The Duchess with Keira Knightly as the long-suffering-but-simply-grand Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire will offer up a rare glimpse of late eighteenth-century glamour. The Duchess, who wielded unusual political power, was considered a great beauty and “the Empress of fashion herself”. Her marriage was a complex state of closed doors and open secrets. She was known to have had a child with another man and her husband’s mistress, Bess Foster, was Georgiana’s best friend; an arrangement the Duchess judiciously declined to challenge for fear of losing either.
As a trend-setter, she had no rival. When you see the movie this coming fall, take note of her jewels. In the image above Knightly is wearing cut-steel earrings and necklace; in the full length theater poster you can also see the bodice ornaments that run down the front of her dress. Cut-steel became very popular towards the end of the eighteenth-century; its spectacular sparkle would have served to simulate diamonds.
According to a Georgian Jewelry by Ginny Redington and Olivia Collings, Catherine The Great was an avid fan of cut-steel jewelry and commissioned a portrait of herself wearing an elaborate parure. Few of these pieces survive because steel succumbs easily to rusting. However, examples are commonly found in the form of antique belt or shoe buckles which some clever designers have transformed into chokers. The material appears dark grey in color and each steel “gem” is hand-faceted and then riveted through the back of the ornament.