Settings in Jewelry - 7. Post 151: Metals for settings.
While other metals were known and occasionally used, the main metals used for jewelry up to the 20th century, were gold and silver.
It was believed that diamonds were shown to better advantage in silver settings, so while colored stones were usually set in gold, diamonds were set in silver. Silver tarnishes (turns black) which will stain skin or clothes, so jewels were made in two layers: the upper silver layer holding diamonds and beneath it, a layer of gold to protect clothes and skin from tarnish and dirt.
#5270 pic showing platinum on gold.
The use of silver in setting diamonds was a particularly ‘western’ phenomenon – in the East, gold was generally used.
During the 19th century, platinum began to appear in fine jewelry, but mainly in chains and not specifically to set gems. Diamonds were still set in gold-backed silver, but in order to strengthen and secure the stones, platinum was used at the tips of claws from the late 19th century onwards. Slowly, by the end of the Edwardian era, platinum became more common in fine jewelry, first in Paris and after that in other areas.
After WWI, white gold was introduced and offered another alternative for setting gems.
An interesting side issue is the use of aluminium in the 19th century. Perhaps because of its resemblance to silver, it had a small popular spurt, especially with jewelers who made Renaissance-Revival jewelry. There was even a small time when aluminium was so rare that it was considered more valuable than gold. As we know, this did not last long. Still, when looking at a beautiful Renaissance Revival jewel cast in aluminium from that time, try to re-evaluate the perceived value of the metal.
#5978. Closed backs.
Most stones were set in closed or foiled backs. This allowed greater sparkle for colorless stones (thanks to the use of silver foil) and a greater depth of color to colored gems.
Let’s remember that at the time, the resources for fine gems was more limited to those we enjoy today. The Georgians made use of what they had. So, if an amethyst was a little pale, they foiled it and it took on the appearance of a rich, deep purple.
In fact, there are cases where the color of gems was entirely altered thanks to the use of foil backs. It was fairly common to foil citrines (naturally yellow) with pink-dyed foil, giving the impression of a pink topaz or other gem.
Today, there are dozens of materials including modern plastics, to make jewelry. There are also plenty of technologies available for enhancing the appearance of stones and of course, in making them artificially, so many of the old, time-consuming techniques are totally obsolete.