Although King Edward's reign spanned the years 1901-1910, when referring to jewellery, the Edwardian Era generally means the years 1901 - 1915. Stylistically, Edwardian era jewellery can also be said to have begun much earlier, during the last years of the Aesthetic Era. The Edwardian era also occurred simultaneously to the French Belle Epoque Era and is also known as The Garland Era due to the prevalence of the iconic garland motif (see under 'Motifs' below).
The designs of the Edwardian era jewellery were light and airy, influenced by the fluid lines of Art Nouveau design whilst still based on traditional motifs. Edwardian era jewellery is perhaps the most ethereal and feminine jewellery of all and can be seen as a rejection of the ostentatious and stuffy designs of the Victorian era. Edwardian jewellery's emphasis on light coloured materials can also be seen as an reaction to the previous century's obsession with black mourning jewellery.
MATERIALS AND MANUFACTURING
Platinum quickly became the most important metal during this era. Prior to 1903, platinum was usually backed with gold. However, in 1903, the invention of the oxyacetylene torch and its ensuing high temperatures enabled pieces to be made solely from platinum. The strength and malleability of platinum allowed pieces to be created, often using pierced open work and filigree, that were both very fine and delicate whilst at the same time very durable. Because of the adaptability of platinum, the new decorative technique of millegraining, in which extremely tiny bead like details are added to the edges of jewellery, emerged during this period.
The most popular gemstones were diamonds and pearls. Amethyst, turquoise, sapphires, garnets and opals were all popular stones. Jewellers experimented with new cuts such as calibré, baguette, marquises and briolettes.
Although the choker style necklaces, known as 'dog collars', were popular in France around 1865, the fashion boomed in England around 1880 when worn by Princess Alexandra. (It is said she was covering up a scar on her neck.) The styles of these tight fitting necklaces ranged from elaborate platinum pieces to wide rows of pearls to black velvet or or moiré, often with a central design in the form of a plaque, a garland, a flower or a buckle.
This is a necklace comprised often of fine chain links but not necessarily with two parallel pendants suspended at slightly different heights. This type of necklace began to be popular around 1900.
Sautoirs were very long necklaces, often ropes of pearls or beads or chains with gems. They often had a fringed tassel at each end. They were worn wrapped multiple times around the neck or loose and falling past the waist. (This fashion continued in earnest in the Art Deco era).
The Edwardian era is typified by the craze for all white jewellery. The beautiful pierced or filigree platinum and diamond pieces are said to have complimented the new electric lighting perfectly and corresponded with a focus on evening events, the theatre, dinners and elegant cruises.
Black and white
These were very fine, netted necklaces made of platinum, often set with diamonds. They covered the neck and shoulders and flowed to the bodice. Cartier named them draperie de décolleté.
Earrings in this era grew larger and longer, often dangling, designed to move and flow and catch the light. Again, there was an emphasis on platinum, diamonds, filigree and millegrain work.
The fashion for wearing many bracelets at a time fell out of favour. Bracelets where more delicate and refined than ever.
Tiaras and Bandeaus
Tiaras were lighter and more elaborate as platinum allowed for more intricate and fine designs. Towards the end of the 1910s, bandeaus started to be worn across the forehead. The meander tiara, with the Greek key motif, was also popular.
Aigrettes became all the rage and were worn extensively by the well to do and even, at times, by ordinary woman.
Rings were worn stacked and often on nearly every finger. They often had a central stone surrounded by other smaller stones.
Buckles and slides
Buckles, usually associated with the early Victorian and Georgian era, and slides, were worn at the waist to emphasis slender waistlines. They were also attached to ribbons and worn around the head instead of tiaras or aigrettes.
Mix and match
Parures were no longer in fashion as women worn jewellery of different designs and styles. The lines between what was worn during the day and what was worn during the evening blurred as a more relaxed approach to jewellery emerged.
Textile inspired motifs such as garlands and ribbons, bow knots, tassel and fine lace work motifs became extremely prevalent. The garland was such an ubiquitous motif that the Edwardian era is often referred to as 'The Garland Era'.
Cartier designers took inspiration from the historical architecture of Paris, whilst other designers sought inspiration from the 18th pattern books and records which began to be published around 1850.
Inspired by performances such as the Russian Ballet's Schéhérazade in Paris, tastes turned to all things oriental. Colourful gems, peacock feathers and Indian flavoured designs took centre stage.
Although very different in style and materials and manufacuring, The Edwardian aesthetic developed simultaneously to the Art Nouveau and the Arts & Crafts movements, as well as the German Jugendstil movement and other related design movements. They can been seen as sharing a rejection of the oppressive past and an embracing of freedom and fluidity. This wonderful explosion of elegance, freedom and feminine expresson came to a sudden end with the outbreak of the World War 1, four years after the death of Edward VII. Jewellery manufacturing almost ceased entirely during this period. Precious metals became very hard to come by and platinum, being sought after by the weapons industry, was rarely used until after the war. We have yet to see a return to the exquisite sensibilities of the Edwardian era, although many have continued to wear and revere the styles.
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