Named for Edward VII, the heir of Queen Victoria who ruled from 1901-1910, the Edwardian Era would be the last jewelry period attributed to a British monarch.
The Era’s Namesake
Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, was born November 9, 1841. He would have to wait 59 years for his chance to ascend to the British throne. “Bertie,” as he was known in familial and intimate circles, took on the role of royal playboy. His dalliance with an actress in 1861 brought disgrace to the royal family, and his father, Prince Albert, was so distraught over the affair, that although he was ill, he insisted on visiting Edward at Cambridge to deliver a reprimand. Queen Victoria believed it was a contributing factor to Albert’s death two weeks later. Victoria never forgave her son for the role she perceived he’d played in Albert’s demise.
Upon Victoria’s death, Edward took on his new responsibilities with relish. His natural charm, charisma and gift for diplomacy helped him in delicate negotiations between Britain, France and Russia, creating the Triple Entente. Edward also took an active part in reforming the military, pushing for an army military service and the production of modern battleships, all actions that would prove crucial during the Great War.
The Golden Age
If your social class dictated you belonged “upstairs,” the Edwardian Era was a time in which you would have felt most at home. Unlike his mother, Edward and his queen, Alexandra, indulged in luxury, and jewelry was an essential part of the Edwardian lifestyle.
Edwardian jewels shared their style with those produced in France during the Belle Époque, or Beautiful Age. Edwardian style took its cue from the fluid style of Art Nouveau pieces, its themes were quite different. Edwardians desired jewels that reflected their wealth and good taste, believing that Art Nouveau, with its scantily clad female figures and suggestive themes, was really rather vulgar.
Garland style took its name from the floral wreaths and garlands that were often featured in Edwardian jewelry. With a look that was light and lacy, garland style jewelry nonetheless possessed a sense of majesty in the intricate designs and use of diamonds and pearls. The theme incorporated a variety of styles: Classical Roman and Greek design elements; French Baroque and Rococo styles; and a helping of themes inspired by the Court of Versailles. Graphic elements included scrolls, feathers, tassels, foliage, flowers, ribbons and bows, circles, swags, laurel wreaths and Greek keys.
Platinum was the metal of choice for Edwardian jewels. The invention of the acetylene torch in 1903 ensured platinum could be heated to the temperature required to fashion the jewelry into the desired designs. Its strength meant that platinum could be molded into delicate lacework and minimalistic but durable settings that didn’t detract from the beauty of the gems.
Milgraining was a new decorative method that was also possible thanks to the durability of platinum.
Borders of delicate ridges and balls created a lovely finishing touch.
The “white” styles created with platinum, along with its primary gemstone counterparts of diamonds and pearls, created a look that was especially flattering to the pastel fabrics of the Edwardian era.
By 1910, black and white styles were the vogue. Diamond jewelry set in platinum was pinned to black ribbons and accented with onyx or black enamel. These pieces had the added advantage of being in compliance with mourning etiquette.
Rings featuring the bow and garland motif showcased large center stones haloed by smaller diamonds or colored gems. The trend was to stack one’s rings, featuring several on each digit.
Bracelets, unlike rings, were worn singly, rather than being layered, as they had been in previous eras.
Brooches crafted of diamonds set in platinum were all the rage. Linear bar brooches that incorporated colored stones along with diamonds accented the neckline. Lozenge-shaped and round brooches, often with a distinctive colored gemstone at their center, were accompanied by a whole host of diamonds and set in platinum.
Thanks in part to Princess Alexandra, who was self-conscious about the scar on her neck, “dog collars” came into vogue in England in 1880; the fashion had been popular in France since 1865. These choker necklaces included a range of styles, from simple black velvet or ribbons with buckles to intricate designs in platinum. Strands of pearls were also sometimes used instead of ribbons. A diamond-studded netted necklace called a résille covered the woman’s neck and bodice for a scintillating effect.
Necklaces were always in fashion, but never more so than in 1910 when women’s necklines changed, leaving little room for brooches and plenty of real estate to showcase a favorite pendant, suspended from a simple chain.
Pendant styles included the lavallière, which featured a single round, oval or pear shaped gemstone suspended from a chain. Négligées had two large gemstones that were suspended from a chain, but at different lengths. The négligée was a great way to showcase two different kinds of gems. Sautoirs, also on trend, were made up of long ropes of pearls or beads, complete with a prominent tassel to complete the look.
At the turn of the 20th Century, diamond or pearl stud earrings were in vogue. By 1910, these were replaced with earrings that dangled a variety of objects – from pearl tassels to briolette diamonds to bows and ribbons. Delicate chains set with small diamonds suspended from garland motifs.
Tiaras were a fashion essential for society’s elite, and the advent of platinum meant tiaras could be decorative and intricate, as well as light. Aigrettes became a popular hair ornament, as did bandeaus, which were worn across the forehead.
Death of a King
Edward’s influence on fashion could be perceived a number of years before his mother’s death, and it continued after the onset of the Great War, well after the King’s passing. The War would change the world forever, and with it, the lighthearted luxury that defined the Edwardian Era.