Jewelry: Exceptions

The ring that sparked the motto
 Lettered on a window somewhere in the Passage:

"If you're over 50, your jewelry should be real."

I first uttered this when a (30ish) colleague asked me if my emerald ring was "real".


There are several reasons for that belief:
1. A woman past 50 has the experience and bearing to wear jewelry well. The authenticity of genuine materials becomes her. And the inverse is true: like a Forever 21 dress, certain jewelry looks terrific on youth, but not on the mature.
2. Imitation materials have no soul or essence. Even if it fools the eye, it just does not deliver on an emotional level.
3. Fake is usually poor value. The "gold tone" bracelet wears to mottled patches, the gold bracelet takes on a burnished patina. Though you can sometimes salvage elements such as beads, you cannot recycle imitation gold or silver into a new style. 

"Real" does not imply costly. When I say "real", I include not only precious metals and gems, but also an array of organic elements, e.g., shells, wood, rock crystal, raffia, leather, an old bronze key on a silk cord.


However, there are exceptions, especially among vintage pieces, when  craftsmanship and materials were far superior to today's. (Below, gold and tortoise plastic necklace from Carole Tannenbaum.)

Among synthetics, bakelite and the modern resins are appealing, but the hard, glossy plastic of much current costume lacks character. In the '80s I had my armful of Madonna's durable, light, O-ring rubber bangles; did you? 

And for by-the-pool fun accessories, frank plastics like this wacky Aldo "Curl" ring for $12 make sense.

So despite that motto, I wear pieces of synthetic materials and admire some of it on others. Here's a selection:

Dress clip, ca. 1935, of gilt and plastic "shell", one of a pair my mother wore.

Ca. 1930s bakelite brooch; bought from a vintage dealer in Toronto when watching the entire series "Carnavale" on DVD renewed my love for Art Deco.

"Jade" (plastic) and genuine seed-pearl earrings, ca. 1930s, bought in Paris at a vintage jewelry store.

Big paste, strass and metal-chain necklace, bought for a New Year's Eve party, about $60 at Dillard's. An example of cheap, fun-to-wear glitz–but glad I didn't spend more.

Wide Italian plastic-laminate cuff, bought at a boutique; an example of plastic's ability to deliver vivid colour.

1950s gumball-sized metal knots, bought in London in the early '80s. I paid too much, but thirty years later buyer's remorse has faded and I still remember sunny Portobello Road that afternoon. The combination of their weight and the clip backs kill my ears after an hour, but I still have them.

The "sapphire" pin you found at a yard sale, the worn-down-to-brass "silver" ring you inherited from an aunt, the CZ "diamond" studs that make travel carefree: choose your own exceptions, and enjoy them.

What are your favourite fakes?


LPC said…
I'm way over on the Wear Real side. That said, I find Alexis Bittar lucite to be a thing of beauty.
Anonymous said…
Your emerald ring is beautiful. Really a stunner. I've never been drawn to costume jewelry, even when I was young. You're so right about the "no soul" part, except for some vintage pieces.
spacegeek33 said…
At 42, I finally feel like I've grown into my jewelry, my clothing and my "mental self". I'm so much more confident than I've ever been and it is a wonderful feeling! I wear costume jewelry with my "real" stuff, because some of the costume pieces are "of the moment", and I don't want to purchase those trendy bits in high prices.

That being said, I finally re-located a designer I was trying to remember for the last *two* years! Gabrielle Sanchez and her Flyer earrings!!! I have been looking and looking and haven't seen any knock-offs anywhere. Seriously TWO years! This particular design goes exactly with my aesthetic, and I'm thinking of a pair of the Tahitian Pearl Flyers. I've been bugged by the image, yet unfulfilled desire for so long. :-)
I have very few faux pieces...
I do love vintage gems.

Your emerald is a knock out ring...
green is my favourite colour!
Jill Ann said…
Oh, that emerald ring! All my life I've fantasized about a ring like that. I think the emerald would go so well with my green eyes! I'm not very knowledgeable about jewelry, unfortunately, but have the impression that most emeralds I could afford are artificially treated in some way. Vintage would maybe be the way to go, then, if I decided to take the plunge.

Second the Alexis Bittar shout-out; such beautiful pieces, at least the ones I've seen.
Poppy Buxom said…
I love my real jewelry. Some of it is heirloom, some of it is gifts from Mr. Buxom, some of it is eBay scores of my own. All of it is lovely.

But I have to disagree with the idea that after a certain age, you should only wear real materials. I find too much serious jewelry aging. It can look very grande dame, very ladies-who-lunch, very Women's Board. It doesn't express the fun-loving, frivolous side of my personality.

Therefore, I love my costume crappe just as much as the diamonds, pearls, coral, and jade. I just bought a bunch of Givenchy bling to wear to black-tie events this summer, and it felt so fun and festive to wear it instead of Schlumberger whatnot.

