The Edwardian era, like the Georgian and Victorian eras before it, derives its name from the reign of an English King, Edward VII (1901-1910). This is the final jewelry period appellation to be defined by a British monarch. Edward was the lighthearted, luxury loving antithesis of his mother. Even while he was still the Prince of Wales, Edward was infamous for being a playboy and a gambler. After his coronation he continued to surround himself with fast moving, nouveau riche plutocrats, spending the majority of his time engaged in various social endeavors. Jewelry was an important part of the lifestyle cultivated by this extremely wealthy upper class. When considering the stylistic elements of the Edwardian period, the era actually begins earlier, during the declining years of the reign of Queen Victoria, and ends a few years after Edward’s death with the onset of World War I. To the rest of Europe this period was characterized as La Belle Époque.
The last decade of the nineteenth century, the fin de siècle, was a time when the rejection of the machine-made jewelry that had once been welcomed as an innovation, caused an about face in fashion and design. Jewelry went from large and ostentatious to ethereal and delicate almost overnight. Employing what was to become known as the “garland” style or style guirlande, jewelers who chose not to embrace Art Nouveau or the Arts and Crafts movement borrowed the fluidity of their lines and incorporated them into more traditional motifs thereby creating Edwardian jewelry. The “new” designs of the Edwardian Era had their roots firmly planted in eighteenth-century jewelry. The Court of Versailles was inspiration for the customers who desired aristocratically styled jewels. Ornamental motifs from earlier centuries were available through pictorial records and eighteenth century pattern books circulated freely beginning c.1850. In particular, Cartier encouraged his designers to wander the streets of Paris looking at seventeenth and eighteenth century architecture for inspiration.
Garlands and ribbons, laurel wreaths, bow knots, tassels and lace were rendered with a new lightness thanks to the advances made in platinum fabrication. Early platinum work continued to be backed with gold in the same manner as silver. In 1903 the invention of the oxyacetylene torch, that could reach the temperatures necessary to work with platinum, allowed jewelry to be made solely from platinum. The strength of platinum was fully exploited and it became possible to create jewels that resembled "petit point" embroidery and fine, delicate, sophisticated jewels resembling diamond encrusted lace. This strength and rigidity allowed the jeweler to mount stones in minimalist settings. Millegraining, a new decorative technique made possible by the use of platinum, is featured often on Edwardian jewelry. Its border of delicate balls and ridges surrounding a gemstone or on the knife sharp edges of a design served to give jewelry a softer, lighter look.
Pastel delicate fabrics were highlighted by the haute couture and this new “white” jewelry suited it perfectly. Platinum and diamond brooches consummately complimented the fashion. Small brooches continued to be worn in large numbers. Favorite motifs were bows, circles, swags, and garlands all in the delicate lacey new style. Linear bar brooches with colored stones and diamonds punctuated the neckline at ever increasing lengths. Round and lozenge shaped brooches, sometimes centering a colored stone, were dotted all over with diamonds set in light and bright platinum. Bows were more abundant than they had ever been. Designed to simulate fluid fabrics and lace they were magnificently pierced and millegrained creating incredible delicacy.
Diamond “dog collars” became a fashion fixture in France c.1865, catching on in England c.1880, they were a favorite of the Princess of Wales. These tight fitting necklaces ranged from elaborately pierced platinum gossamer designs in the garland motif to simple black velvet or moiré ribbons with buckles, flowers and other designs at the center. Sometime the ribbon was replaced by strands of pearls, several rows wide, supported by elaborately pierced diamond plaques. An extremely delicate, tight fitting résille (netted) style necklace was made possible through the use of platinum. Résille not only covered the entire neck, but overflowed onto the bodice with scintillating diamond-set platinum nets. Cartier called them draperie de décolleté.
Circa 1910 the changing necklines in women’s fashions left little room for pins and brooches thereby placing an increasing importance on necklaces. Simple chains suspending a delicate pendant or gemstone, known as a lavallière and the asymmetrical double pendant négligées were examples of the new delicacy in jewelry design. Larger pendants were often circular with garland and geometrical motifs. Sautoirs composed of long ropes of pearls or beads completed by a generously fringed tassel at either end were wrapped in excessive proportions around the neck. Long chains composed of alternating hair-fine platinum links and pearls or spectacle-set gems were worn full length, falling past the waist, or wrapped and festooned in the nineteenth century style.
