The Edwardian Era 1895-1915
The Edwardian era refers to the period of the monarchy of Edward VII of England, who reigned from 1901 to 1910, following the death of his mother, Queen Victoria. Although Edward’s supremacy ensued for a decade, the jewelry style form this time spans a much broader range, beginning in 1890 and ending at the onset of World War I in 1914, which brought the Edwardian Era to a close. Edward’s influence on society began when he married Alexandra, the Danish princess, and they set the standards for dress and fashion.
More appropriately termed the “garland style,” due to the use of this floral motif, Edwardian jewelry is characterized by the use of white metal, primarily platinum, to construct graceful lace-like airy designs and commonly incorporating an all-white or mostly-white palette of diamonds, pearls, or diamonds with colored stone accents in rings, bracelets, earrings and necklaces of the period. The Edwardian era was concurrent with the Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts periods, but offers a much more restrained and traditional style of jewelry. Innovations in diamond cutting technology were ultimately helping to denote the Edwardian style by producing a cut of a consistent round outline, known as an Old European cut or transitional Round Brilliant cut. The stability of this time in history, and the new wealth acquired by an increasing upper middle class helped to promote the luxurious and very feminine look.
Stones in Vogue
Aside from the abundantly rich diamond fields of South Africa garnering much esteem, the production of sapphires from Kashmir, India and from Montana in the United States, as well as demantoid garnets from Russia, also engendered considerable popularity, making them the favorite colored stones of the period. Pearls were another favorite of the Edwardian era and were often seen in the form of tassels consisting of natural seed pearls and necklaces of natural round pearls spaced on spectacle chains. American freshwater pearls are often found in Tiffany & Co. jewelry of the day. Also, natural conch pearls were the perfect foil for both natural pearls and diamonds, adding a touch of subtle pink color to the customarily white palette. The newly discovered black opals from Queensland, Australia were eagerly sought after and could be found mounted in lacy, hand-pierced platinum surrounds as earrings, rings and pendants.
Popular Jewelers of the Edwardian Era
Jewelry in the garland style did not just come from England; Peter Carl Fabergé of Imperial Russia was a virtuoso of this style of jewelry. Perhaps better known for his Easter eggs, enameled boxes and life-like carved animals and flowers, Fabergé created simple and yet intricate jewels, often with the use of guilloché enamel, a translucent usually colored enamel on an engraved or machined surface, that are highly sought after today. Louis Cartier has been called the father of Edwardian jewelry and took inspiration from 18th century architectural details found in the streets of Paris to consistently produce beautifully delicate knife-edge designs using primarily diamonds to create rich, opulent necklaces and brooches. Other popular jewelers of the day were Tiffany & Co., Marcus and Co. and Black, Starr and Frost in the United States, and LaCloche Freres, Chaumet and Boucheron in Europe.
Popular Edwardian Era Motifs
Inspired by Neo-classical and Rococo artistic and architectural movements of the eighteenth century, as well as the French courts of Louis XV and XVI, Edwardian jewelry displays many ornamental motifs from those earlier periods, such as floral or foliate wreaths, swags, bows and tassels. Star and crescent designs begun in the previous century remained common design forms.
Edwardian Era Jewelry Forms
A favorite necklace type of the era is the dog-collar necklace: a close-fitting band of metal, velvet or grosgrain ribbon, or multiple rows of pearls or beads surrounding the throat and sometimes decorated with a central plaque accompanied by spacer bars. The riviere, a necklace of gems—usually diamonds in a single row—was another favored style. Another popular necklace form was the sautoir: a single strand, or in more expensive versions, several woven strands, ending with fringed tassels. The negligee necklace was another characteristic Edwardian necklace and consists of two drops of unequal length depending from a central drop. Often a spherical timepiece would be worn as a pendant attached to an enamel long link chain. Due to the thinness of the favored dress material of the time, multiple small brooches or scarf pins would decorate the front of a gown or the rim of a hat. The formality of the period demanded the use of tiaras and was characteristic of the Edwardian era. Many tiaras could easily be converted into necklaces, thus providing two looks from one piece of jewelry. Aigrettes—pplume shaped ornaments worn at the forehead or on hats, and often incorporating egret or heron feathers—became a favorite accessory of dress designers Worth and Poiret.
Styles of Enamel That Denote Edwardian
Enameling styles are sometimes a good way to tell the difference between Art Nouveau, Arts and Crafts and Edwardian era jewelry. Whereas plique-a-jour enamel was primarily used by craftsmen of the Art Nouveau style, and champlevé, cloisonné, or Limoges styles of enameling are more associated with Arts and Crafts jewelry, Edwardian jewelry saw the rise of what is known as guilloché enamel. Guilloché enamel in pastel colors was a mainstay of Edwardian jewels and is at its finest in jewels by Fabergé.
Platinum ruled this period of jewelry, and, due to its strength and ductility, was employed in creating knife-edge settings to promote the stone over the metal. Knife-edge settings were composed of extremely thin but strong platinum wires connecting different components of a particular piece, be it necklace, bracelet, brooch or earrings. With so little of the metal exposed to view, the primary focus became the stones in the design. Another characteristic setting of this period is millegrain setting, where stones are surrounded by a low bezel that has been formed into tiny beads, enhancing the gem it is surrounding. Once platinum was declared a strategic metal for the war effort thus restricting its use, jewelry production dropped off dramatically.
All Images by Ernst Faerber