The Edwardian era saw England as a dominant global force which greatly influenced the better part of the civilized world. The powerful elite experienced a prosperous age of ‘modern’ jewelry manufacturing techniques while South African diamonds were combined with platinum and pearls in profuse elegance demonstrating wealth and rank. Electricity replaced the ornate Victorian ‘street lamp’ image, free-flowing silks, satins and pastel colors now graced the former corseted generation and garland jewelry was designed to reflect wealth, luxury and the status of the social elite.
Louis Cartier used Indian, Chinese and Arab ideas in art and architecture to exploit the Garland design, closely followed by Boucheron, Tiffany, Chaumet and Lacloche borrowing Classical Roman, Ancient Greek, Napoleonic, French Baroque, Rococo and Second Empire styles. These formal motifs included tassels, garlands of flowers, swags of foliage, ribbon ties, laurel wreaths, scrolls, feathers, Greek keys and bow knots incorporated with detail in platinum diamond and pearl jewelry in exquisite taste.
Platinum was the ideal metal due to its pure color, malleability and strength. Resembling the fine lace of high society, this popular metal could be shaped and engraved with all the detail and attention the Edwardian era depicted. South Africa’s diamond mine avalanche gave rise to new cuts such as the marquise, the baguette, the kite, triangle and briolette while Australia, Ceylon, the Mississippi Valley, the Persian Gulf and Scotland supplied pearls while Panama and Tahiti provided novel black pearls. For the first time, England was inundated with a plentiful supply of precious and semi precious gemstones that were used as diamond accents and included demantoid green garnets, pink topaz, sapphire, emerald, amethyst, peridot, ruby, turquoise and tourmaline.
Depicting ones social standing, the tiara defined a class whose self-image was royalty, the tiara being the crowning accessory. Elaborately adorned with shamrocks, stars, trefoils, olive branches, flowers, acanthus leaves, wings, wreaths, wheat sheaves, thistle heads, roses, daisies, floral garlands and flowing ribbons, the height and construction of this decadent societal emblem denoted rank and position. Not without a fair degree of labor, Edwardian hairstyles were organized around not only tiaras but jeweled combs, crescent brooches, ostrich feathers and birds of paradise, the latter evolving in reaction to the Ballet Russe’s production of ‘Scheherazade’.
The Edwardian age was rampant with personal adornment and self bodily glorification demonstrated in the wearing of rivières, lavalieres suspended from delicate hand-made platinum chains, fringe necklaces, dog collar chokers accentuated by multi-strands of pearls, seed pearl sautoirs, jeweled tassels and circular pendants mounted with gems or hand painted guilloché-enamels. Excessive wearing of brooches and pins was preferred, attached from shoulder to waist, accentuated by a pair of dripping earrings set with garlands of pearls and diamonds.
While the women of the times were bedecked, the men also had their fun in imitation of Edward VII. Ties and cravats were bejeweled with stickpins, cuff links were mounted with colored stones such as aquamarine, topaz, garnet, quartz and amethyst, depending on the color and style of shirt and pocket watches sported fob and medal-like attachments. Men wore diamond, ruby and sapphire gypsy rings while seal rings were engraved in gold or carved from carnelian, bloodstone or chalcedony with family crest intaglios.
Decadent gift givers, the Edwardians indulged lavish tastes with hand engraved sterling silver or gold cigarette cases with fine guilloché enamel accentuated with rose-cut diamonds and cabochon rubies, emeralds or sapphires in garland motifs. Also high on the gift-giving list were parasol handles, walking canes, picture frames, card cases, scent bottles, fans, gemstone carvings and jeweled clocks. But the finest work was executed by was Carl Fabergé who delighted everyone with his lifelike gem carvings, realistic enameling and his intricately breathtaking Fabergé eggs.
Epitomizing Edwardian debauchery, the sinking of the Titanic shook the foundations of human consciousness as the upper echelons of society reappraised social morality. The final nail in the coffin was WWII and the loss of 10 million lives, which spared little emotion on the losses of the ephemeral ruling classes. The grim reality of war wiped those carefree days off the calendar as high society turned the corner of a new century.