How to Identify Antique Edwardian Jewellery

Understanding how to identify jewellery from different eras and design movements is essential for historians, valuers and antique collectors. Here, Starla Turner FGA GG offers us a glimpse into the refined and elegant world of Edwardian jewellery and describes the motifs that make pieces recognisable. 

Fashion of the Edwardian Era

The short reign of King Edward VII (1901 to 1910), his court, his sporting lifestyle and his wife Alexandra of Denmark were a breath of fresh air to fashion at the close of the 1800s. Jewellery motifs changed accordingly, with intricate and gracefully symmetrical, diamond-encrusted and lacy designs adorning the neckline, chiffon gowns and the ‘up-do’ hair styles of the well-to-do. Delicate scrolls, leaves, ribbon bows, hearts, circles, swooping swags (or garlands as they were later called), and veil-like twinkling jewellery complimented a new sophisticated style.

To me, Edwardian designs look like a frozen moment – curled in movement, shimmering, draping, scrolling, swaging, circling – just waiting to be worn and move again. The Edwardian femininity, fluidity, and fineness are unmistakeable. Iconic pieces have hinges, dangles, swags, articulation, and tiny swinging gemstone droplets evoking a liquidity and liveliness.

Queen Alexandra loved the uncomfortable but fashionable ‘dog collar’ plaque style necklace, often backed by black velvet. The style transitioned into a column of 6-16 rows of pearls — a challenge to wear for sure. Changing dress necklines brought changing neck ornamentation. A good example is the rivière necklace – a neck-encircling strand of graduating, millegraine-edged, bezel set diamonds — sometimes worn as two bracelets.

Read more: The Tale of the Mouawad-Tereschenko Blue Diamond

We see up to 72-inch long strands of ‘spectacle set’ diamonds, a minimalist technique where only a thin wire wraps the diamond girdle and small side jump rings attach to the next gem. The lavaliere is an articulating drop suspended from a matching design element and attached directly to a thin, fancy link chain. The negligee necklace has two drops, often on different lengths of chain, attached to one design element and a simple chain. Basic pendants have diamond-set, double side engraved, tapered bales that hang on thin, intricately designed chains.

Tiaras of the Edwardian Era 

The Edwardian era also saw a fascination with tiaras. Bandeaus, like tiaras, could double as necklaces or bracelets — screw holes or extra loops in the backside show their transitioning versatility. Sautoirs, long bundles of pearl strands ending with tassels, were wrapped around necks, waists, bodices and arms. Bracelets show symmetrical repeating designs in either full length or top half only designs. A new trend was the more diminutive, tapering diamond and coloured stone bracelets with articulating or stretching metal links in the rear. Rings were becoming wider and domed just enough to accommodate the depth of the centre diamond.Edwardian Swan Brooch Back by Lang Antiques Gem A Blog Antique Jewellery VintageThe back of a beautiful swan pin, showing calibré cut emeralds and the 'swinging' diamonds typical of the Edwardian era. 

The Rise of Platinum in Edwardian Jewellery 

Solid platinum or platinum over gold suited the pale, pastel and feminine fashion palette. Platinum was a new white metal that, unlike silver, didn’t stain the skin and clothing and could strongly, but delicately, hold the all-important diamond. Initially, platinum was bonded to yellow gold, a technique created to add value and acceptability to this new, inexpensive and unappreciated metal.

The vast majority of Edwardian diamond pieces I see are hand-fabricated (cut, sawn, rolled, drawn and assembled). Cast pieces are uncommon due to the high heat required to melt the metal. Edwardian jewellery is typically assembled from fewer parts, likely due to the visibility of the yellow gold-based solder that was used.

Read more: The Fascinating History of Platinum Jewellery 

This yellowish solder in seams disappeared into a whiter hue after WWI when white gold made its debut. In addition, platinum is a noble metal – it does not tarnish – so the tarnish one sees is from the solder mix of gold, silver and platinum. Therefore, tarnish and patina can add provenance as it develops with age. Sometimes re-polishing the metal can remove a bit of authenticity.

