The Edwardian period has been named after the fun loving ‘Bertie’, King Edward VII of England. During the short, and long-awaited, reign of Queen Victoria’s eldest son Bertie, ‘La Belle Epoque’ produced a spectacular array of jewellery. Jewellery makers were fuelled by Queen Alexandra’s (1844-1925) trendsetting love of extravagant jewels.
History of Jewellery: (1901-1915) Edwardian Period
The discovery of diamond mines in South Africa in 1866 and the spread of electric light were significant influences on the jewellery created in this period.
The Belle Époque period is characterised by a white aesthetic: diamonds were predominantly set in white metal (silver, white gold or increasingly platinum) to sparkle in the illumination of electric light throughout a lavish dinner or Ball.
During this period the new influx of diamonds into the jewellery trade caused a rise in the value of natural pearls. Pearls feature heavily in Belle Époque jewellery as their luminosity mimicked the ideal creamy glow of women’s skin. Fashion of this period in England particularly, held a nostalgic view of the 17th century court of Versailles. Large bustles, impossibly slim waists and swept up hair all refereed back to the clothes of Marie Antoinette’s court. 1910 saw the introduction of low necklines and tight hour-glass silhouettes in fashion provided an open surface for chokers of multiple-strands of pearls paired with long sautoirs and ornate stomachers. The ‘Belle Epoque’ cultivated an image of feminine beauty.
The ornate decorative motifs of Louis XIV’s reign were embraced by Belle Époque designers. Swag or garland necklaces strung with pear-shaped pearls and diamond bows were typical. Dog collar necklaces of black velvet were also popular fixed with large diamond clasps. Like 17th century France, the early 20th century was an era of opulence with new found industrial wealth from America marrying British aristocracy. The nostalgic aesthetic was embraced as a way to set new money in the security of the past.
Yet new technology allowed for An emphasis on elegance led to ingenious designs utilising the strength of platinum for spider-web patterns that mimicked the delicacy of lace. The invention of the oxyacetylene torch in 1903 allowed metal workers to reach the high temperatures necessary for working platinum.
The style was short lived, with many established Parisian Jewellery houses, such as Cartier, Boucheron and adopting the Belle Époque style. Cartier, for example, encouraged in their designers to seek inspiration for Belle Époque pieces in the 17th century architectural decoration filling the streets of Paris.
After the atrocities of the First World War, many of these Maison moved with the times, abandoning the intricate ornamentation in favour of the harder edged Art Deco stye.