How to Buy Antique Foiled Gemstone Jewelry

How to Buy Antique Foiled Gemstone Jewelry

Antique foiled gemstone antique jewelry is stunning. Glittering blues and purples and greens and red nestle amongst hand-wrought precious metals. It is no wonder collectors and historic jewelry connoisseurs love original foiled gems.

If you are considering a purchase of some Georgian or later period foiled gemstone jewelry, it is wise to inform yourself first.

What is Foiling?

  • Foiling is a way of using tinted and silvered copper sheets to enhance the back of gemstones.
  • The gemstone jewelry of the early Georgian era prior to 1800, was typified by its use of foiling.
  • Even though the Georgians had already developed the open back mounting for gems, it was very rarely used until 1800 when à jour settings started to become popular. À jour means ‘to the day’ in French and is loved because it allows the light to shine through a stone.
  • As we have developed the mathematics and the technology to properly cut and mount gemstones, foiling gemstones has become a redundant art-form.
  • Although used in other eras, foiled gemstones have come to be seen as a signature element in early Georgian jewelry and is one of the signs to look for when evaluating the age of a piece.
Bodice ornament

England. c. 1760
Bodice ornament, rock crystals, and paste (glass) with foiled settings in silver.
V&A Museum

  • Foiling gems produces more intense, rich color and enable diamonds to twinkle in the candlelight. Before the advent of electric lighting, this was particularly desirable.
  • Foiling acts as a light reflector.
  • Quality gemstones were in less abundant supply in times past. Foiling was an excellent way of transforming less than high-quality stones into more desirable ones and also for matching stones as the foiling was also a coloring agent.
  • It was also a way of creating a stronger, more noticeable look, suitable for aristocracy and officials.
  • Foiling does tend to tarnish with time so unfortunately we rarely see the original full beauty of very old foiled gemstone jewelry unless it has been restored. 

England, c. 1830
Gold with grainti decoration, set with a green paste, garnets and green foiled aquamarines
V&A Museum

  • Other materials apart from metal sheets were also used to foil the back of gemstones.  These included: peacock feathers, butterfly wings, colored silk thread, and engraved metallic foils.
  • Glass and paste glass could also be foiled.
  • There was a revival of gemstone foiling during the Arts & Crafts and Art Nouveau Movement eras.
Pendant - Cupid the Earth Upholder

Scotland, 1902
Gold and enamel pendant with foiled glass, Anna Traquair
V&A Museum

Other Ways of Treating Gemstones

  • Tinting is when color is applied to the setting or directly to the gemstone.
  • Waxing, which increases transparency.
  • Mirroring, which involves putting a colorless mineral in the bezel which then acts a reflector
  •  Coating, which involves using similar substances to those used for optical lenses.  NOTE: Coating is against the law unless there is full disclosure and is yet another thing for gemologists to be wary of.

The Decline of Foiling

“The possibility of temporarily masking the color of yellow diamonds has, in recent years, frequently led to fraud,” Max Bauer. c. 1890.

  • Unfortunately, less honest jewelers often used foils to fool consumers into believing that gemstones were something they were not.  For example, a green-tinted foil back could be used to make a peridot a deeper shade of green and convince the purchaser that it was an emerald. It is for this reason that nowadays foiling gemstones is generally considered fraudulent unless there is disclosure.
  • The 1974 edition of Shipley’s dictionary of gems and gemology writes that foiling came in three categories, and the last two of these were fraudulent.  These were: genuine foil backs in order to improve the performance of a gemstone; false foil backs in order to give different colors to a gemstone so as to mimic another and imitation foil backs which were the same as a false foil back, but applied to glass.
  • By 1920, the art of foiling had completely gone out of favor because of the association with fraud.
  • Nowadays, there are just a few specialists who use the art for restoration work.

Final words

The contemporary mind cares about the objective value of a gemstone whereas in days gone by the apparent beauty of the stone was all that really mattered.  This comes down to the ‘purpose’ behind the jewelry – in the Georgian era, jewelry was often very much about displays of grandeur and wealth. In other words, all about external appearances.

In the modern era, we very much like to know that something is not a fake, even if it appears exactly the same, we are concerned with truth and objective value.

But, objectively, foiled gem jewelry from the Georgian era is truly beautiful. And it can also be very valuable.

It is wise to make your purchase from a trusted dealer. You’ll be delighted with your early foiled gemstone jewelry for many years to come.