Diamonds in Edwardian Jewellery 

South Africa supplied a plethora of diamonds. While the Second Boer War (Oct 1899 –May 1902) had an impact on pricing, the demand continued. The diamond circular saw, the fixed dop (the clamp that holds a diamond being cut) for precise angles, bruiting machine advancements and electricity reduced cutting times. They also resulted in the more brilliant, rounder European-cut diamond.

Marquise and pear-shapes also became more available. The beauty of a finished diamond became the focus, rather than the weight retention.

Edwardian Brooch by Lang Antiques Gem A Blog Antique Jewellery VintageAn Edwardian era pin that would have doubled as a tiara or hair ornament. 

Later into the period, single cut diamonds replaced the rose cuts of the past. With faster cutting techniques, the sparkling 17 facet single cut became the perfect accent to delicate jewellery. Smaller Swiss-cut and small European-cut diamonds also help date this era. Old mine cutting was phased out by the end of the era, but diamonds were still recycled into new pieces.

Pearls in Edwardian Jewellery 

Pearls were second to diamond in popularity and suited the monochromatic styling of the era. Their ethereal sheen worked beautifully with gossamer fabrics. Articulating drops gave the appearance of water and added the wonderful element of movement in open work designs. Due to the rarity of natural pearls (cultured pearls were about to debut in high numbers) seed pearls of 3.5mm or smaller were cut into two useable halves and flush mounted onto metal.

Read more: Understanding Diamond Colours with the Aurora Pyramid of Hope 

The American and Scottish freshwater pearls reveal a whiter, wrinkled skin whereas the Indian Ocean and Gulf saltwater pearls are creamy to light grey (often turning grey from a soap that has been used to clean them) and smooth skinned. Uncut and larger natural pearls are often button or oval shaped. The very round cultured pearls in Edwardian pieces tend to be replacement stones.

Gemstones in Edwardian Jewellery 

Sapphire, emerald, opal, ruby, amethyst, demantoid garnet, moonstone or peridots were recessed into a circle of diamonds — enter the halo ring! Look for treasures in these old pieces: Kashmir sapphires, Burmese rubies, Russian demantoid garnets, Australian black opals.

Edwardian Oval Diamond Brooch by Lang Antiques Gem A Blog Antique Jewellery VintageA pierced-out brooch from the Edwardian era.

Calibré cut stones, the tiny (1-2mm), straight-sided, geometrically shaped ruby, sapphire, emerald and amethyst, were cut to fit into channels and dance around designs. The newly-created and evenly-coloured synthetic sapphire and ruby calibré appear in late Edwardian pieces. Black enamel or onyx also provided contrast to the all white look as it transitioned from the mourning jewellery age.

A platinum and diamond central ornamentation could also be highlighted with a larger splash of colour from background bases of pastel toned, transparent to translucent enamels over an engraved gold base — a technique called ‘guilloche’.

Defining Traits of Edwardian Jewellery 

Further defining methods of this era are millegraining and fret work. Overall pieces are finished with delicate, minute beading making the metal disappear into the design. This millegraining took away the sharp edges, softening the look and emphasising the diamond sparkle. Millegraining also enhanced the knife-edged, open, thin wire work called fret work (like the frets for chords on a guitar neck) that created the airiness to the designs and highlighted the incredible expertise of the craftsman.

After WWI the flowing movement of the graceful Edwardian jewellery eventually blended into, and was then lost to, the geometrical, static, anticlassical, architectural style of the Art Deco era — that caught on like fire. Out with the old, and in with the new. 

