Rings 21.11.2011

Ring Design in the Early 19th Century: Open Shank

Experimentation of styles at the end of the Neoclassical movement created some unusual and quite beautiful forms of mainstream design in jewellery that were discontinued by the coming Gothic Revival and seemingly original for their time. Often, designs used in jewellery have some continuity or pedigree for their form, which makes their adaptation of any mainstream artistic flourishes seem quite understandable.

Yet, the early 19th century was a time of discovery and change. Much of the techniques used in traditional jewellery construction were being overtaken with the growing industrial revolution, production was growing to new levels, access to inexpensive materials transcended status to the point of social necessity. Hence, there was more room for experimentation in jewellery fashion, styles could exist for a short period and quickly disappear.

These particular rings show a motif in the shoulders and shank which have some basis in the navette style, but turn this into a design which is much more organic to the contour of the finger. While the style of the open wire/fretwork is a new one, it still honours the symbolism typical of its time.

With this particular ring, the symbolism in the eternity symbol is used to expand the shoulders, enhancing its simple symbolism and the nature of the design itself. What is more striking is that the ring’s memento area is shaped as a diamond, crossing diagonally around the finger. This also reflects upon the changing nature of the sentimental style of the time as well; what could also be a larger, ivory memento with a portrait or mourning/sentimental depiction is now the simple hairwork of the loved one, outwardly displayed for all to see.

Dedication: 2 December 1800 / J.J

Following on with this style, the wire-work open-shank can be seen in many other pieces of the first-quarter 19th century, with more or less elaboration. Often, the bezel is oval shaped with hairwork inside. This was at a time when the ‘Georgian Eye’ portrait was reaching its crescendo, suggesting that the oval and the eye have an intrinsic link in the design motif. Either way, it was phased out to become a more traditional rectangle, but keeping the same hairwork/materials inside.

Further Reading:
> Gothic Revival in Culture and Jewellery: Part 1, c.1740-c.1850
> Gothic Revival in Culture and Jewellery: Part 2, c.1850-c.190
> Gothic Revival in Culture and Jewellery: Part 3, Breaking Perceptions