Downton Abbey is one of the most popular shows on television, and its authentic costumes and jewelry are part of its charm.
When Caroline McCall, costume designer for the show, wanted jewelry for seasons three and four, she turned to Andrew Prince, a designer with an encyclopedic knowledge of jewelry history and impeccable credentials. Prince created tiaras and jewelry for the 2005 British comedy, Mrs. Henderson Presents (starring Dame Judi Dench); jewelry for the 2009 film, The Young Victoria (starring Emily Blunt and Miranda Richardson); and is a successful designer of his own collection of period pieces.
Working for a show like Downton Abbey is a considerable achievement, and Prince shared his thoughts with GIA about the experience: “It was an absolute thrill to work with Caroline McCall and to be associated with such a hugely successful series. It’s wonderful to see my jewelry being worn by this amazing cast, and adding a little more sparkle to the sumptuous costumes and surroundings of Downton Abbey.”
Prince brought an art historian’s eye to his jewelry. Even the stones were fashioned to mirror the cutting styles of the Edwardian and Art Deco eras. Unlike most costume jewelry used on movie and television sets, Prince’s was made of bronze, brass, sterling silver, palladium, Swarovski crystals, cubic zirconia, and synthetic gemstones.
McCall selected items from Prince's collection, and asked him to create appropriate pieces of jewelry for Lady Violet Crawley (played by Dame Maggie Smith), Lady Cora Crawley (Elizabeth McGovern), Lady Mary Crawley (Michelle Dockery), and several of the other actresses. The jewelry Lady Violet Crawley wears in the photo on the left says much about her personality.
Prince shared his thoughts on the cast photo. He explained that Lady Violet wore the most splendid, formal gems with an air of complete nonchalance, while the beautiful younger ladies had fun with more modern styles. By season four, Lady Edith Crawley (Laura Carmichael) has become much more fashion conscious and daring, while her wild young cousin, Lady Rose MacClare, (Lily James) has embraced all the latest styles of the Jazz Age.
Another character whose jewelry is telling is Lady Cora, who married into British aristocracy. Prince noted that, as an American heiress, Lady Cora would have had the money and access to the greatest designers of the age. These individuals could be very demanding, insisting on the latest designs and the highest quality. He added that there was no British reserve to hold them back.
The show has since moved through time, from the Belle Époque period (1871 – 1914) to the Art Deco era (1920s – 1930s). Lady Rose is a spirited and rebellious young woman who epitomizes the fashionable flapper of the 1920s. Her personality is revealed by a glittering bandeau. Prince shared some final thoughts on the artistic periods that are so much a part of Downton Abbey: “I particularly love the Belle Époque – such refinement and delicacy. Design mattered more than the monetary value of the stones and precious metals used. The beauty of jewelry from that age lay in its construction. It was all so different and opulent.”
Now that you know something about the creation and selection of jewelry for the characters of Downton Abbey, you might enjoy another aspect of the show. And you may find that you have a deeper understanding and appreciation of period jewelry – knowledge that’s essential for industry professionals.