Last Friday I attended the Gibbes Museum of Art’s sixth annual Art of Design luncheon, an annual event hosted by the Women’s Council, with proceeds going towards education and outreach programs at the museum. The event redefined ladies who lunch, with a packed house of well-dressed women (and a few men) crowding delicately-set tables in the Charleston Marriott’s ballroom. The reason for a sold out crowd? Andrew Prince, the jewelry designer for Downton Abbey, was speaking.

Downton was never really something I expected to be involved in,” says Prince. “I don’t have a TV,” he explained, saying that he wasn’t exactly starstruck when he first met the cast of the popular British drama. 

“You have to match jewelry with the age of the person,” said Prince, flipping through a slideshow of Downton‘s characters. Lady Mary wears a simple hairpiece when she plays the role of a virgin bride. Violet Crawley wears stunning diamonds, rocking what Prince calls the “open fridge” look — icy cold. And then there’s Cora, the American heiress, who could wear whatever she wanted. “She’d wear the punchy stuff,” he said. 

Prince, a native of London, fell in love with design at the age of nine, when his mother took him to the Victoria and Albert Museum, which exhibits Renaissance jewels from 1500 to 1630. 

Prince’s presentation started in 1890 and traveled through eras up until the age of Gatsby. Some big takeaways from the talk? Well, for one, pearls used to be really expensive. Like really, really expensive. If you think about it, diving to open oyster shells was pretty dangerous before scuba gear. As Prince saod, “You could die finding them.”

He talked about gems in their societal context, noting that unmarried women in the early 20th century needed jewels as their insurance. Once they got married — hopefully to a wealthier man who wouldn’t take their jewelry, they often transferred precious stones to sewing kits and needle cases. Ever see a pearl rimmed pair of scissors? That was a woman’s way of protecting her precious goods. 

Prince briefly touched on jewelry of the Art Nouveau era, noting that while pieces were beautiful in their own right, many elite women didn’t wear them. “You didn’t get prestige if you wore weird jewelry,” he said. “If you wear a snake across your chest well, then … bless your heart.” Prince, a fine jewelry designer, and an even better Lowcountry import. 

For more info about Prince’s designs head to his website. 

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