Of course, one man's meat and YMMV and all that!
Susan said…
I have a pretty set of rhinestone dangling earring that are very pretty. The stones are small and the setting is detailed and elegant. I love them. My husband offered to have them copies and made with diamonds. I declined the offer. I would worry about them then and not enjoy wearing them nearly as much as I do now.
Susan said…
Oops lots of typos in my post above. That happens when I am multitasking.
déjà pseu said…
I have very little "fine" jewelry but do have some "real" silver, semi-precious, leather, and bead pieces. Now that I'm wearing more silver, finding "real" at a lower price is easier. But I'll admit that I do love some fun, look-at-me-I'm-FAUX pieces sometimes, like that gumball pearl necklace from Gerard Darel, or the silly stretch bracelet with bright blue beads I'm wearing today. Not ready to give those up yet.
déjà pseu said…
And that emerald ring...just breathtaking!!!
Anonymous said…
The emerald IS exquisite, but so, in its own way, is that wide plastic cuff--so modern and fresh. I wonder whether it, or that carved bakelite brooch, or Bittar's pieces really even qualify as "faux" these days? I suspect their designers consider them real plastic.

I have no precious jewels, but try to avoid plated metals. As you point out, patina is lovely, wearing-through-to-base-metal is dismal. But I broke my own rule for a chunky gold-plated Monet bracelet with a perfume-vial charm dangling from it. Simply couldn't resist carrying a few drops of Mitsouko around my wrist that way!

Duchesse said…
LPC: Bittsr is one of my favourite costume designers.

kathy: We agree- but as you can see others do find all kinds of costume pleasing and in some cases (as shown) I've been completely captivated by a piece.

spacegeek33: The Sanchez Flyer is a wonderful design; those curious can see a lapis pair here:
I'm certain you would wear those earrings all all all the time.

hostess: I like genuine materials best, or funky costume. Imitations trying to pass as genuine are like counterfeit bags: embarrassments.

Jill Ann: Almost 100% of emeralds receive some treatment, and this is acceptable when disclosed. Usually they are oiled to enhance the colour- a treatment done for hundreds of years. (Some people have them re-oiled after some decades.) Lesser quality stones may be filled, or a layer of emerald is applied over a cheaper stone (doublets) but they can also be very pretty.

Poppy: No excuse for real looking aging or grande dame. I'd restyle it or buy something hipper: Hemmerle, de Taillac,Lucifer Vir Honestus and many more make stunning pieces. See this post:;postID=1489638862644596062

Costume can be fun, but has no soul, and I have seen plenty of ugly costume, some of it very costly.

Susan: I'd do that too, and am glad I didn't buy certain precious pieces 'then', as my life is more casual 'now'.

Pseu: I would *love* to see you in one of Zara Scoville's Priceless Imperfection pearl necklaces and if I were in LA I would drag you there:) One of us would definitely be acquiring something....

C.: Real need not be precious; one of my favourite pieces is a square sterling ring set with a tiny square cut ruby, practically a chip, from my sons, given on my birthday. Sentiment trumps preciousness any day!
déjà pseu said…
Duchesse - I have on my list to contact her sometimes this summer to visit her studio. Now moved to the top of the list.
Anonymous said…
Sentiment, oh yes. My mother has a beautiful gold bracelet heavy with charms. I remember the Christmas when my little sister ran into my room saying, "Guess what! They have gold charms at Woolworth's and they only cost 59 cents!" The little gold-painted plastic heart she chose was added to the bracelet, and when an appraiser examining the charms 30 years later raised a quizzical eyebrow, my mother said, "That's the most valuable one of all."
Duchesse said…
pseu: Cannot wait till you post about that!

C.: What a sweet story. Of course that was a treasured charm, and what a lovely memory of your mother.
Anonymous said…
I came back to check something and just wanted to chime in that I don't consider Alexis Bittar or Ashley Pittman (for examples) to make "costume" jewelry. They're not making "fake" things. Lucite, or in the case of Ashley, African horn, are "real" materials. Obviously with less value than gold, but not imitation. So, since you brought up purses, I wouldn't consider a straw bag to not be a "real" bag, just different than a leather bag, but still real straw. Am I making any sense?
Anonymous said…
I also consider wood, leather, even plastic to be "real", as long as they're not pretending to be something else.
Did not want to come off as a snob, so again, wanted to be clear.
Duchesse said…
kathy peck: Sure, makes sense.

And let's be clear here (pun intended). Lucite (aka plexiglass) is a *synthetic* organic compound. Bittar and others make beautiful objects of it, but it is still synthetic. When buying lucite, there is no inherent value in the material; it is worth small change.

Though I would buy jewelry of lucite/resin, I would not expect them to perform like organics. They may in fact be more durable than some organic materials, but they are not the same, and anyone spending hundreds or more on lucite jewelry should be aware of that.

Horn is from the head of hoofed mammals. Again, the piece can be very attractive, and since my taste veers more often toward organic materials, I like it very much.
Duchesse said…
kathy peck: As I wrote,
'When I say 'real', I include not only precious metals and gems, but also an array of organic elements, e.g., shells, wood, rock crystal, raffia, leather, an old bronze key on a silk cord."

