Image courtesy of Netflix.
If there's one show on everyone's minds lately, it seems to be Bridgerton, the lavish, record-breaking Netflix series about 19th century London, scandal, and romance. Sixty-three million households streamed it over the holidays (but not everyone loved it). No matter your opinion on Bridgerton’s over-the-top plot, there is no denying the wardrobe, which is both outstanding and thoughtful in terms of how it tells a subtextual story through its use of color and jewels.
Based on Julia Quinn's romance novels of the same name and written and directed by Chris Van Dusen, Netflix's Bridgerton is, at its core, a Shonda Rhimes joint. It marks the first of her multi-million dollar, eight-project deal with the streaming giant, and in terms of the show's penchant for extravagance in all forms, it could not be more exemplary of the type of sexy television drama that comes from the mind of the Hollywood maven.
These costumes—which are so lavish they’ll likely be one of the first things you notice while watching Bridgerton—are in line with the Rhimes ethos. And the regency-era wardrobe put together by costume designer Ellen Mirojnick is flashy and ostentatious, sure. But what’s really eye-catching is the jewelry: diamonds, rubies, and emeralds galore, adorned by the cast of characters—from the ambitious Bridgerton and Featherington families to the Queen, Lady Danbury, and the Duke of Hastings. Any costuming choice for just about every television show or movie is almost certainly no accident, but according to fine jeweler Sheryl Jones, Bridgerton's choice in gemstones is especially telling of the drama that unfolds on screen, whether you realize it or not.
"I found the jewelry so interesting because it closely followed the storyline," Jones told W over the phone. "Usually, you see a hint of color or a reference to a piece of jewelry, but this costume designer had every lady decked out in a different necklace in almost every scene. Most of the time the jewelry falls into the background, but with Bridgerton, the jewelry was over the top every time."
"When you look at the way they set up the Featheringtons versus the Bridgertons, the Bridgertons are always in shades of icy blue to gray, and the Featheringtons are always in those yellows and oranges and bright pinks," Jones explained. "Yellow is the color of knowledge and truth, which I think is very interesting, especially when it comes to Penelope." And though Penelope's best friend, Eloise, does wear yellow flowers when she is introduced to society, her "power yellow hue is more subdued," Jones added, signifying that Eloise's quest for knowledge is subtle but brewing, as evidenced by her mission to find out the identity of Lady Whistledown.
"At the beginning, Daphne is always in very demure, small diamond jewelry. Everything is close to the nape of her neck. Then the necklaces get bigger," Jones said, explaining that the change symbolizes Daphne's growth out of childish naïveté and into grown women's business. Surely by episode six (the one you're not supposed to watch with your parents), a viewer could notice this visual and narrative shift. When Daphne opts for ruby earrings, just before sealing the deal with the duke, Jones felt that "it could be a biblical reference, in which a woman's value is supposed to be equal to a ruby, and very rare." And when she wears blue stones, it is supposed to signify her duty to tradition. "That color is classic, timeless, and never goes out of style," Jones said.
Jones noted that she sees Marina as the foil to Daphne. They're both essentially two sides of the same coin because "they're supposed to be the ones that are searching for real love, the purity in it; they're not in it for the status that everyone else is, so they wear white." Throughout the series, Marina, the poorer cousin brought into the Featherington fold, wears necklaces made of seed pearls. These, according to Jones, signify "the bud, or hope of something bigger" and shows her status as lower than that of the Featheringtons' or the Bridgertons' rank in society. Marina's jewels underscore her growing pregnancy and hope to marry her true love and advance further in society.
"The big, more garish tones of jewelry are worn by the Featherington girls. These ostentatious necklaces—versus what Daphne and Marina wear," Jones pointed out. "And Lady Danbury has on either aquamarines or emeralds when she tells the Duchess about the Duke's upbringing and these stones are known for communication."
As one of the only male characters who wears visible jewelry in nearly every shot (spoiler: it’s the same piece of jewelry throughout the season), Jones found the Duke and his green gemstone brooch particularly interesting. She conjectured that wearing the brooch is supposed to "set the Duke apart and the status that he has in society," as he is not too keen on the aristocracy.
Jones also speculates that most of the jewelry used on the show appears to be costume, though some of it does look real, and looks as though it’s closely aligned with the architecture. "If you look at some of the necklaces that the ladies have on, it [mirrors the] architecture adorning the fireplace or other parts of the room," she said. "It draws on the styles of the day and design motifs of the day, but the idea behind why they wear the jewelry, when they get the jewelry, what the jewelry is supposed to say about them—those are always timeless things that never change. And that's about status. It's about love. It's about family heirlooms and position. It's all those things I think people still care about."
The reason people are still so interested in Bridgerton and the extravagance of its costumes, Jones believes, is because "women still wear jewelry as a symbol of being married or betrothed to someone, or they mix it in with pieces they get from relatives." The interest in fine jewelry and luxury can transcend fashion and time, but so can the abstract concepts those very material goods represent. "Those things still mean something to someone, it makes people feel proud to wear something with a story behind it. Love is eternal and people still want it, and they want to be able to express it."