All that glitters isn’t gold

Most people who know me, know that I make jewelry.  Nothing fancy, but I have done it for many years.  My father made jewelry as a hobby, and I guess I inherited his love of working with stones to make the jewelry.

I have done several different forms of jewelry making,  including making the molds and hand preparations for rings.  Now,  I mainly make necklaces, earrings, and bracelets.  I love working with stones, as they all have different energies.

So, I did a little research at some of the jewelry that was used in Jane Austen’s time.  It was quite interesting to learn that the ring Jane wore, gold and turquoise, the gold was only 9 carat.  A very low amount of gold in the band, yet, for the time, was relatively high.  Gold was difficult to come by in the late 1700’s, due to the war with the former colonies (otherwise known as the USA), and the shipments from South America had difficulties getting past the US and French ships.  There were a few mines in the UK, but they produced a minimum of the gold.

A substitute for gold, at that time, was called pinchbeck.  It was a method of using copper and zinc to make an alloy that resembled gold.  It is a form of brass, which was invented by Christopher Pinchbeck, who was a London clockmaker in the 18th century.

Because of the threat of robbery, it was common to wear paste stones in pinchbeck.  The paste stones were made of leaded glass, giving the luster to the “stone”, to make it more realistic.  Cobalt blue, black and white enamel were commonly used.

In the 1750’s, colored stones made a comeback in popularity.  That was when you began seeing stones such as Imperial topaz, pink topaz, amethyst (one of my favorites), chrysoberyl (in the tourmaline family), coral, and garnet.  Later, lava, onyx, carnelian, and shell were used to carve pieces for jewelry.  Scotland was good location for stones such as diamonds, sapphires, rubies, beryl, topaz, tourmaline, aquamarine, garnet, agate, and amber.  In England, you can find axinite, Celestine, chalcedony, fluorite (especially Blue John), chrysocolla, jet, dolomite, pyrite (fool’s gold), hematite, malachite, serpentine (in jade family), gypsum, and emeralds.

Another form of metal which became popular in 1806 was Berlin Iron.  It was cheaper to make jewelry, instead of gold.


To know if the piece is from the era, one of the ways to tell is to look at the setting.  Our modern styles usually set the stones out further, where in late 1700’s to 1800’s, it was common for the stone to be set back in the design.

Men wore more jewelry in that time frame than they do now.  A man’s locket with a secret compartment were common.  Another form of jewelry that was common was memorial pieces.  Pieces made with some hair from a loved one who had died became quite popular, and the pieces were handed down through the family.

Some of the people claimed that the jewelry was simple and understated.  Others claim the pieces were large, elaborate pieces.  From what I have been able to learn, the simple pieces were the lower class people, those with limited incomes.  The more elaborate pieces were the wealthy, and many of those pieces were locked away, while the owners wore paste copies.  Cameos were still common, and from what I have read, Napoleon was a fan of them.  Other items that were frequently seen on jewelry of the period were doves, phoenix, wheat, plumage, acorns, and mosaic.

To be honest, I am a simple style jewelry person.  I have a simple ring I never take off (left hand, not married), wear simple earrings and necklaces (usually ones I make).  But everyone is different, and if you like larger pieces, wear what you like.

Oh, and most people did not have pierced ears in that period, so earrings (or ear bobs), were a clip on or screw on style (screw in the back that you screw until it is comfortable and not pinching your earlobe).  Having worn both of those types of earrings (out of my grandmother’s jewelry box when I was a kid), I like the screw on version, as you can adjust it to the tightness you like.


21 Responses to All that glitters isn’t gold

  1. Thank you for this informative post. I had heard of paste jewelry before, but didn’t know what they were for. Now I do. The types of metals used is quite interesting.

  2. Where are all the pictures of your jewelry, Melanie? I like to make jewelry too and also have family members who make it, but I am an amateur. Thanks for all the historical details. I have some antique jewelry, and i always wonder how old it is, especially the cameos.

  3. You are talented. I don’t wear a lot of jewelry and don’t have the talent to make my own but it does look so well on some others that I see, even some that on me would be flamboyant. I have one or two pieces which are family heirlooms and I treasure those.

  4. Thanks. It is fun working with the stones I make pieces with. Most of the pieces I wear, the stones have a certain energy I need at the time. And yes, most of my jewelry I wear is purple.

  5. What an interesting and informative post, Mel! You are very talented. I know for I saw the jewelry you made Jennifer Joy and the ones we put on a thread on our D&L Forum. I was fascinated by the ‘bereavement’ jewelry with locks of hair, etc that I saw on one site. I cannot decide it I would be comforted with it or not. Some I saw were a little creepy. To each his own, I guess. 🙂

    • Some creep me out as well. Some people have, shall we say, unique ways of expressing themselves. As my grandma used to say, takes all kinds to make the world go round, but why so many strange ones?

  6. Melanie, This is a fascinating post. It never occurred to me that gold was so rare during Jane Austen’s time.I love the thought that you are so talented you can make jewelry. How lovely.

    • Thanks. It is fun, and working with stones to make the jewelry is fun. Most of the stones I wear have a certain energy I need. And yes, a lot of what I wear is purple. Amethyst, lepidolite, sugalite, and more.

  7. Great post thanks. I’m impressed that you make your own jewellery as well as writing books. I wear a few pieces which were gifts from my children. Swarovsky crystals, opals and blue john. I also like amethysts. A lot of the P&P books mention men’s jewellery with Darcy wearing a ring made with Elizabeths hair or a pocket watch with her photo inside. Not sure about hair jewellery myself though. Keep up the good work

  8. Interesting and informative article, Melanie. Thanks for sharing it. I remember wearing my mom’s jewelry when I was little too. I much preferred the screw back earrings. The clips pinched and hurt! Jennifer, I have imagined the same! I always enjoy reading in books when Darcy gives Elizabeth jewelry. 🙂

  9. My choices vary with the day. I can’t wear earrings at all (hurt my ears too much) but I wear a necklace and at least one ring daily. My standard is my wedding ring and a small diamond cross and P&P book charm on the same chain or my hematite strand. Sometimes I add my grandmother’s wedding ring on my right hand and then I have several larger more elaborate necklaces. I can’t handle watches or bracelets. Things on my arms always wind up piled on the nearest surface. I remove them every time without even realizing I’m doing it LOL. The whole idea of having real jewelry locked away somewhere just blows my mind. I realize it’s an investment, but if you can’t enjoy it…just save the money! =D

  10. Wow Melanie, that was so interesting. I’ve checked on Pinterest and various places to see what the Jewelry of the Regency period looked like. I’d like to imagine what type of jewels Darcy may have given Lizzy, of course many of them might have been heirlooms. Thanks for you post. Jen

    • It was typical to hand down pieces through the generations. Jane Austen’s turquoise ring was given to Cassandra, then to a sister in law, then passed down through the generations. Memorial pieces were especially handed down.

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