So we are on the same page.
Anonymous said…
My great aunt Jane's "Aquamarine" ring. Beautiful languid stone set in white gold. She gave it to my mother in her youth because she had beautiful hands. When it came to me, I had it appraised because of the size of the aqua ... which turned out to be glass. And, I love it more for that reason. I never knew Aunt Jane, but love that what was one of a farm wife's favorite possessions has come through my mother to me. Thank you for your post ... and the memories it brought. Susan
Duchesse said…
Susan: My appraisers tell me so often people are disappointed and even angry to hear that what they thought was a gem is glass. They are more interested in value than sentiment.

Glass eventually becomes evident via scratches that inevitably dull and abrade the surfaces. If that should happen, you might consider replacing the stone with an aqua, it's not expensive.
Mardel said…
I'm on the Wear Real side as well. Now I have some pieces that are "real" but not valuable, sterling silver and river rock for example.

When I was young I didn't wear jewelry mostly because I couldn't afford what I liked and didn't feel "grown up" enough for it anyway. I indulged in costume jewelry for a while to make up the difference but most of that has served its purpose and gone on its way.

There are still a few pieces I have and treasure including a 1950's Trifari "gold" bracelet that I occasionally wear, given to me by husband a few years ago and a few plastic or lucite pieces, which I think I will post on my blog.
Chicatanyage said…
I sometimes buy some fun fakes in St. Tropez market. They often don't last very long but are some fun in the sun for a season. Probably would not wear in London. Just bought a great silver necklace may photograph
Duchesse said…
mardel: Value is only third on the list for me, though I do walk by counters (or even shops) crammed with cheap metals and regret the environmental impact of so much that will sooner or later be junked. As I respond to your comment, am wearing two silver and pearl chains made by a local designer, now a friend- and friends are priceless. Also a huge silver and red coral ring, far cheaper than the cost of the plastic costume stuff sold by sites like netaporter (which I admire, but a lot of it is overpriced.)
Duchesse said…
chicatanyage: Markets have some terrific costume and semiprecious pieces- especially garnered from women who travel and buy too many souvenirs, then let some of it go. Would love to see your new necklace!
Gretchen said…
As one with obscenely sensitive skin, I cannot wear silver for more than a few hours without my ears hurting, or my fingers blistering, and it's even worse with base metal...or gold alloyed with nickel. So the earrings I wear most every day are a pair of 8.5mm pearl studs on white gold posts, my Cartier watch paired with a gold link bracelet and an antique gold watch chain. On the other arm? All bets are off. Sometimes, it's an antique jade bracelet, or my gold bangles engraved with my children's birth info, or multiples of glass bead bracelets or lucite bangles or vintage rhinestones. I agree that too much Fine Jewelry tends to look stodgy. But wearing Of The Moment pieces can look like one is trying too hard. Jewelry should be fun, personal, and well, plentiful!
Duchesse said…
Gretchen: I agree with the last sentence! And if one's fine jewelry looks stodgy, it is a result of the buyer's taste or the limitations of what is available.

Hemmerle, for example, is an example of a house that achieves extraordinary workmanship that never tries too hard.
Gretchen said…
Duchesse, I wholly agree with you on both points. I guess my issue with people (jewelry, clothing, hair/makeup) and style is one of either a lack of imagination, or far too much, um, experimentation,for want of some politesse. I believe finding that "sweet spot" as we age is a challenge so we neither look like cartoonish caricatures nor haughty (or even worse, dull) Let's Wear Our Jewelry Box women is a decent goal. That said, if one feels they look terrific, well, ok, to each her own...
Duchesse said…
Gretchen: Not sure if you read this old post of mine, which might express echo of your preferences (but not those of other commenters, who admire the "creative" look:

or this one on updating jewelry:;postID=1489638862644596062
Hetty said…
I used to be a jewelry snob but am lightening up in recent years, in more ways than one. Love bangles but don't like the weight on my arms. Adore Angela Caputi's resin chain link bracelets, from Serena Italian Imports. Wonderfully chunky look but so light you can double or triple up. They never fail to wow. In many colors. Find them here:
Duchesse said…
Hetty: I don't think I'm a jewelry snob; I simply find plastic does not have organic presence, and I look for that quality even in a simple wood bangle or shell pendant. I really like the design of these bracelets but the plastic is too shiny for me to want to order one, much as I'd admire them on someone else.
rb said…
I have a costume bracelet I wear all the time. Like your "jade" earrings it is from Paris (in this case, a flea mart) and was a gift from a friend who visited there. It is made of little tiles of illustrated dogs, all different breeds, each tile set on some sort of dark silver metal rectangle with a few dark rhinestones. The tiles are strung together with elastic. The illustrations look like they're from the 1940s. It basically looks like those mah jong tile bracelets you can get from street vendors (or at least, you can here in SF) but vintage-y.

They may be all over Paris but I've never seen another here. Mainly, I love it because my friend gave it to me. I wear it all the time and it gets many, many more comments than my very real wedding rings and pearls.
Duchesse said…
rb; Wonderful piece, would love to see it. There are still some costume treasures to be found.

The posts with the most