(This is the third of a series of posts on the fine jewelry and fashionable denizens of Downton Abbey)
An essential aspect of Edwardian life was the requisite attendance of formal events. From simple family dinners to extravagant gala evenings, formal occasions required, of course, formal accoutrements. Where gentlemen would be bedecked in tuxedos with full dress sets (as mentioned in the previous post in this series), the ladies would array themselves in a variety of evening looks with full jewelry styles.
The younger ladies of “Downton Abbey” are shown in the typical formal wear of Edwardian youth. Fine dresses and a relatively demure degree of exposed skin would be complemented by delicate and sweet jewels – the better to elaborate upon their innocence and purity.
For the married women, however, styles ran to higher necklines that provided significantly more coverage paired with an excess of jewels. Bandeaux, tiaras, long necklaces paired with choker length designs and diamonds upon diamonds marked the luxurious looks of a lady’s formal wear. Downton Abbey’s three magnificent matrons, Lady Grantham, Martha Levinson and the Dowager Countess (played by Elizabeth McGovern, Shirley Maclaine and the inimitable Maggie Smith, respectively) are the epitome of late Edwardian and early Art Deco high life and high fashion.
Lady Grantham is the lovely and well-bred mistress of Downton Abbey. As an American heiress, she brought a vast fortune to the estate when she married the impoverished Lord Grantham. Mother of the three ladies Crawley and certainly the civilizing influence on the household, Lady Grantham has truly embraced her role as English peer and has settled into the niceties of aristocratic life with aplomb. Her clothing is always neat, elegant and of the finest materials. Her jewelry is never ostentatious but always beautifully fitting and obviously high quality.
Diamond Garland Necklace in Platinum
The pretty swagged garland of this diamond necklace is a shining recreation of Edwardian style. With the advent of platinum as a workable metal for jewelry, lace-like creations featuring a multitude of gemstones came into fashion. The strength of the metal allowed for exceptionally intricate work with very little platinum needed to hold the gemstones. Sweet and sweeping designs with floral and garland motifs were a la mode and we can absolutely picture the well-dressed Lady Grantham wearing this glittering necklace paired with a lacy tiara, such as the one she is pictured in above.
Firebrand American actress Shirley Maclaine makes her appearance in the third season of Downton Abbey as Lady Grantham’s mother, Martha Levinson (and rumor has it she will return for season four!). She brings a brash American sensibility to the sometimes too reserved confines of the Abbey. Dressed to the nines and positively dripping with diamonds and contemporary jewelry designs, Martha Levinson certainly doesn’t do anything by halves!
Pearl and Diamond Tassel Necklace in 18K
Layering various gemstone necklaces, including pearls, diamonds and jet, Martha Levinson shows a modern persona to the world. The variety of styles and lengths would come strongly into fashion during the 1920s as Coco Chanel and others brought the la garconne look into style as well as the sumptuous swagging of multiple necklace strands. Tassels, though already fashionable, would become statement making styles and we can fully imagine Levinson wearing this gleaming collection of diamonds and pearls (pictured above) – with chandelier earrings and perhaps a few dozen bracelets.
The beyond brilliant Dame Maggie Smith is one of the stars of the show with her portrayal of everyone’s favorite crotchety countess, Lady Violet. As the matriarch of the Crawley clan, Violet has a broad influence that she wields most effectively through her biting wit and incisive commentary. She is firmly entrenched in her aristocratic heritage and dresses exquisitely but in a more traditional manner than the other characters. Diamonds and jet are her gemstones of choice and her preference for choker length necklaces (as pictured above) harkens back to the haute fashions of earlier eras – specifically, the choker or dog-collar style reached the height of its popularity under the auspice of Queen Alexandra of England during the latter years of the 19th century and through the turn of the 20th century; she considered herself to have had an exceptionally fine neck and was prone to wearing styles that emphasized its swan-like elegance.
Diamond Choker Necklace in Platinum
A diamond choker necklace manages to be a feminine and yet strong style that sparkles beautifully, even as it makes a profound statement. The Dowager Countess would, of course, wear hers with an aigrette or tiara (both shimmering hair ornaments meant to adorn an upswept coiffure) and stunning diamond earrings. Such classic styles would be out of fashion by the 1920s but we simply can’t imagine Lady Violet giving up the gleaming gems that recall her halcyon days.
Of course, many other jeweled items would have adorned these dazzling dames. Gem-set lorgnettes, magnificent brooches, bracelets and rings would have been essential to completing one’s formal look. Below, find a selection of items that would have been perfect for adding just the right twinkle to an Edwardian evening.