About Edwardian Jewelry

Edwardian / Belle Epoch Period - 1890 to 1915

Edward VII ascended the throne following the death of his mother, Queen Victoria, in 1901. He and his wife Alexandra set the tone for the Belle Epoque, a time when elegance and fashion became society's predominant values. New wealth flourished among the upper and middle classes; the automobile, airplane and movie industries were born. Although Edward died in 1910, the stylistic period termed "Edwardian" is considered to continue until World War I.

The figure gained a new importance in fashion: the feminine S-shape silhouette prevailed. Fashion drew inspiration from the French courts of the eighteenth century; it took on an almost ethereal lightness, with layers of delicate fabrics, lace and feathers. Pale pastels and monochromatic white-on-white were the dominant color schemes. Demand for jewelry styles as light and delicate as the clothing ensued.

Edwardian Bow by Tiffany.

Platinum: Platinum's strength enabled the creation of "invisible" settings, in which very little metal was used to hold a gemstone in place. Such settings complemented fashion's lightness. Jewelry made with saw-piercing and filigree techniques matched the lacy looks of the era. White gold alloys were developed as a less expensive alternative, and as a substitute for platinum (considered a strategic metal) during WWI.

Diamonds and Pearls: Diamonds and pearls set in platinum were favored for their white-on-white color scheme, and sense of refined elegance and luxury.

Garland Style Motifs: Eighteenth-century decorative motifs, such as swags, bows, ribbons, tassels, wreaths and flower garlands, show the neo-classical and Rococo influences on Edwardian jewelry design.

Necklaces: The new fashion--with its upswept hair, high collars for day and low necklines for evening--emphasized the head and neck. Pendants and lavalieres were widely worn. Particularly popular was the negligee pendant, consisting of two drops of unequal length suspended from a central element.

Indian Influence: When Edward toured India, Alexandra developed a keen interest in the style of the Indian princesses, or Maharajas. This exotic influence started a fashion for diamond aigrettes (feathers worn as hair ornamnets); sautoirs (long ropes of pearls or chain ending in a tassel); and chokers, or "dog collars" (one of Alexandra's favorite styles).

Brooches: Circle brooches and bar pins, particularly with lacy filigree designs, were very fashionable. Stars and crescents were also popular.

Amethyst: A favorite stone of Alexandra's, amethyst was often included in jewelry of the era. The combination of these violet stones with white pearls and green peridots represented the colors of the suffragette movment; the "g," "w," and "v" stood for "give women the vote."

Today, diamond engagement rings from this time period are extremely popular. These engagement rings often feature filigree detail, and contain antique diamonds such as the Old Mine Cut and Old European Cut diamonds. The rings are typically made of platinum or white gold. Filigree diamond earrings and necklaces, and white gold and platinum wedding bands, are the ideal complement to such engagement rings.

The Edwardian style of jewelry had its beginnings in the Late-Victorian era. The princess of Wales had already become a trend setter with jewelry fashion. The official beginning of the period was 1901, when Edward VII took the throne, at the age of 56. The Edwardian Period was a time when elegance and fashion became society's predominant values. Fashion, although inspired from the French courts of the eighteenth century, took on an almost ethereal lightness. Layers of delicate lace and feathers were incorporated onto garments rendered in the palest pastels or white on white.

Diamonds were an essential ingredient in Edwardian Jewelry which represents some of the finest examples of diamond and platinum jewelry in existence. Edwardian jewelry was made to look as light and delicate as possible, reflecting the femininity of the Edwardian lady. This was the first time jewelry was made to be worn at night, lit by electricity, not candles!

Advances made in platinum fabrication led to the creation of fine, delicate and sophisticated jewels, resembling diamond encrusted lace. The strength of platinum was fully exploited. It became possible to create jewels that resembled "petit point" embroidery. Edwardian brooches, rings and pendants were often made in this fashion. Milgraining was a typical decorative technique used throughout the Edwardian period. It is a border of small balls or ridges around a setting or on the outer edges of the jewelry that gives a piece a softer and lighter look, similar to the edge of a coin.

A number of examples of Edwardian Jewelry reflect Art Nouveau lines, while others show an Art Deco influence with subtle geometric patterns. That being said, Edwardian Jewelry was not as narcissistic as Art Nouveau Jewelry, nor as self absorbed as Art Deco Jewels. It had an understated elegance and noble opulence that reflected the tastes of the people it adorned. Some unique and very sweet jewels emerged at this time. The négligée pendant became fashionable. This Edwardian necklace had two drops of unequal length, dangling from either a single stone or central element, all suspended from a very fine chain.

The sautoir (or long necklace) was usually made of pearls and ended in a tassel. An excellent example of a sautoir is pictured on the right. This was one of the most fashionable of the Edwardian Jewels and a personal favorite of Queen Alexandra.

Stars, ribbons and bows were favorite motifs for Edwardian Jewelry. Diamonds were the most popular gemstone of the period, but amethysts, peridots, demantoid garnets from the Urals, pale blue sapphires from Montana, unheated aquamarines displaying subtle green undertones and black opals from Australia were also favored. These colored gems were frequently combined with tiny pearls or diamonds. The ladidary arts became much more sophisticated in the early 1900's. Calibré-cut rubies, emeralds, sapphires and amethysts were set with baguette, triangular, trapeze, and marquise shaped diamonds.

Although Edward VII died in 1910, the "Edwardian" style continued until the outbreak of the war. World War I put an abrupt end to the light hearted Edwardian spirit. Life changed overnight and jewelry all but disappeared, either hid away in secure vaults or sold. Precious metal became scarce and platinum, which was used in the manufacture of armaments, disappeared almost entirely from the market!

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