This spectacular eighteenth century mourning ring is a wonderful example of the fine craftsmanship of Georgian era jewelers. It is a textbook example of the most popular style of mourning ring in this period which consisted of a wavy hoop (designed to mimic the shape of humerus bones), extraordinarily fine enamel and gold work, and a diamond set at the center to round it all out. The foil-backed diamond is wrapped in a closed silver collet, which is in turn mounted in a carefully tooled 18k gold. The delicate gold script within black enamel reads "JOA ORAM OB: 14 JULY 1734 AET 60." The surname "Oram" is old Norse in origin and common in the north of England, "Joa" could be a shortening of "Jonathan", "Joan", or "Joanna", just to name a few possibilities. Regardless of gender, the person whose memory was honored by this very fancy ring was clearly a member of the elite, he or she exceeded the average life expectancy in the 1700s by 20 years (no small feat), and a piece of this quality would have cost significantly more than most people earned in a year in 1734.
GEORGIAN (1714 - 1837)
The Georgian Era was named for the English Kings George I, II, III and IV. Within the powerful nations of France and England, fine gemstone jewelry was worn only by the extremely wealthy, and the styles were regal and ornate. As imperialist war raged in the Americas, Caribbean, Australia, and beyond, the jewelry industry benefited: colored gems from all over the empire became newly available.
A mix of artistic influences from around Europe contributed to the feminine, glittering jewels of the era. Dense, ornate Baroque motifs from Italy showed up in Georgian jewelry, as did French Rococo’s undulating flora and fauna. Neoclassical style made use of Greek and Roman motifs, which were newly popular due to the recently uncovered ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum.
Lapidary methods improved: the dome-shaped rose cut was popular, as was the “old mine cut”, a very early iteration of today’s round brilliant cut. The boat-shaped marquise diamond cut was developed around this time, supposedly to imitate the smile of Louis XV’s mistress, the marquise de Pompadour. Paste—an imitation gemstone made from leaded glass—was newly developed in the 18th century, and set into jewelry with the same creativity and care as its more precious counterparts.
Real and imitation gems were almost always set in closed-backed settings, lined on the underside with thin sheets of foil to enhance the color of the stone and highlight it's sparkle. This makes Georgian rings tough for modern women to wear, especially on an everyday basis: genteel, jewelry-owning ladies of the 18th century were not famous for working with their hands like we are. Nor did they wash their hands as much as we do. Water will virtually ruin a foiled setting, so take special care with your Georgian ring. Very little jewelry from this period is still in circulation, and it's very difficult to repair.