GEORGIAN & REGENCY RINGS
Rings reached new peaks of popularity in Georgian times, becoming everyday accessories for both men and women.
In the century or so between 1714 and 1830, spanned by four consecutive kings named George, finger rings were worn by most
people regardless of class or rank.
Ladies wore as many as 10 or 12 together, on both hands
and in many combinations. Men usually restricted themselves to one - usually on the little finger of the left hand. Those who could afford it bought rings of diamonds and carved stones while the less well-off settled for semiprecious stones, ceramics, glass or paste.
Many different styles of rings became fashionable in the period but perhaps the most typical of the mid-18th century were 'giardinetti', or garden, rings. These were usually designed as vases, urns or bowls of flowers and leaves realistically represented by colourful cut gemstones. On these gem-set rings the shank - the circle of metal that fits round the finger - was invariably thin. Later, in the second half of the century, as the mounts grew larger, so the shanks became wider. Then, the most typical ring had a wide gold shank with a large oblong, oval or octagonal mount set with gemstones or coloured paste.
It was normal practice throughout the century to set stones in closed mounts so that light could not pass through them from the back. This allowed jewellers to match or change the colour of stones by placing coloured foil between the stones and the mount. Only in the 1790s did Georgian jewellers begin to realize the importance of light to the more precious stones and begin setting them in open mounts to gain more brilliance.
TOKENS OF AFFECTION
The most popular ring in the early years was the 'regard' ring; so called because the first letter of the stones used, when set in order, spelled out the word - R for ruby, E for emerald, G for garnet, A for amethyst, R for ruby and D for diamond. Such rings were given as tokens of friendship or affection. Much later, 'dearest' rings, designed along the same lines, were given to mark children's birthdays.
Cameo and intaglio rings were brought to England by rich young men returning from Italy, after finishing their education with a Grand Tour of Europe. Cornelian and agate were among the favourite stones and were cut to show mythical scenes, or Greek and Roman gods. Many copies and forgeries were made for buyers who could not afford the real thing.
Rings of all ages are a delightful collectable which can be exhibited in a glass case in the house, or worn on one or more fingers and shown off to the world at large. They will draw frequent admiring comments and are unlikely to lose their value.
REGENCY RING COLLECTOR'S NOTES
Shops that specialize in antique jewellery will usually have a selection of Georgian rings. Antiques markets also sometimes offer interesting bargains, while auction houses often come up with more unusual or exciting items.
When buying old rings, always check their condition thoroughly and try to have their authenticity guaranteed. If these points are followed then you certainly will not lose money on your collection. Rings, of course, are always likely to at least hold their value, if not increase, because they are made of precious stones and valuable metals. The only possible exception to this is if a particular style of ring goes completely out of fashion.
Make sure that the shank is not badly sized and that the shoulders, where the shank meets the mount, have not been repaired with solder. Also check the setting to make sure it matches the mount. Shanks tend to wear fairly quickly and many 18th-century rings are likely to have had the shank repaired or even replaced.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
When buying a gem-set ring, look to see whether any stones have been replaced. It is not uncommon to find a paste replacement in a diamond ring. Look out also for modern brilliant-cut diamonds: they always betray an alteration. When buying a ring that is set with foiled stones, make sure the foiling is in good condition and has a bright and even colour: oxidized and discoloured foiling is unattractive and this should be reflected in a substantially lower price.
Diamond cluster rings are fairly common. They often have a circular, slightly domed base, mounted with
cushion shaped stones in a closed setting. They are commonly sold as dating from the 18th century, but in most cases a close examination of the back will show that the cluster started its life as a button and only at a later stage was it mounted on a shank as a ring.