Strictly speaking, the Edwardian era runs for the duration of Edward VII’s reign, from 1901 until his death in 1910. However, many experts would extend that period up to the 1914 outbreak of the Great War, which put a full stop to so many areas of European life. The same period in France was known as La Belle Epoque.
Towards the end of the 19th century, jewellery fashion had been shaken up by the Arts and Crafts movement. This had rejected the machine-made pieces that had been prevalent for much of the 19th century, and turned towards a more hand-crafted, naturalistic approach.
In contrast, the Edwardian era saw a return to more elaborate pieces, with the elite end of the market seeing an ornate style with extravagant use of high-value gemstones such as diamonds, sapphires, emeralds and rubies. Designers turned to classic jewellery of the 18th century for inspiration, producing exquisite tiaras, bracelets and necklaces for the well-to-do.
Some of the characteristics of Edwardian jewellery arose from new or improved technologies that appeared in the early years of the period. For example, the development of the oxyacetylene torch in France meant that platinum, which needed much higher temperatures to shape and work, could more easily be made into jewellery.
Because it is harder than gold or silver, platinum can be worked with much more detail. Makers took advantage of this to create pieces that had the intricacy of lace or fine embroidery. Popular motifs included bows, garlands and flowing ribbons, often rendered with highly detailed open-work and studded with precious stones.
At the lower end of the market, many more people could afford gold and diamond wedding and engagement rings, and these were made with simple lines and small diamonds. These latter could be mounted more easily with improved setting techniques such as millegraining.
Gold and silver Edwardian jewellery can be checked for authenticity by examining hallmarks, which include the year a piece was made, the purity of the metal and the name of its maker. Platinum can be harder to authenticate as hallmarking for that metal was not required by law until 1975.