Highclere Castle, the set of Downtown Abbey

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Fans of television’s Downton Abbey, now a hit movie, can’t get enough of the period setting, the ups and downs of the upstairs/downstairs characters, the sweep of the scenery and the majestic Crawley family manor, the evocative theme music and the swoon-worthy costumes.

Female viewers, especially, admire the jewelry adorning the female cast members—some of it designed by Andrew Prince, who’s speaking this month in New College’s New Topics Lecture Series. 

Prince, who’s had a love for jewelry since he was a child, has long had his own London workshop and online sales gallery. Prior to his Downton involvement he’d already had commissions from Harrod’s, the Victoria and Albert Museum, Michael Jackson and for the films Mrs. Henderson Presents and The Young Victoria. In 2012, he was chosen to supply designs for Downton’s third season and beyond.

A choker designed for Maggie Smith's Dowager Countess of Grantham

“I went on set a couple of times and met some of the cast, who were all delightful,” Prince says. “But there’s so much going on, you just get in the way. Also, jewelry is often the very last thing to be sorted out once the costumes and sets are completed, so I spent many late nights creating pieces for the extremely tight shooting deadlines.”

Prince’s Sarasota talk focuses on “From Downton to Gatsby: Jewelry and Fashion from 1890-1929.” “It was really the birth of the modern world,” he says. “At the end of the 19th century, Europe, and particularly the British Empire, was at its most spectacular and opulent. Many people lived with a level of comfort and prosperity that had never been known before. It was a new age, though it still had a strong sense of tradition and continuity. Then came the first world war, and within four years, the old world had collapsed. A whole way of life vanished in a blink of an eye, so many people look back on that time perhaps with a sense of nostalgia.”

Andrew Prince

Prince did extensive research before designing for Downton, diving into published diaries and perusing old photographs for details. “There were so many different social rules we can’t imagine today about what was worn or not worn, by whom and where,” he says. “For example, you never left your house without your gloves. An unmarried woman couldn’t wear a tiara. And it was considered extremely vulgar to wear a tiara in a hotel.”

When it came to Downton’s ladies, “getting the jewelry correct for each person is very important. When I was creating pieces for Lady Grantham [Maggie Smith] I had to keep in mind she was a lady in her 70s, so her jewelry would be at least 30 years out of date from when the series was set. Lady Cora [Elizabeth McGovern] was the wealthy American heiress, who would have had large pearl and diamond pieces. Lady Mary [Michelle Dockery] and Lady Edith [Laura Carmichael] were young women, so their jewels would be up to date and in keeping with the sleek fashions of the day, particularly the bobbed hair cuts that really only suited bandeau-style head pieces rather than a tiara.”

Most Downton pieces are set with either cubic zirconia or Swarovski crystal. “Swarovski cut me some stones specifically, as for me the faceting had to be historically correct,” Prince says. “It’s not a detail that would have really shown up on camera, but I feel it’s the sort of thing that’s important for the overall effect.”

A pendant Prince designed for Maggie Smith's Dowager Countess character.

In fact, a piece Swarovski cut the stones for, a choker for Lady Grantham, is one of Prince’s favorites, along with Lady Mary’s crosses bandeau and Lady Edith’s star head piece, both worn in the film. Eager to copy the look? Prince has an outlet in this country at the Kentshire Galleries in New York’s Bergdorf Goodman. You can also visit his own site, andrewprince.co.uk.

Prince’s talk is set for 5:30 p.m. Jan. 23 in New College’s Sainer Auditorium. Tickets $15; reservations recommended at (941) 487-4888 or ncf.edu/new-topics. (There will also be a trunk show offering Downton designs for sale.)

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