Look closely at the diamond choker worn by Lady Grantham, played by Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey, and you might be surprised to learn it was made recently, and not in the late nineteenth century. Its evocation of the Belle Époque, romantically incorporating elements of Art Nouveau, suits the Dowager Countess perfectly. In fact, it was crafted by historian and jewellery designer Andrew Prince.
In the special feature that accompanies the lecture ‘Fashion and Film’, in the new online course History of Jewellery Design: Part II, we travelled with Vanessa Cron to Andrew’s home in a charming Suffolk village where he keeps his workshop, and his most famous creations.
Asked about the choker, he started by laughing that he loved it so much he planned to get buried wearing it. It was his favourite piece. Even though he'd used stones especially cut for him by Swarovski using correct period cuts, he hadn’t wanted to make a reproduction. Instead, he said, he wanted to ‘pull in a bit of Art Nouveau, a bit of Edwardian, a bit of Victorian and put it all together so it was in a classical style but not a direct copy. And it had to be out of date! She’s a woman in her 70s, so she’d be wearing jewellery that was 40 years out of date.’ Lady Grantham, Andrew explained, would have bought her jewellery from her 20s to her 40s, and the choker had to reflect that. ‘That’s one other thing you’ve got to think about,’ he said, reflecting how to create jewels add depth to a character and are more than just decoration.
Andrew has always made jewellery: he crafted his first ring aged three, from copper wire and beads stolen from his mother’s wedding dress. At the age of fifteen he visited the auction view of the jewels of the Duchess of Windsor, and it changed his life. ‘I was handling pieces that were by the greatest craftsmen, designed by some of the greatest designers, created by the greatest houses.’ From there he began working on Bond Street, learning how to understand jewellery, and training his hand in making it, finding his true love in costume jewellery. ‘More design,’ he exclaimed, ‘has gone into costume jewellery than has ever gone into real jewellery, because real jewellery doesn’t have to try, it is what it is. Whereas costume jewellery has to be more than it is.’
From this passion came designs for films, television, even pop stars like Michael Jackson. He also regularly lectures on jewellery history. Ultimately, what matters most to him is that jewellery makes him happy: ‘when something’s done properly, when you see something that is utterly beautiful, it just lifts my spirit.’
Vanessa’s interview with Andrew Prince is one of the in-depth special features recorded for History of Jewellery Design: Part II.
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