written by JC Blackburn
The Edwardian period technically starts and ends during the years that King Edward sat on the throne in England from 1901 to 1910. However, some scholars will say the period started in 1863, when Edward, who was Prince of Wales at the time, married Danish princess Alexandra.
Because Queen Victoria was in mourning from the death of her beloved husband Prince Albert in 1861, Royal societal duties were passed down to Prince Edward and his beautiful new bride.
Prince Edward and Alexandra took on the job of societal leaders with fervor, entertaining guests and managing royal functions at Marlborough house. The pair were the trend setters of the day and one could be assured that any new style or fashion they introduced at their lavish parties, masquerade balls and dinners would be the next hot thing worn by the who’s who of European and American elite.
Edward and Alexandra had a very firm adhesion to royal tradition while at the same time exhibiting a flair for avant-garde fashion and trends.
Unlike the Art Nouveau style, which overlapped the Edwardian period (1895 to 1910) and was thought by the royal couple to be too exaggerated, risqué and downright vulgar at times, with its naked bodies and mystical sensuality, Edwardian jewelry was rooted in more traditional design.
The young royals pushed the boundaries of fashion while still holding the core elements of tradition. For example, Alexandra loved the bows, tassels and garland jewelry of the 17th centuries, but her commissioned pieces boasted bright purples and blues (her favorite color), in platinum and encrusted with diamonds, then hand-milgrained with beaded edges to provide a softer, lighter look.
Platinum had been a popular metal for showcasing the brilliance of diamonds due to its bright, white tone. Also, platinum didn’t tarnish like the silver-topped jewelry that was normally used. The problem with platinum was it was difficult to melt with the torches of the earlier periods. However, with the advent of the oxyacetylene torch, very high temperatures could be reached, making platinum the metal of choice for the high-end luxury jewelry of the day.
With platinum, jewelers could make lacier, curvier designs because platinum, while being a dense metal, was malleable and could be pierce sawed to create delicate, flowing designs.
Thin, lacey silk dresses were popular at the time, so it was important to keep the jewelry light and thin to lay right on the delicate fabrics.
Cartier was one of the earliest jewelry makers to adopt platinum as their go-to metal. Many of Cartier’s creations from the Edwardian era have become highly collectible pieces, often selling at auction for incredibly high prices.
Ascher cut diamonds became popular during the Edwardian period and were often set in delicate, open-work filigree rings in platinum, encrusted with diamonds.
Smaller rings were often stacked while large rings were made to extend all the way from one knuckle to the next and set with three stones set vertically, also pierce sawed filigree and milgrain decorating the platinum.
Choker necklaces often used black ribbon or velvet attached to a platinum buckle set with diamonds in lacey garland, bow, or tassel designs.
The most popular materials used in Edwardian jewelry was diamonds and pearls. However, the Edwardians were fascinated with novelty jewels. Often displaying butterfly wings, flower petals, feathers, birds, along with exotic colored stones like Opal, Alexandrite and Moonstone as well as the more standard stones such as Sapphire, Ruby and Emeralds.
When World War I started the lavish, champagne and diamond fueled parties dwindled and the Edwardian era of jewelry would be gone forever, leaving us with only memories of a bygone era in jewelry that left many beautiful pieces in safe deposit boxes and safes, only to resurface many years later as reminders of an age of glamor and incredible quality of fine jewelry workmanship.