It's 1912, and life in the Edwardian country house of Downton Abbey is idyllic and bustling for the Crawley household. Viewers of this wildly popular show soon developed an obsession with not only the engaging human characters, but also with the fashion that seemed to be a character unto itself. This is due in large part to the jewelry that Andrew Prince has created.
This tiara Tuesday is a little different. Usually we focus on tiaras with a long history, but Andrew Prince, is bringing the historical looks of a bygone era back to life, not only in the show but also for anyone who wants to feel like an aristocrat.
Andrew Prince sites that his passion for jewelry has existed since childhood when he created "a necklace for his mother using beads taken off her wedding dress (she was not at all happy)."
But it was a visit to the ‘Princely Magnificence’ exhibition at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, where Prince became entranced by the exhibited jewels dating from 1500 to 1630. It was then that Prince decided creating jewelry was what he wanted to devote his life to.
In 1987, he went to a preview of the Geneva Sotheby’s auction of the Duchess of Windsor's jewelry. There “he held pieces created by some of the world's greatest jewellers, fashioned from only the finest of stones and set in designs of outstanding quality.” It was life-altering for the young Prince. Soon after he started work in London’s Bond Street, working for the 'Antiques Roadshow' expert Ian Harris. Under his tutelage, Prince developed an appreciation for the quality of design and craftsmanship of jewelry, rather than focusing solely on how much the stones in the piece were worth.
He then joined the renowned contemporary jeweller Elizabeth Gage and worked with her on the design and production side of the jewelry industry. He soon developed a sense of what would be possible for him to accomplish in jewelry design. Prince started designing jewelry that was bold, luxurious and large. His work caught the attention of Isabella Blow of Vogue Magazine. She wore his choker-necklace and bracelets to the 1992 opening party of Gianni Versace’s first Bond Street shop. Isabella then featured the pieces in Vogue - modelled by Helena Christensen.
These early experiences with his mentors and the exposure that they afforded him shaped Prince’s taste for fine 'costume jewellery'. Prince continues to believe that beautiful jewelry doesn’t require expensive stones, and that it is the elegance of the design and the quality of the workmanship that truly matters. Prince credits the inspiration for his first small collection of 'fine crystal jewelry' as being inspired by an encounter with a late Victorian brooch set in an antique market. The piece was so well crafted that he initially thought the stones were emeralds and diamonds. They were, in fact, crystal and green glass set in silver and gold, yet it was not the stones that set the worth of the piece but the quality of craftsmanship.
Fast forward to 2002, the Victoria and Albert Museum commissioned a collection of jewels to accompany the resplendent ‘Tiaras, Past and Present’ exhibition. This exhibition became one of the V&A’s most popular exhibits and the exposure gained by the show then led to Prince's jewelry into the world of film.
In 2005, he was asked to make tiaras and jewellery for ‘Mrs Henderson presents’ starring Judy Dench. In 2009, pieces were commissioned for ‘The Young Victoria’ starring Emily Blunt and Miranda Richardson.
In 2012, his fame reached new heights as he was chosen by the creators of Downton Abbey to supply a large collection of jewelry for the third series. The characters played by Maggie Smith, Shirley Maclaine, Elizabeth McGovern and Michelle Dockery were all adorned with elegant tiaras, combs, earrings and necklaces all designed by Prince.
He got the job through Geoffrey Munn, the managing director of Wartski, an exclusive London jeweler. As Prince describes it, “The program contacted Munn and said, ‘Can you lend us some tiaras?’ He said, ‘No. They’re real and we can’t let them go for nine weeks. But have you met Andrew?’ And it went from there.”
When Prince met with the show’s costume designer, Caroline McCall he was frank in pointing out that, “The clothes are sublime, but the jewellery doesn’t match.” He recalls saying, “The jewellery, as worn, isn’t correct for the characters. Lady Cora is an American heiress and would have big punchy diamonds. Lady Mary would have fine delicate pearl stuff.” Prince believes that while matching the clothes and jewelry to the personality of characters is important, matching the era is even more important. In an interview with The Savannah College of Art and Design Prince expanded on how important it is for the show to be mindful of the time periods and especially of the transitional periods that see eras overlapping when choosing the jewelry that is used:
"With costume design, one of the important things is not so much to match the jewelry with the costume, but to match the jewelry with the age of the person. You might get someone in the 1930s in their 60s wearing a modern dress, but her jewelry would be 20 or 30 years older than that. It wouldn’t be up to date because most people buy their jewelry in their 30s, 40s and 50s when they look their best. Using Maggie Smith Downton character the Dowager Countess as an example, all her jewelry would have been Victorian and Edwardian pieces. She would not have had Art Deco piece. Sometimes you see period dramas where you have a matron wearing modern jewelry and that’s totally wrong. It’s like if you can imagine someone in their 60s today wearing someone like Stephen Webster. It wouldn’t happen or it would be very unusual."
Prince also makes sure to craft pieces with the characters personalities in mind and which styles she would prefer. As mentioned before he envisioned the American heiress Lady Cora (who would represent new money) in big impressive diamonds whereas Lady Mary would have refined delicate pieces. Prince has commented that the Dowager Countess, Maggie Smith is especially particular about what she wears.
Prince has lent them well over 200 pieces from his stock; everything from simple earrings to long strands of pearls, but all the big stuff is designed specifically for Downton. In total, he’s created about 40 pieces. Tiaras are the most useless and the most fantastic," Prince told the New York Post. " [but] They always make a lady feel better."
In April of last year Prince embarked on a U.S. tour that included Bergdorf Goodman, which sells his designs, and Kleinfelds in New York City. With his beautiful line of jewelry and tiaras now available, anyone and everyone wanting to feel the luxury of wearing a tiara (if only for a day) has the opportunity. But Prince has three simple rules for wearing them correctly:
1. “Make sure it’s not uncomfortable. If it is a round band, very circular, it is going to pinch like crazy, it is going to dig in like crazy at the front and the sides. It should be oval. No one’s head is round.”
2. “See the way the tiara is angled. If you put it flat on a table, the tiara should be leaning forward, not at a right angle. When you put the tiara on, because you’re angling it to go around your face, the front has to lean forward to sit upright”
3. As for seating a tiara for maximum attractiveness, Prince has a law of proportions: “Put your thumb on your chin, and the index finger on the bridge of your nose, between your eyebrows. Take that measurement, and put your thumb where your index finger was. Where your finger now touches your head should be where the base of the tiara is, because it makes your eyes the centre of your face.”
And please, do not wear it flat to the head like an Alice band—that drives him crazy, since it gives the ceiling a lovely view of the piece, while denying that pleasure to everyone else at the event.
See his beautiful collection of tiaras and jewels at Prince's website.
Kathleen Marino M.A., G.G., AJP, NAJA
Photos: Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising/FIDM, http://www.andrewprince.co.uk/, BBC Television, The Getty Museum, The Young Victoria