Necklaces: Wearing layers of memories and treasures

Jewellery styles change, and so do ways of wearing jewellery. The neck mess, a graceless term and not mine, is hot now (but you might remember it from the '70s, or Steven Tyler).

Let's check out the multi-layered necklace effect. Like a charm bracelet, the pieces are chosen to have meaning and sentiment; many devotées speak of their talismanic, comforting quality. Here it is in its fullest expression, on jewellery designer Pippa Small (photo: New York Times):

Small says she wears at least ten of her necklaces, "every day, all day"! Made my neck ache to read that, but there are lighter options at all price points. Two examples:

Left: Even minimalists can play! Three simple silver pieces, a good way to use jewellery that's generic on its own. Think of this as a Marie Kondo neck mess; that is, no mess.
Right: Fine jewellery by Dominique Cohen, who shows mostly layered looks. Note this example, where some pieces are outside, some inside, the collar.

Tips for layering 

1. Wear a solid-coloured or small-scale pattern top, so the clothes doesn't compete with the pieces.
2. It's fine to mix silver and gold, eras, or genuine with costume, but keep plastic out of the mix. Too low-end, (e.g., plastic tortoiseshell, shiny "gold") drags everything down.
3. There is dramatic and interesting, and then there is visual clutter. You will know what's 'enough'; it depends on your build and your comfort level—but several light necklaces or a chain can be as comfortable as a single statement necklace.
4. Some mementos, for example an antique wedding ring, can slide as is onto a chain. Other items are worth restyling; a single earring can be made into a charm, or a ring into a pendant.

Of course, pearls!

Pearls are fantastic for layering; you can mix any pearls and finally use that demure little strand Aunt Phyllis gave you went you were twenty, which looks lost all by itself now. (Reader who asked that I address these 'legacy' strands, this is for you.)

Sarah Canizzaro of Kojima Company shared her guide to layering pearls, with photos:

Photos: Kojima Company
Left: Two shorter pearl necklaces and a rope (I love the spark of coral!); Sarah notes that layering works especially well with contemporary elements.
Upper right: A Tahitian pendant, a matinée-length (about 24 inches) mixed-pearl necklace, and a baroque rope. Any of these could be worn alone.
Lower right: The Aunt Phyllis 6mm white round pearls (probably a 16-inch choker) mixed with a Tahitian keshi pendant and a strand of tiny pearls I've always called "pearl chain"; this chain will tie so many pieces together! Sometimes the pearls you need are tiny and glowing.

If Aunt's pearls are too short, you can have them restrung with spacer beads (which may be tiny pearls) or other elements; this is not a big reno.

Trying it out

Turns out to be harder than it looks. I had to fiddle with proportion, mood, and how much weight I can stand.

Clockwise, from top left:
1. In my pearl-drenched comfort zone: fancy-coloured baroque Tahitians, CFW pearl pendant, Mexican silver choker. Happy to wear anytime!
2. Blue baroque Akoyas, multicoloured baroque CFW tin cup, keshi 'chain' with Tahitian pendant (not visible in photo) and a long rope of keshis: all pearled up and everyone getting along.
3. When I doubled the keshi chain and added a vintage silver Georg Jensen pendant between it and the silver-link chain, the harmony was off; it was just not right.
4. I tried some coloured stones: a mixed-stone necklace that includes turquoise, a chunky strand of large green turquoise beads, a turquoise pendant, and the silver chains. This felt busy and incoherent, even with larger earrings for balance. It was also too heavy—and, I'm only at half the pieces Pippa Small wears. How does she do it?

Coco Chanel once said "There is not a woman alive who does not know how to wear jewellery"—so, spread your things out and play; you'll find a mix that sings, or a hint about what you need.

If you find some pieces do not work no matter what, remember Duchesse's 3Ds for Unwanted Jewellery:
Divest: Sell yourself, or via a consignor
Donate: To a charity auction or store
Delight: Friends, family who will wear it, or give to a designer or crafter who is eager for materials and recyclable metal.


Laura J said…
Afternoon entertainment! Play with the necklaces!! Thank you!
Jane said…
I think the minimalist look you feature is sexy! I may try that. It has crossed my mind that this whole layered fad is a marketing ploy. Why sell us one necklace when they can convince us to buy three or ten! -Lily
Yes, the top photo does make the back of my neck ache! I love that little Mexican silver necklace - does it feature black stones? though I can't wear true chokers - must be just a bit longer.
Duchesse said…
Lily: Could well be, though (at least in real jewellery, not the costume sets packaged with three or more necklaces) the idea is to collect them, to mark occasions or milestones.

lagatta: All silver, about 25 yrs old.

