Buying jewelry: Six pointers for avoiding mistakes, ever again

Several readers, in my two posts about simple living, said they regretted jewelry purchases made in the past.

It's one thing to spend money you need to save, but the error is compounded when you make a mistake which still sits tangled and unworn in a box longer than it took to go through a couple of bottles of Tabasco.

I made my share of blunders, but divested those clunkers when I moved two years ago, so you'll have to imagine pale-green plexiglass earrings encrusted with copious crystals, dangling like twin pastel disco balls. Crazily overpriced, as well as gawdawful.

Champagne under the bridge, honeybunch—but what about today?

Below, six principles to duck the ogre of obsolescence, with examples.

1. Put on a little weight

Now is the time for presence, in one stunning piece of estimable scale. Precious metal prices have soared beyond inflation; if you see yourself golden-aged in gold, sell unpleasing pieces, then check out vintage.

Wide 18k link bracelet, ca. 1970, from Beladora: ideal scale and weight in that mellow high-carat gold; price, $4,750. 

You may be better off swapping metal for other materials!

When asked what piece would serve her to eternity, my Parisienne friend Huguette nominated her jade bangle. She wears her fine-quality beauty alone or with several Swarovski crystal flexible bracelets to funk it up.

Leaf-green jade and 14k gold bangle from Gump's; price, $1,750. (You might find them for less at an antique jeweler's.)  A hinged bangle would be easier to put on one day.
2. Avoid the utterly generic

A chain is the hardest-working necklace you can own, but a plain version is not the smartest, in both senses of the word. I see men susceptible to this error when they buy gifts. Thrumming with anxiety, they choose the blandest, safest option.

Marie-Helène de Taillac's multitudes of sequins gold chain  (detail shown) is refined yet assertive, with movement and shimmer. At 18 inches, lavishly hung with 2mm 22k gold beads, it will layer sinuously. Price, $4,370.

No, you don't have to spend thousands! Another example:

Jane Diaz' hammered link chain is gold-plated. To get 25 years' wear out of it, store in a jewelry bag and keep perfume and makeup off your neck. I like the scale, texture and price, $120.

3. Scout secondary gems of first quality 

The family of quartzes provide gemmy, pungent colour.

Rosa Maria's smoky quartz grace ring combines a faceted 10mm smoky quartz with grey diamonds set in silver—a fresh yet classic vibe. I think it will go the distance. Price, $1,978.

I would also consider a strand of richly-hued beads, new or secondhand, in a colour that sings to you. The bead need not be huge—these are 8mm—but intensely-hued. 

Shown, detail from a 55-inch Lena Skadegard aquamarine and gold-bead necklace. (Aquamarine is beryl, the same family as emerald.) Many readers could make their own; if so, you could skip the clasp, but not the knots. The crucial factor is the quality of the material.

4. Reset an outdated diamond (or other precious stone) ring

Decades of hard wear beat up a ring, and, like clothing, jewelry styles change; you're no longer wearing that Flashdance top, right? The stone might need recutting to repair; diamond is hard, but chips.

Example: a very '80s ER for sale on eBay:

If still wanted, that marquis diamond could delight for decades, restyled like Rebecca Overman's marquis solitare; the example is a yellow diamond, but the stone above would look beautiful, too:

Or make a band (recycling your old gold, too) like Deszo's rose gold and diamond piece:

Both will look spectacular on either hand, so, not just for spouses.

5. Go so old that age ennobles

Look for ethnic, antique or vintage, of graceful design.

Two examples: 

An Edwardian (ca. 1910) diamond ring set in 14k gold; notice how the claws are integral to the mount, a beautiful antique setting. The old-cut diamond is .3cts; the price, $795 at Beladora.

The problem with some ethnic pieces is the weight of necklaces, which many of us can't handle anymore. 

Sudha Irwin's pieces are made today but reference antiquity. Her Indian-influenced multi-strand turquoise and silver necklace will please those drawn to organic, casual pieces. Price $495.

6. Zhuzh a quintessential classic 

Despite helping a friend shop for unusual pearl earrings, I still melt for a big sexy stud. A pearl pair mixes well with your costume pieces or, well, everything

Baroques are more casual and unusual than rounds; find a pair with evident  orient, like this pair: 18 x 13mm white pearl studs from Gump's, $300.

