Edwardian Jewellery (1901-1909): Everything You Need To Know
What is Edwardian Jewellery?
Crafted between 1901-1909, Edwardian jewellery was the last jewellery era to be named after the UK’s reigning monarch. The Edwardian period’s namesake King Edward VII was the embodiment of naughty-but-nice. The eldest son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, King Edward VII’s reign was short but sweet. The renowned gambler and debonair playboy first took to the throne after his mother’s death in 1901, and passed away at the age of 68 in 1910.
Fondly nicknamed Bertie (which we think suits the charmer’s twinkly personality far better), King Edward was the heir apparent for nearly 60 years, observed by the stiff glare of the public under the powerhouse Victoria. A beloved Queen, but as stern as they come, Victoria and Prince Albert were determined to provide Edward with an education worthy of royalty, and thus sparked a rebellious nature in boyhood that would last a lifetime. What better way to defy mum and dad, than overhaul the entire country’s attitude when you finally get the keys to the kingdom?
The minute he took to the throne, the entire country changed, making some of the most sparkly and sensational jewels to date. The coronation, society balls and parties, oh my, we get just giddy thinking about it! This age of opulence subscribed to a dress code of “more is more”, and Edwardian jewellery was full-on fabulous. Though the era was named after Edward’s reign, Edwardian jewellery can include the years up to the First World War and the final two decades of Victoria’s career, especially as she began to move away from public life.
There were a few reasons why Edwardian jewellery was bright, beautiful and more elegant than the rest:
- Industrial Revolution: the Industrial Revolution allowed mass production of jewellery making for the first time, meaning that jewellery could easily be worn across all classes. High society bigwigs turned their nose up at this widespread democratisation, and instead favoured handcrafted fine-artisan pieces.
- The fin de siecle: The turn of the century was a pivotal moment within fashion and jewellery history. The Edwardian era coincided with the romantic Art Nouveau, Arts and Crafts movement and La Belle Epoch, French for “the beautiful era”. Each of these eras were devoted to, and inspired by, the beauty of nature. In turn, this culminated within a whirlwind of great, glamorous and astonishing creations.
- The death of Queen Victoria: As mentioned above, Queen Victoria has long had a post-mortem perspective of being stiff, moody and macabre which is reflected within the dark mourning jewels of the Victorian period. However, after her death, Edward saw this as an opportunity to bring something a little more flirtatious to the royal court. He favoured luxurious frills, flourishes and frivolity, resulting in the shifting of hemlines and necklines and more romantic styles of dress. Not only was this some light relief after the last 50 years of doom and gloom, but it also gave jewellers the opportunity to show off their skill, playing with light and texture to compliment this new amorous state of dress.
So, comparing the Edwardian vs Victorian eras is, luckily for us antique hunters, like day and night.
Edwardian Jewellery Styles
Edwardian Fine jewellery is easy to spot for its sugary sweet feminine symbols. Bows, lace and garlands were in fashion, allowing fine filigree work to literally branch out and take precedence. A large majority of these jewels were crafted in Platinum and studded with pale gemstones like Diamonds, Pearls, Aquamarines, Amethysts and Opals to build both a “white on white” or pretty pastel look that made gems appear to be floating on the skin.
Due to its turn of the century time period, Edwardian jewels obviously took inspiration from the former century. However, Edwardian jewelry took inspiration even further back, retrospectively borrowing from 18th century pattern books and even the unsurmountable decadence of the Court of Versailles.
While machine made pieces were off the menu for high society, their insatiable taste for Diamonds led to an unprecedented development in stone cutting technology with the baguette, marquise and emerald cuts all born within this period! The Edwardian pendant necklace, known as a lavalier, often used Briolette cut Diamonds in swirled and scrolled designs suspended on chains, while Joseph Asscher’s eponymous cut was popular atop filigree Edwardian engagement rings. Other antique Diamond cuts still favoured include our ever-adored Old Cut Diamonds, which were designed to sparkle under candlelight, rather than modern fluorescent bulbs. We can only imagine the wealth of Edwardian Diamond rings that birthed within these 9 short years!
As necklines dropped towards the end of the era, Edwardian necklace styles grew ever more grandiose to make up for the depletion of brooches, and chains stretched past the waist or were worn wrapped and layered around the neck.
Styles evocative of the era include long strings of beaded sautoirs and the twice as nice negligees, which suspended double pendant droplets from a single chain. Before Edward came to the throne, when he and his wife Alexandra of Denmark were the Prince and Princess of Wales, Alexandra had an unwritten role as a tastemaker and her penchant for French colliers de Chiens “dog collars” also birthed a trend. Strands of Pearls forming a choker or black velvet or moire ribbons with sparkling floral designs or buckles were popular examples of the style, but also included delicate and elaborate string-thin Platinum pieces, to make netted shapes to hold stones and cage the neck.
The creation of millegrain was another way to make already fine and feminine jewellery appear even softer. This method of lining pieces with tiny balls of metal made edges seem blurred and detailed, and was popular in creating laced effects and used to surround gemstones. How could jewellers make a static Edwardian ring suitably sumptuous in the age of sweetness and light, though? Precious stones were piled on into fashionable stacks knuckle-long, and Edwardian cluster engagement rings framed a central gem with haloes of dainty Diamonds or calibre cut coloured stones.
Though the white on white look was a popular trend with the strength of Platinum allowing for more fanciful designs, colourful looks were still created, with the King and Queen’s favourite stones including Amethysts and Peridots. Conveniently green, white and violet (translated to “give women votes”) were also the colours of the women’s movement, and in a tale as old as time, social change was reflected in fashions, with some pioneers wearing Edwardian suffragette jewellery made in their colour scheme, while they fought for the equality they would eventually win in 1918.
As the First World War, then known as the Great War, broke out in 1914, the demand for gems and jewels dimmed. What came after the Edwardian era? A world entirely changed, pulsing with industrialisation and the promise of a modern age. The Art Deco era was ushered in under electric lights, with its admiration for efficiency and appreciation for glamour married together in jewellery with architectural lines and bold brilliance. The heady days of the lavish Edwardian period might have been few, but the luxurious pieces they produced left a lasting impression.
Today, our collection boasts a myriad of these exuberant perfectly preserved jewels, each with their own unique personalities and stories to tell. From Edwardian Opal rings to antique Pearl necklaces, we have a hand-picked collection of the prettiest pieces around, perfect for those who are looking to start or expand their Edwardian fine jewellery collection!