What The Duchess Wore…

July 30th, 2008

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.

A por­trait of Geor­giana, Duchess of Devon­shire by Thomas Gains­bor­ough, 1787.

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.

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