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This article was originally published in the Spring 2019 issue of Gems&Jewellery. Gem-A Members can read the issue online, here

Cover image: The front of a beautiful swan pin, showing the calibré cut emeralds and the typical swinging diamonds, all set in platinum. All images courtesy of Cole Bybee and Lang Antiques

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Explore the History of Garnet in Antique Jewellery

Gems&Jewellery is delighted to welcome jewellery historian and valuer, John Benjamin FGA DGA FIRV as our columnist for 2019. As part of a new Gemstone Conversations series, John explores the history of the use of garnet in antique jewellery and tells us why we should give more credit to this special yet undervalued gemstone.

I have often thought that garnet is a rather underappreciated stone. True, it is extremely common and turns up in everything from ancient gold rings to cheap, modern, mass-produced bijouterie — but this misses the point, which is that the sheer beauty and versatility of garnet meant that right up to the beginning of the 20th century it was consistently one of the most popular of all gemstones used in decorative jewellery.

Historic Uses of Garnet in Jewellery

Garnet was esteemed by the Romans at a time when a vivid gemstone conveyed wealth and status. Fine examples were polished into cabochons or cut into cameos and intaglios depicting classical figures or deities. By the 5th and 6th century garnet was often the stone of choice with small, simple, domed or faceted examples providing a decorative embellishment to Anglo Saxon brooches, pendants and buckles.

Neo Renaissance Gold PendantA Neo-Renaissance gold 'Holbeinesque' pendant mounted with a pyrope garnet cabochon in a champlevé enamelled frame set with chrysolites, circa 1870. Image courtesy of Woolley & Wallis.

Garnet Jewellery of the 17th Century 

No doubt because of its widespread availability it was frequently set into medieval rings and ornaments and by the late 16th and 17th century its sheer abundance and desirability led to it being used throughout Europe in everything from rings and earrings to opulent pendants, usually accompanied by colourful, polychrome enamel and gold mounts.

Many of these Renaissance and later garnets were polished into large and irregular-shaped hollow-back cabochons known as ‘carbuncles’ and were usually rich, purplish-red almandines from India and Ceylon. There are quite a large number of these garnets on display in the incomparable Cheapside Hoard at the Museum of London.

Read more: Garnet for those Born in January

For me, part of the allure of garnet is the broad range of colours available and I have always admired hessonites, not only for their rich, orangey-brown colour but also for their interesting ‘treacle-like’ inclusions. Since garnet is a reasonably hard gemstone it provides an excellent cutting surface, so from the 16th to the 18th century hessonite (known in those days as ‘Jacinth’ or ‘Hyacinth’) was a popular stone for fashioning into cameos or setting into bracelet clasps.

The Golden Age of Garnet Jewellery

Undoubtedly, it was the late 18th and early 19th century when garnet really came into its own. Flat-cut almandines of cushion, pear and circular shape were artfully set into parures comprising a necklace, a pair of bracelets, earrings and a brooch. Foiling the stones and fully enclosing the mounts at the back intensified their glowing appearance, especially when illuminated in candlelight.

Georgian Garnet ParureA Georgian gold and flat-cut almandine garnet parure comprising a necklace, earrings, maltese cross and brooch, circa 1800. Image courtesy of Woolley & Wallis.

The use of garnet in moderately priced jewellery continued through the 19th century reaching a peak of popularity in the 1870s when ‘Holbeinesque’ jewellery – pendants and earrings of a design inspired by the look of the Renaissance – resulted in large pyrope cabochons being set in colourful, champlevé-enamelled frames often accompanied by compatible gems such as diamond or chrysolite. This was the so-called ‘Grand Period’ of jewellery manufacture and the rich, vibrant colour of garnet provided the perfect vehicle for showing off bold and distinctive bracelets, brooches and necklaces.

Read more: Questions to Ask When Buying a Piece of Gemstone Jewellery

Handmade craftsmanship gave way to mechanical, repetitive mass production at the end of the century. Garnet continued to be used in cheap central European jewellery often accompanied by inexpensive colourful gems especially turquoise, pale green beryl and pearls in poor quality, silver gilt settings.