Carol in VT said…
I inherited lovely smallish chained "gold" necklaces from my aunt and high quality costume pearl necklaces from my mother, each of varying lengths. Every time I wear them together, especially with a white shirt and dark wash jeans, I receive endless compliments. It is a classic combination. Carol in VT
Duchesse said…
Carol in VT: Have you noticed that wearing multiples draws much more notice than the same pieces worn singly? What a touching way to keep both women close. Old costume pieces were often enormously better- made than tiday’s.
Gretchen said…
I like the restrained photos of you in the top row options best, for all the reasons you stated. When I’ve tried to wear multiple chains, I find they get all tangled and it’s like a mess in your jewelry box when you were young-maybe that’s where this absurd phrase originated. I admit to wearing as many pearl strands as I can just because I have them and it makes me happy, but inevitably one has to come off because my neck hurts. Lately I have seen some contraption that allows the wearer to attach multiple chains at back to wear at once, avoiding the disaster I always wind up with when I wear more than one chain. It looks a lot like the clasp for a multi-strand pearl necklace. Perhaps I need to get one and test it out.
Duchesse said…
HI Gretchen: That's a "spacer clasp", they come in two to five-clasp models. The problem (IMO- others may not mind) is that the various necklaces you are wearing have different clasps (style, size, colour of metal) and those on a spacer clasp looks messy. (The ads show one style of clasp on each of three hooks, so everything looks neat.) Seeing the un-coordinated clasps all hanging off yet another clasp, I don't think looks as good as the assorted clasps just worn normally. But if you wear your pieces inside a collar the spacer clasp won't show.

I store chains and fine necklaces in chocolate boxes, the kind with little wells, one per. If you try a spacer clasp, please let us know how you like it!
Jane in London said…
Duchesse, you may have read my mind. I saw a piece about the 'neck mess' in last Sunday's Sunday Times and found it interesting, though a bit superficial and not really thought through. I thought it would be great if someone wrote a piece that had a bit more analysis and insight to it and, voila, that is what you have done!

As a 70s teen I habitually wore three tiny charms strung on chains - a gold fish, an ivory heart and a coral 'mano figa'. Then came the brash jewellery of the 80s, and the 20-something me embraced the costume jewellery smorgasbord with gusto. I can now see that the modern neck mess can be a much more considered and design-led creature than the 'more is better' confections that were popular back then...

I'm very interested in the trend, and in particular it seems to perfectly blend two parallel themes: that a woman's jewellery can be used simply as accessories to enhance her appearance, but can also represent a history of her life. It's something we have often seen in the neck mess's close cousin, the 'arm party', but this takes much more commitment.

As with the arm party, I suspect that the clever trick will be to assemble fresh neck messes to complement different looks - rather than simply going onto automatic pilot and wearing the same 5 necklaces every single day. Though that approach may work for some, I suppose, particularly if the pieces have great sentimental significance.

Anyway, I'm going to have a look through some of my less-used pieces with a view to having some neck mess fun! I have my eye on the large and beautiful gold-wrapped rock crystal figa mano charm that I acquired in Salvador de Bahia many years ago and which I love but always seems like too much of a statement worn on its own. I can see it maybe working with some Aunt Phyllis pearls and my antique locket... :)

Jane in London
Duchesse said…
Jane in London: Thank you, and oh I would love to see the pieces you describe! As for "the same"pieces or not ,my friend Danièle always wears a 3mm gold chain with three wedding rings: her maternal grandmother's, her mother's and her aunt's. Then, she mixes in a few other pieces. Wonder how the two figa wouid play together?

Have fun experimenting and it occurred to me after I wrote that I needed a longer chain and then could wear one of the things that looked wrong. These small tweaks can give unworn things a whole new life.

Arm party- LOL! I'd forgotten that one.
Nancy K said…
I love mixing necklaces. It gives new life to things I've had for years. But, I agree her necklaces make my neck hurt too. I have heavier necklaces from years ago that I don't wear much these days. I have given some things to my dd, who does wear them.
Hester said…
Dear Duchesse, I just want to thank you for your writing, I get a frisson of pleasure thinking that a Tues or Thurs will mean a post from you. Always such interesting topics. I now regret my past 'Marie Kondo' tendencies (long before MK was a thing) as I didn't know what to do with certain items of (often inherited) jewellery and habitually divested myself of them. Should have thought more laterally about re-style, new ways of wearing, rather than got rid. I worked with historic textiles for a long time and there is something deeply female about passing clothing down the generations; an artefact worn close to the body, reworked from coat to jacket, blouse to handkerchief, scarf to cushion cover. Same accruing resonance and transmission of talismanic feminine blessing and nurture with jewellery, if only I'd had the wit to appreciate that in my ultra minimalist youth! Hester
Duchesse said…
Hester: Thank you for your appreciation and for your deeply-felt and wonderfully-expressed acknowledgement of the place of heirlooms. It will inspire a post, and more. Perhaps such awareness comes with maturity. I love the phrase "talismanic feminine blessing and nurture".

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