Equally passepartout are diamond studs, or a facsimile thereof. Fine diamonds will sparkle from across a room, poorly-cut ones look liked dried spit. 

Better a high-quality simulant than a so-so diamond, and why not choose  an interesting cut like the Loyal Asscher by Carats

Price for 1ct. each, set in 9k yellow gold, $203. (Resist the temptation to go too big if you want them to look real, unless you hang with big-stone babes.)

These pieces should go the distance. If not, you can send them to me!

Use these principles for costume too, except, buy real pearls— I'm begging. The argonite crystals that form the genuine pearl's nacre create glowing depth; nothing else replicates it. Glass pearls are like kissing without touching: can be done, but not nearly as pleasurable.


Kristien62 said…
Dried spit? I must remember that! I love the idea of resetting an engagement ring diamond in a wide band. I have had mine reset once, many years ago, and now would like to do it again
LauraH said…
Another wonderful post, I enjoy reading you so much. Lately I've been thinking of buying a large gold stud for winter wear (avoids scarf accidents) and am eyeing this Gurhan design as an affordable option. I'ld love to hear any comments you might have on it. Thanks.
materfamilias said…
While I appreciate the jewelry suggestions (especially those gold-plated chains, seriously tempting), what I like best here is the bottles of Tabasco used as a measurement of time -- both spot-on and too funny!
Anonymous said…
What a wonderful post, I really loved the flick of your personality in this too, you are very much a Lauren Bacall type of woman.
LPC said…
"Fake pearls are like kissing without touching."


I have a pair of domed gold earrings studded with semi-precious earrings and a bracelet of semi-precious stones to sort of match. It was the 80s. I wanted them to be ugly, or so I said.

I was wrong:).
Duchesse said…
Kristien: Resetting is a terrific way to get a new piece for a relatively modest investment (if you don't go crazy adding more stones.) Before buying anything precious, it is smart to check what you have that's not worn, to see if it can be restyled.

materfamilias: Thank you! Yes, I am tempted too :)

Tabitha: Wish I had her voice! Yes, I do relate to her, especially her straightforward, unfussy style.

LPC: Some of that '80s design has staying power and some not, though if doorknocker earrings come back, I'll be sorry.

Duchesse said…
LauraH: Those are beautiful; I like the gold/silver mix and especially the hammered texture. Well-priced for this designer. Overall I like Gurhan very much; always uses high-carat gold with handmade details, unlike some other high-end brands.

7mm is a good size, not bitsy- size of a 1ct diamond- and you could wear them with everything.
LauraH said…
Thanks so much. And I agree with the Lauren Bacall comment - I always enjoy your humour and tell-it-like-it-is approach.
My daughter has traded in some of her regretted purchases and found better pieces at the vintage store here in town. She is a bit of an impulse buyer when it comes to gemstones, rather like a kid in a candy store. I think I am much more sensible when it comes to investing in jewelry but having thought about it I think rather boring so I am off to look at Gumps now...

Mardel said…
Wonderful post. I'm eyeing the pearls. It seems I wear my black pear studs more than anything else and would like something lighter. Eventually the right pair will show up. It seems my collection is growing smaller and more tightly edited. Oddly, or perhaps not, my collection is less generic and more versatile that the accumulated schlock of my youth.
fmcgmccllc said…
Husband gifted me with large oval Citrine earrings for my birthday, also a Citrine ring which I sent back. He had given me a much nicer Citrine ring in the past and did not remember. Even he remarked on how much jewelry prices has gone up. I love the earrings but in the back of my mind I wished he had given me more pearls. And I have a lot of pearls. Tabasco goes pretty fast in our home.
Duchesse said…
hostess: Reselling fine jewelry via consignment is an option I do not often advise as one can lose so much of the value, but if your daughter has someone with whom she has a good relationship, it can work really well.

Mardel: I think lighter pearls would look specatcular on you!

fmcg: Whee receiving gifts of significant jewelry from a beloved, it really helps if beloved is flexible and not all upset it the item is not right. A gift in itself.

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