Jewelry: Tuning your taste to the times

Happy announcement: Last Friday our son Etienne and his wife Tash welcomed their 9 lb. 11 oz. dumpling, Emile. Our daughter-in-law had to postpone her planned marathon last fall, but ran one in the delivery, and superbly. Sure beats a t-shirt at the finish line!

I watched several women browse a large fine jewelry store recently. Each was attracted to certain pieces, and barely glanced at others. I could pretty accurately guess where each would pause, from her overall appearance. I began to group the jewelry—and the clients—into three broad categories.

1. Serenely classic
This is the style of my friend Lorrie, who never met a navy garment she didn't like, and always carries a discreet, neutral bag. She would choose a pair of Gurhan hammered 24k gold hoops (price, about $1,200), not at all concerned that identical pairs live on other lucky ears.

She would also admire how she can wear them with everything, and that their high-carat colour will endure and deepen over time.

2. Singularly striking

Annette is an art gallery partner whose eye has been honed by her career. She is knowledgeable about advanced techniques and admires the workmanship involved. Annette, in exuberant colour from fuchsia glasses frames to forest-green boots, is the antipode of Lorrie.

She would adore Cambridge MA artist Daniel R. Spirer's anodized silver, 18k gold, and sapphire earrings (price, around $480), and be especially pleased that they were made in a limited edition.
(Note: Mr. Spirer writes an interesting blog about jewelry here.)

Photo by permission of Daniel M. Spirer

3. Sophisticated and elegant

Lorrie's sister, Diane, glamourous yet minimalist, is always impeccably turned out. She will will join us for a Sunday am. run to Ikea in a crisp white shirt, tailored trousers, kitten heels, coral lipstick.  When I say "glamorous", I don't mean glitzy; rather, her soignée polish seems entirely natural—think Grace Kelly. She would want a dash of drama displayed via uncluttered, well-resolved design.


That store carries a few items by revered Montréal designer Janis Kerman, and it is there Diane would pause. This pair is made of relatively modest materials: black diamonds (sidebar: black diamonds are irradiated to achieve that colour), mother-of-pearl discs, and silver; in Kerman's hands, they are supremely elegant.

What to choose? 

Like the women I watched, you will be drawn to certain pieces, and of course, will factor in your budget. But here is the Big Reveal, the kicker: try something outside your niche. Bend it by twenty or thirty degrees.

Ask permission to put on a new piece and spend at least 15 or 20 minutes in it in the shop. Take a photo of yourself.  (Most vendors will allow one if you explain your reason. Occasionally, concerns about copying yield a "no".)  Study that photo later, because you can quickly forget the proportions and overall effect, and think about whether you would wear it with your wardrobe. I've also known jewelers who let an established client take a piece home for a day or two.

You could also borrow from a friend to assess a new style or how you look in different materials, even if you only wear it while you're at her place for lunch.

Whichever way you manage your tryout, even a short test spin delivers benefits:
1. You may get ideas for restyling things you own. 
2. You may be able to trade your Frida Kahlo hoops (seemed like a good idea in Acapulco but not back home) for a friend's silver mesh bracelet, the one she's allergic to. Donation is noble, but swapping recoups your investment neatly.

Or, you might be motivated to finally sell your little-worn piece to fund the new. (The fine jewelry you don't wear isn't like a once-worn lipstick; there's unrealized value there. )

3. You will, even if you make no change now, build your eye for what compliments you, which definitely shifts as you mature. An item you coveted might turn out to be not nearly as pleasing on you as you thought.

The updating of a jewelry collection lags behind clothes; once we think a five-year-old jacket suddenly looks démodé, poof! it's banished, but we don't bother with those fifteen-year-old earrings, stuck in the back of the drawer. Maybe they're still fine, but as times change, older contemporary pieces can look too girly or generic.
Victorian cameo earrings, Beladora

Whether you're in a luxe boutique or funky friperie, play a bit, and look at yourself with new eyes. If you feel a magnetic repulsion, stay away, but if you have never worn Tahitian pearls or a Victorian cameo, take a moment to try the unusual.