Earrings began the century as simple diamond studs but were soon eclipsed by fragile openwork designs that better melded with the fashions of the period. Long glittering earrings with miniature garland-style wreaths and articulated center stones began to swing from twentieth century ear lobes. In addition, fabric-like gossamer creations with delicate dangles, all suspended from decorated ear hooks, took many shapes. All the Edwardian elements were present including platinum openwork, diamonds and millegraining. Designed to move and sway with the lighter flowing garments, Edwardian earrings were an everlasting iconic element of the period.
Wearing far fewer bracelets together at one time than their Victorian counterparts, the fashion for bracelets turned to delicate tapered designs with repeating motifs, elongated forms, or links in the new more refined style afforded by platinum. Another popular bracelet fashion was composed of a front section of beautiful, gem-set design completed by expanding and contracting plain links circling to the underside of the wrist. These bracelets were easy to fit to the wearer and less expensive because they were only employed gemstones on the top side.
Tiaras were essential for the well to do and the elite and the advent of platinum allowed them to be elaborate and large without being heavy and unwieldy. The pervasive garland style resulted in fabulous tiaras with festoons and loops suspending all manner of pendeloques, pearls and the like. As the first decade of the new century progressed, the tiara evolved into a bandeau, worn across the forehead, styled daintily in platinum, encrusted with diamonds and secured by a ribbon tied at the back of the head. A new design referred to as the meander tiara, with a geometric Greek key motif, was very popular. Aigrettes, in a plethora of naturalistic styles with feathers reaching new heights replaced the nineteenth century custom of wearing brooches as hair ornaments.
Rings featured many of the same bow and garland motifs with large centerstones encircled by calibré-cut colored stones or small diamonds. The fashion was for rings to be stacked, often with multiples worn on each finger. Larger, more substantial rings with an elongated outline, pierced and paved with myriad of diamonds and colored stones, decorated the finger from knuckle to knuckle.
Buckles and slides also enjoyed a resurgence as they were often employed to cinch in the waistline required by the narrower feminine silhouette. Buckles could also be substituted for diadems with the addition of a ribbon to secure them around the head. Parures all but disappeared from jewelry wardrobes, replaced by combinations of jewelry worn together as if they matched but with distinctly different designs. Elements previously seen as critical to complete an ensemble were now impossible to wear-sewing large, heavy jeweled elements onto gossamer fabrics was simply not plausible. The monochromatic nature of this platinum and diamond jewelry allowed for an easy routine of mix and match to accessorize both day and evening.
Circa 1910 the fashion turned to “black and white” and platinum and diamond jewels were pinned to black ribbons and accented by black enamel or onyx. These jewels served double duty as they could be worn for any occasion and did not violate mourning etiquette.
Following quickly on its heels, a stylistic about face with a distinct Oriental influence blew into town with the Ballets Russes’ June 4, 1910 Paris performance of Schéhérazade. Peacock feathers, lotus blossoms and aigrettes all studded with a rainbow of colored gems were suddenly in vogue. Amethyst, turquoise, Montana sapphires, opals and demantoid garnets all in newly designed cuts; calibré, baguette and marquises, along with briolettes, breathed new life into jewelry styles.
Developing and evolving alongside the “Edwardian” style, were the “Art Nouveau” and "Arts & Crafts” aesthetics. Also growing out of a rejection of machine made jewelry and a prolonged period of mourning jewelry, these two aesthetics were vastly different from their “Edwardian” sibling. Sharing some stylistic lines and profiles, the materials, methods of manufacture, metals and gems, were vastly different. All three aesthetics continued until the outbreak of World War I, four years after the death of Edward VII. Formal occasions and parties disappeared overnight and the light hearted Edwardian spirit came to an abrupt end. Life changed dramatically in a heartbeat and jewelry all but disappeared. Precious metals became scarce and platinum, which was used in the manufacture of armaments, disappeared almost before it gained a foothold as a “precious” metal.