The Jewelry of High Society
Lace translated into platinum and diamonds. This is the phrase used to describe Edwardian jewelry. The Edwardian Period was a short period, dating from 1901 to 1910, during the reign of King Edward VIII, son of Queen Victoria. Edward was 56 years old when he succeeded to the throne. The Edwardian Period is sometimes lost or forgotten, sandwiched between two great periods, that being Art Nouveau and Art Deco. The opening years of the century were still under the spell of Art Nouveau. While many Art Nouveau artists concentrated on design, many of the larger firms such as Cartier and Tiffany were making headway in improving the appearance, setting and cutting of diamond jewelry. In direct contrast to Art Nouveau, many of the designs initiated between 1901-1910 were rather understated. The restraints of Victoria's era were followed by the extravagance and sophistication of the reign of Edward VIII. Edwardian jewelry was the jewelry of high society and nowhere was the Edwardian style more apparent than in the jewelry of the period.
As discussed previously, many of the periods had overlapping characteristics and Edwardian jewelry was no exception. It had its roots in the closing years of the Victorian period. In contrast to diamond jewelry made in the late 19th century, diamonds were made to look as fine and delicate as possible in order to blend with the lace, silk, and feathers, or marks of total femininity of the Edwardian lady. Diamonds were essential in the development of an Edwardian piece of jewelry, with many of these pieces being among the finest jewelry ever made.
Diamonds and Platinum
Princess Alexandra, Edward's wife, and the Princess of Wales had a great influence on fashion of the period as did recently Princess Diana. Probably the strongest influence on Edwardian jewelry was the dramatic progress made in gem stone cutting. The pear shape lent itself well to the elegant Edwardian themes, but the stone cutting used in Edwardian jewelry was just a hint of what was to come in the subsequent period, Art Deco. Other characteristics of Edwardian jewelry include the extensive use of platinum. Invisible settings of platinum extended and flattered the brilliance and whiteness of the stones. Millgrained setting was made popular during the period. Millgraining required that a thin bead of metal securing the stone would be ridged and textured with tiny grains or beads. This effect would create an extremely fine, almost imperceivable rim around the diamond. Knowing the strength of platinum, designers skillfully produced pieces that were extremely thin and lightweight, masterpieces of engineering. Platinum also lent itself to the open work designs and scalloped patterned edges that gave the illusion of fine hand-made lace, unmistakably Edwardian. Also very characteristic of the period was the use of knife edge wires. These were thin blades of metal with a sharp edge facing upwards, so that only a fine "knife edge" of metal was visible.
The bow, which is characteristically Victorian, took on a new meaning in the Edwardian period. Made of platinum and produced in a honeycomb pattern of fine mesh, the bow was used to match the delicate fabrics and hand embroidery worn by the rich. Brooches, pendants, and rings were also made in that very delicate style. One design that emerges during this period was the "Negligee" pendant. It had two drops of unequal length hanging from another single stone or a thin chain. The "sautior," a long necklace consisting of pearls or a find chain ending in a tassel, was also made popular during the period.
Although much of the jewelry produced during the period was grand and expensive, many other less expensive pieces were also made popular. Bar brooches, half hoop bangles set with pearls, diamonds, or colored stones, gypsy rings worn by both men and women, cross over, half hoop, snake rings, and gold chain bracelets set with turquoise and pearls. Star settings also became popular during this period. Although much of this jewelry was produced late in the Victorian period, it is recognized as being Edwardian.
The prosperity and open display of wealth were brought to an abrupt end by the realities associated with World War I. The attitude that would emerge following World War I was one that would surprise the whole world. The Edwardian period, as we know it, would never be recaptured.
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