Take a step back in time to the Edwardian Era (1900 – 1915). The sun never set on the British Empire. England was flush with power and wealth. Tastemaker Edward VII was king. For the landed gentry, the Edwardian Era was a period of prosperity and privilege. Perhaps the Titanic, the most luxurious and largest ocean-liner of its time, best captured the spirit of the age with her First, Second, and Third Class cabins. The arts in Great Britain served a definite purpose during the Edwardian Era; they were frequently used to reinforce the class system. Architecture, for example, was symmetrical and orderly, which evoked power, stability, and status.
Jewelry was a preferred way to show one’s rank in society. Only the upper classes could afford it, and they advertised their wealth and position by wearing exquisite works.
Platinum, diamonds, and pearls were the materials of choice. Garlands and triumphal laurel wreaths belonging to a conqueror’s crown were common themes. These regal materials and motifs spoke of the might of the British Empire and the importance of the wearer. Stately tiaras, pendants, necklaces, and chokers were not only the style of the day but also carried symbolic weight. For example, it was rude for a lady to wear taller tiara in the presence of a woman of higher rank. Diamonds were abundant in Edwardian jewelry due to the discovery of mines in South Africa in the 1880s. A ready supply of the gem was now available, and Britain’s aristocracy quickly fell in love with the glittering stone.
Pearls were also popular during the Edwardian Era, and were often showcased in a piece of jewelry. Drop a pearl in a bed of diamonds or set it in platinum, and Edwardians thought this blazingly white-hot combination to be the height of sophistication and elegance. Although many of the customs of the Edwardian Era may seem to be a part of the distant past, the international success of Downton Abbey, the television drama whose first season was set in Edwardian England, proves that we are still fascinated by the time. And if you look around a jewelry store, you’ll see that Edwardian jewelry continues to influence contemporary designers.