The Grand Tour was a rite of passage for upper-class European gentlemen (and some women) during the 17th-19th centuries. On this educational tourist trip, wealthy young people visited significant sites, including classical ruins in France and Italy, studying and producing art and poetry as they went. Acquiring souvenirs of their explorations was important, and an industry popped up to accommodate their tourist shopping needs. Cameos and intaglios depicting scenes from Greek and Roman mythology were particularly en vogue, and collecting these prized pieces (whether one had taken the Grand Tour or not) became quite the trend. James Tassie, a skilled stonemason turned gem engraver, capitalized on the voracious appetite for these treasures and became famous for his fine enamel and glass renderings of classical scenes. This Tassie glass intaglio depicts the seal of Michelangelo. As if that didn't make this highly collectible Georgian ring exceptional enough, it also happens to be a locket aka poison
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.