usually wear a larger more statement style of ring. Most often I wear a large topaz in a chased bezel and shank—it is quite beautiful and I feel I don’t need anything else on that hand.
-“I also own memorial rings –I tend to love the black enamel on these and I also own other larger styles.”
What do these two women with almost 50 years in the business, impeccable taste and a huge dose of personal style suggest for purchasing, wearing and caring for Georgian rings?
“Well, first off, never care for your rings in the nonchalant way that Jackie does,” Marcia says with a wink and a smile.
Here is what they both suggest:
PURCHASING AND WEARING
-First and foremost purchase the rings you love and don’t concern yourself so much at the beginning with their working all together. Eventually you will buy rings that do.
-Always remember that Georgian rings are beautiful with loads of character but with that comes a bit of higher maintenance in the closed back styles.
-The deeply chased rings are hard to find so when you do snap one up.
-Choose gemstone colors that you will wear and feel comfortable in
-Hoop styles are always a winner and often are well priced and go with everything
-Invest in a paste ring. We love those that are a bit unusual like the square cut emerald-colored paste eternity bands. But we also suggest the larger past cluster rings—they look like diamonds and are extremely collectible.
-If you are collecting more than one time period of rings—mix them all up, using the Georgian rings as the centerpiece to work around. You can also add these rings from the past to give new life to rings more modern styles you don’t wear as much anymore.
BUYING AND CARING FOR
-Check the enamel on a ring and see if it’s been re-done. As much as you might love the ring, it could affect the resale price and appreciation value, should you ever want to sell it.
-200-250 year old garnet, amethyst, topaz and other stones will have surface scratches if they were worn with love—it adds to the personality and shows that the ring has been well lived in. But with that said, try to purchase the rings in the best condition you can find. Preferably all in original and authentic condition.
-Go to the dealers you trust to avoid buying reproductions which are more prevalent than every before.
-Take your rings off to wash your hands if your are wearing closed foil backed rings as moisture can discolor he foil. Or you can learn the trick of the trade—how to wash your hand only above your knuckles.
– Different style rings with different materials such as Berlin iron or closed back foil gemstone rings require different types of care. It’s best to find a good antique jeweler in your area. Never let anyone put your Georgian ring in an ultrasonic machine or have it ‘steamed’. You can clean your rings gently at home but first ask about the care from the dealer you bought it from.
Then go out and enjoy wearing them like Jackie and Marcia. And remember there is no better place to start or grow your collection then with experts who share your passion.