How to Choose Acrostic Antique Jewelry

How to Choose Acrostic Antique Jewelry

Acrostic jewelry was a lovely, poetic trend in the Georgian and Victorian era. It was a beautifully subtle way of sending a sentimental message. Few items carry such meaning and are so evocative of a gentler past.

This Language of Stones was a product of an era in love with poetry, when wordplay, coded messages, and subtle verbal games fascinated the populace. The simple yet intelligent designs of acrostic jewelry captured the imagination and made wonderful gifts for friends and lovers.

If you are fascinated by beautiful antique jewelry, you may get your heart set on an acrostic piece. If so, it is sensible to understand a little about the history of this wonderful tradition and the meaning conveyed by each particular arrangement of gemstones.

  • Acrostic jewelry is when the first letter of each gemstone spells out a particular word.

The History of Acrostic Jewelry

  • Acrostic jewelry is believed to have first been invented in Paris in 1809 by Jean-Baptiste Mellerio (1765-1850), jeweler to the French aristocracy. The fashion soon took off also in England and America but remained especially popular in France. 
  • During the Georgian years, padlocks with keys or hearts were often worn as pendants or brooches.
  • Acrostic rings were particularly popular items.
  • ‘Regards’ rings were even given as engagement rings during the Victorian era.
  • It is said that fashionable French Georgian era women even wore particular stones whose beginning letters corresponded to the names of the weeks.
  • Empress Marie Louise had three acrostic bracelets made by the jewelers Chaumet with messages of love between herself and Napoleon.

Some Things to Consider When Buying Antique Acrostic Jewelry

  • It’s important, when you come across a piece of antique jewelry with an arrangement of colored stones, to question whether there is a message being conveyed by way of the names of the stones and, if so, what that message is.
  • Sometimes, this might be quite difficult to interpret, especially if the piece comes from a non-English speaking country.
  • Certain stones have changed their names. For example, the word for garnet used to be ‘vermeil’.

A few of the popular acrostic messages in jewelry were:


Diamond. Emerald. Amethyst or  Aquamarine.  Ruby.


Diamond. Emerald. Amethyst or  Aquamarine.  Ruby. Emerald. Sapphire. Tourmaline.


Ruby. Emerald. Garnet. Amethyst. Diamond.

(The word ‘regards’ had a much deeper and more passionate meaning in times past than we ascribe to it today.)

Seed pearl and Gem set ‘regard’ brooch/ pendant, Early 19th Century
Sotheby’s Lot 74 The Jewelry Collection of the Late Michael Wellby

Je t’aime

Jet, Emerald, Topaz, Amethyst, Iolite, Malachite, Emerald.


Fluorite. Ruby. Indicolite. Emerald. Nephrite. Diamond.


Lapis Luzuli. Opal. Vermeil. Emerald.


England, c. 1830
Pendant, gold with lapis lazuli, glass in imitation of opal, garnet, emerald, and gold.
Here, the pendant has the stones of Lapis Lazuli, glass in imitation of Opal, Vermeil ( the old name for garnet ), and Emerald which spell LOVE.
V&A Museum


Amethyst. Diamond. Opal. Ruby. Emerald.

All About Pinchbeck Antique and Vintage Jewelry

  • Pinchbeck is a type of brass made from copper and zinc to resemble gold.
  • It is lighter in weight than gold and stays unoxidized for a very long time.
  • It was invented by Christopher Pinchbeck around 1720 and was guarded as a family secret for many years, although there were many copies.
  • Pinchbeck’s great benefit was that it brought a gold-colored metal to ordinary people. 
  • It was also good for those concerned about theft, particularly when riding on stagecoaches. The wealthy often liked to leave their real gold at home and bring along Pinchbeck replicas.

Christie’s Sale 7800


Pinchbeck Chatelaine c.1730-1735
V&A Museum

  • Many pieces throughout the 18th and 19th centuries are made from Pinchbeck, particularly chatelaines but also a wide range of other jewelry and watches.
  • Pinchbeck was eventually replaced by 9-carat gold in 1854 and electro-gilding in 1840.
  • Pinchbeck typically comprises copper and zinc in ratios between 89% Cu, 11% Zn; and 93% Cu, 7% Zn.
  • Today, Pinchbeck is considered quite rare and collectible. It has a distinctive look which you can learn to recognize once you have handled a few Pinchbeck pieces.
Pinchbeck and enamel watch c. 1740
Sotheby’s No8848
  • A related metal is Bath Metal which is like Pinchbeck but has a higher zinc content (approx 45%)  It was developed also in the 18th century.  It is white in color. It was, however, not used frequently in jewelry.