At the same time jewellers in Czechoslovakia (now Czech Republic and Slovakia) began to set clusters of small simply faceted pyropes in base metal thus providing colourful but affordable bangles, brooches and earrings for the mass market. These ‘Bohemian’ garnets are very much of their time and are still very common today.

Bohemian Garnet CrossA 'Bohemian' garnet cross circa 1890. Versatile and inexpensive, these colourful jewels were extremely common at the end of the 19th century. Image courtesy of Woolley & Wallis.

Demantoid Garnet Jewellery 

There was, however, one last moment of glory for garnet. Demantoid, the bright green variety of andradite garnet, had been discovered in the Russian Urals as far back as 1853. Nevertheless, it was not until the 1880s that it started to be set commercially in jewellery and accessories, firstly by Peter Carl Fabergé and subsequently by jewellers in London who obtained supplies from gem merchants such as E W Streeter.

The naturalistic green tones and adamantine lustre of demantoid perfectly conveyed the look of a reptile’s skin or an insect’s body, resulting in a surge of popularity in novelty brooches designed as frogs, lizards and dragonflies. 

Demantoid diamond dragonfly broochA Demantoid garnet and diamond dragonfly brooch, circa 1880. The naturalistic colour of this ever popular variety of andradite garnet resulted in a wide range of novelty insect and reptile brooches appearing on the market at the end of the 19th century. Image courtesy of Woolley & Wallis.

While the more commonplace red varieties of garnet continued to be set in cheap, universally available nine carat gold rings and pendants until the First World War, by the 1920s its use had largely declined and, while it does appear in Post-War ‘Retro’ jewellery and, of course, in modern tsavorite and mandarin garnet rings, the ‘golden years’ of traditional, large scale garnets are now well and truly over. Abundant, often inexpensive and supremely versatile, garnet is surely one of the most underrated of all the better known gemstones. 
If you would like to expand your knowledge on gemstones, find about what Gem-A's Gemmology Foundation and Gemmology Diploma courses have to offer.

This article and images were originally published in the Spring 2019 issue of Gems&Jewellery. Gem-A Members can read the issue here.

Cover Image: Late 18th/early 19th century Neoclassical hessonite cameo ring of the Emperor Tiberius. Images courtesy of Bonhams.

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歴史家、査定人、アンティーク・コレクターにとって、様々な時代やデザインの流行からジュエリーを見分けることは必要不可欠です。ステラ・ターナー FGA GGが、上品で洗練されたエドワーディアン・ジュエリーの世界を紹介し、この時代に特徴的なモチーフについて解説します。  






Edwardian Swan Brooch Back by Lang Antiques Gem A Blog Antique Jewellery Vintage美しい白鳥のピンの裏側。エドワード時代に典型的なカリブレ・カットのエメラルドと「スウィングする」ダイヤモンド。





Edwardian Brooch by Lang Antiques Gem A Blog Antique Jewellery Vintageティアラにもヘア・オーナメントにもなるエドワード時代のピン。




Edwardian Oval Diamond Brooch by Lang Antiques Gem A Blog Antique Jewellery Vintageエドワード時代の透かし細工のブローチ




第二次世界大戦後、上品なエドワーディアン・ジュエリーの流行は、最終的にアール・デコの幾何学的、静的、反古典的、建築的スタイルに融合して消えていきました- このアール・デコ・スタイルは瞬く間に人気を博しました。古いものを捨て、新しいものを取り込んだのです。  


この記事は「Gems&Jewellery」Spring 2019号に掲載されたものです。Gem-A会員の方はこちらのオンラインからもご覧いただけます

表紙の写真:美しい白鳥のピン(正面)。プラチナにセットされたカリブレ・カットのダイヤモンドと「スウィングする」ダイヤモンド。写真提供:Cole Bybee and Lang Antiques。

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