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What Is Foiled Jewelry?

"Foiling is an art that warrants the time and resources to be a significant part of my designs."

No one would understand foiling without being taught. It is rarely used in contemporary jewelry, so most examples are found in antiques.

The word foil leaves us with ambiguity—was it a technique created to deceive; enhance gemstones; or was it an artistic method used to play with light and color? What we do know is that foiling began many centuries ago, but, blossomed in Europe in the18th century—a time when jewelry could be afforded by a larger contingent of the population, evening candlelit parties were in fashion, and a variety of stones were readily available, but stone cuts lacked refraction. The perfect storm for this inventive technique to be embraced by goldsmiths and their clientele.

Princess Sophie Friederike by Georg David Matthieu, wearing foiled aquas and diamonds, circa 1774

Metallic foils, made from thin sheets of silver and other colorful alloys and pigments were used to line settings beneath the stones. These foils had the ability to brighten translucent stones, almost like placing a small light behind them, and when colors were applied, they could enhance or change natural hues. It was time consuming to make, treat and lay foils, steps that became obsolete after lapidary skills were improved in the 19th century and onward.

Brightly foiled 18th century jewelry from Emily’s personal collection

Even diamonds benefitted from being lit from behind with silver foils. Compared with modern diamond cuts, 18th century specimens had fewer facets, were generally less deep, and were often grey in color. Today collectors seek out the soft, magical glow of these antique diamond- set heirlooms.

Foiled rose cut diamonds, ca 1780 from Emily’s personal collection

"The art of foiling began many centuries ago, but for me, my love affair with this jewelry technique begins largely with the Georgian era. I am not entirely sure when I was first introduced to foiled jewelry, but I do know it was in the 1990s and that it would come to change my life."

Emily Satloff, Founder & Designer
Page from the Treatises of Benvenuto Cellini, 1558

The kind of party where foiled jewelry would have been plentiful. Print, 1782. Artist: Unkown.

When Emily began collecting and selling Georgian jewelry, she was beguiled by the magical glow that is emitted from foiled-lined jewelry, appearing almost like a halo framing each stone. In particular, she continues to be fascinated by the brightly pigmented foils used, that are still vibrant after centuries.

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