Continuing on as we chronologically explore the various eras in vintage and antique jewelry, we’re leaving Queen Victoria behind and instead focusing on her first-born son. It’s not that the Edwardian period began the day Victoria passed on to be with her beloved husband Albert. Or ended immediately after King Edward’s brief reign. You see, Edward was a bit of a showman and playboy. While his mother was firmly entrenched in her mourning (perhaps wearing it a bit as if it were an old coat), Edward was known for living it up.
The Edwardian Era: Who Was this Eddy Character?
With a mum living (and reigning) until her 86th year, what else was there for a king-in-waiting to do? He was married but he and his wife Alexandra lived a very social and somewhat “open”marriage. With the fun-loving future king nearing his time on the throne, styles and fashions were changing yet again. To the rest of this world (Europe most notably), the period was known as La Belle Époque (the Belle Epoque period).
Jewelry that had at one time been heralded for its innovation – machine produced pieces, for example – was now frowned upon and considered in poor taste. Jewelry pieces went from big and proud (some might even say ostentatious) to smaller and more demure in appearance. The “garland” style (or style guirlande) emerged: themes that incorporated motifs borrowed from the Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau periods, using bows, garlands, ribbons, laurel wreaths, knots and tassels were often created out of platinum (a new metal on the scene that was more durable and also more malleable than gold).
During the king’s reign, the invention of the oxyacetylene torch opened up a new world to jewelers. They now had a tool to provide the heat necessary to work in platinum, thereby creating fine, delicate and sophisticated jewels. It also allowed for much more delicate detail to be applied to pieces, allowing for the more minimalist settings we see during this period. Millegraining became very common during the Edwardian period. Migraine is a border of tiny balls and ridges surrounding a gemstone or edges of a design, giving jewelry a softer lighter look while providing extra security beyond that of traditional prongs.
Platinum: The New Precious Metal
Fabrics being worn in the fashions of the day were lighter and much more “flowy” than those of the Victorian era, calling for lighter, more delicate jewels. Gone were the days of loading oneself up with adornments. Now we see brooches being worn several at a time, designed to simulate flowing fabrics and movement. Ribbon bows encrusted in diamonds appeared to flutter in the breeze and float in their delicate platinum mountings. Necklaces flutter at the neckline and long, glittering, open-work pendant earrings, suspended from the newly patented lever-back, whisper sweet nothings as they graze the earlobes of their owners.
Diamond “dog collars” were becoming the rage in France around 1865 and they finally made it across the channel by around 1880. And if something lighter but more sparkly was wanted, a style of tight-fitting résille (netted) necklace was now made possible through the use of platinum. Résille not only covered the entire neck, but overflowed onto the bodice with cascading diamond-set platinum nets. Cartier called them draperie de décolleté.
And where do we start with the tiaras? It was de rigueur if you were of a certain socioeconomic class that you have a tiara and wear it to attend many a fabulous party. Again, platinum came to the rescue with its lightweight strength. They heavy clunky tiaras of the past were put away, in favor of the more delicate pieces that could also possibly convert to some form of adornment of the neck when not being worn on the head.
Alongside the Edwardian Period, other aesthetics were also being developed. As we mentioned, the Arts and Crafts and the Art Nouveau periods were flourishing and occasionally borrowing themes from one another but were generally vastly different from their Edwardian cousin. Alas, as is all to often the case, the party was not to continue. King Edward perished on May 6, 1910 and while the fashions lived on a while longer, everything changed, fashions and jewels included, with the onset of WWI four years after his death. Almost overnight the frivolous parties and light-hearted spirit changed and all but disappeared. Precious metals became scarce and life became very different for all.
Would you like to read up on the Edwardian period a little further? Edwardian England: A Guide to Everyday Life, 1900-1914 is a great resource to do just that. As is The Edwardians, or Victorian and Edwardian Fashion: A Photographic Survey Do you have any jewelry dating from the Edwardian Period? If so, we’d love to see a picture and hear all about it in our comments section below!