There's no better way to find a magical bijou that's going to delight you for years.


Susan said…
Congratulatons on the birth of little Emile and becoming a grandmother. He is adorable. I know the family must be so happy.

Today's jewelry message comes at a good time for me. We are readying ourselves to do a whole house reorganization (a la Marie Kondo) and my jewelry box will not be excluded from scrutiny. I can already thing of a number of things that are no longer right for me and will be going away.
Jacinta Arnold said…
Congrats! You must be so happy!
Susan B said…
Congratulations on that beautiful new addition to the family!! You must be so delighted.
materfamilias said…
Congratulations again and again on the safe arrival of that beautiful boy!
Unknown said…
Congratulations. Becoming a grandmother is one of the best feelings in the world. Enjoy.
Bienvenue Émile! I was looking forward to this announcement. Congratulations to his parents as well.

I gave away some good quality 1980s costume jewellery some time back, cleaning out my jewellery box and a drawer. Don't regret it, for one thing because I was allergic to it! I took it to le Chaînon, and had an appointment with an employee there who knew the value of such things. (Le Chaînon funds a centre and a transition house for women in crisis).

My taste would definitely tend towards the second, but not all the colours. Usually silver.
Duchesse said…
Susan: For me, the hard things to get rid of were the 'real' but not notably valuable pieces, like silver earrings and too-delicate necklaces made of semi-precious stones. Fortunately a friend mentioned that her church was having a special "elegant rummage sale" to fundraise for a childrens' breakfast program. I donated several shopping bags stuffed with little-worn items. (And for her help, I offered her the choice of an item she liked, and one for her daughter, too.)

Maybe your church will have a similar event, or you may find a good place for them in a (true) charity store.

All: Yes, we are overjoyed; thank you!

LauraH said…
What a lovely way to start your post, congratulations.

I recently went through my jewellery box with a fresh eye - coincidence! The aim of the review was to put together various pieces and see where the gaps were - earrings that had no necklace or bracelet partners, etc. Matching was not the goal. My tendency is to buy something lovely then get home and realize it doesn't fit with anything else. So this review - I even used a table in Word to record everything - was a big help. Now I know what to look for plus I was able to weed out a few things that hadn't been worn in years.

And to your point about looking outside my comfort zone, I'm thinking of something sparkly...what next!
Congratulations on the birth of your grandson!
How very exciting for you all...I think being a grand parent is the best gift ever!

Francie Newcomb said…
Congratulations, Duchesse, he is beautiful! Best wishes to all your family.
SewingLibrarian said…
Emile is adorable! Best wishes to him, his parents, and his grandparents. And although I truly dislike the term "push present," I think Tash deserves a little something for delivering that •big• boy.
Duchesse said…
Sewing: That's a custom in some families, though I'm not sure E. will do that. When he and his brother were born, I was in the hospital for ten days. Their father brought a lavish bouquet of exquisite roses- and a jade silk teddy, figuring I'd have had enough of hospital gowns. That didn't get worn for awhile; beautiful but impractical.
Congratulations. Becoming a grandmother is such a wonderful experience. So much to look forward to.
Yes, often it is more practical to see that the new parents get some relief from cooking and cleaning (including laundry) chores; it was a tradition in many cultures to do that, and to ensure that the new mum had restorative food. I usually cooked and took meals, in freezable portions.

Sewing, I'm sure new mum's fitness training was a boon with the emergence of such a big boy!
Jane in London said…
Congratulations! What a lovely baby - and he has great hair!

Congratulations! Grandchildren are life's sweetest blessings. Beautiful baby.
LPC said…
Congratulations on your grandson! So very exciting. It must be so lovely to have a baby in the family again.
Sisty said…
Catching up -- congratulations on your new grandson! He's beautiful.

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