Worth Its Weight: The Modern Spin on Jewellery

If you want to nail a MODERN LOOK now, it’s time to forget the occasions, dress codes and rules and tune in to the trends …

Marni AW18

Look around you. You might notice that we don’t save our best gems for after dark these days, and there’s no such thing as a ring finger. At an event hosted by The Gloss last month, the jewellery worn by guests was a combination of tradition and rebellion. Clusters and stacks of rings marched across both hands. Ears were curated: mismatched earrings, or worn back to front, ear climbers and bars. Feathers brushed against hair and tassels grazed shoulders. Cuffs, collars and chokers combined diamonds with resin, silver was worn with gold, fine jewellery was mixed with costume, old worn with new. When we are in the queue to get coffee, we glimpse neck armour – talismans, weaponry, charms and astrological symbols. There is personalisation: monograms, initials. Have we forgotten who we are? At a party: stacked gems of varying preciousness and conflict-free stones, lab-grown diamonds. On the red carpet, we are sorry there’s hardly any jewellery at all save for a few pairs of studs, now that it’s not cool to borrow (“elegance is refusal”, as Coco Chanel once said). On the school run: the diamond as big as a house is worn with leggings and a smart watch. And there’s a matching diamond on the other hand. There’s estate jewellery sold at auctions for less than the price of a glass and brass bracelet from a high-street brand. Women we know who once wore a double strand of pearls now have multiple ear piercings. The more you wear, the stronger the effect.

The change in how we wear jewellery has been rapid and radical. If you want to nail a modern look now, it’s time to forget the occasions, dress codes and rules and tune in to the trends.

But first, how and why has the wearing of jewellery become a rebellious act?

In the past, we viewed jewellery as a status symbol and as a signifier of wealth. Jewellery was bequeathed, handed down, inherited or presented to us on occasions where ritual played an important part: christenings, communions, 21st birthdays, marriage, landmark birthdays. Now, most women don’t wait to be presented with a piece of jewellery by a parent or a partner: we buy for ourselves, treating jewellery as we do other fashion purchases. If we have the means, we reward ourselves for career – or other – milestones. We might invest in a piece or two that we love and can hand down. We aren’t waiting for a man to buy us jewellery, we are buying what we want, when we want. We wear it to look good. Jewellery is as important a form of visual messaging as the clothes we wear. It too signifies our ambition, our aspirations. We see jewellery as a means of self-expression. So what is it that we are expressing now? Is it confidence? Or its corollary, fear?

We are all used to the idea that fashion’s greatest influence is what happens in the street, then the catwalks follow suit. With fashion brands keyed into youth culture, this visual messaging comes from the ground up, literally from what’s inside our heads. And jewellery is no different.

Oscar de la Renta AW18

Jewellery’s greatest component, gold, is global currency. Its value reflects the world order. Its price changes daily, responding to every crisis in the world. In a volatile world, gold has staying power.

The first hint of global turbulence, and the price of gold goes up. With talk of geopolitical risks and a US president we struggle to respect, our fear gauge is high. Amid socio-economic inequities and trade wars, we like the strong impact of jewellery, how it makes us feel – and its intrinsic value. (We can always trade it for cash). We also want our jewellery to have meaning: so we can say “I worked hard for that”. Jewellery is attitude.

With consumers looking for more options to buy, an important new category has been created. We know about luxury or high jewellery (indulgent haute joallerie, one-of-a-kind extraordinary pieces), fine (of superior quality, skill or appearance) costume and fashion jewellery but what about demi-fine, the sweet spot between fine and costume? Less expensive than fine jewellery, demi-fine is also termed “everyday precious”. It bridges the gap between high street jewellery and fine jewellery and is fabulous when combined with both. It’s also more affordable than fine, ergo more collectable. Demi-fine includes so much of what we deem covetable – from big and bold to tiny and dainty and delicate.

Chanel AW18

While costume or fashion or demi-fine jewellery once might have referred to pieces of lesser value, or imitation items, now these pieces, designed by designers, can be made from high-quality materials by hand. Likewise, fine jewellery can be designed and mass produced from less expensive materials. Some fine jewellery, considered to be an art form, can be mass-produced by machines. And even gemstones not traditionally known for their preciousness – jade, tanzanite, aquamarine, topaz – are as sought after as diamonds, rubies, emeralds, and saphires.

There are also covetable statement pieces without a luxury price tag. There is artisan-designed and produced jewellery, valued for its quality. We like it as wearable scupture, as art, as a way of conveying that we hold certain fundamentals precious. We appreciate the way jewellery can express feelings and can hold memories.

Not wearing and enjoying our jewellery is the equivalent of having the Waterford glass locked up or the good china under wraps. The new edgier aesthetic and a blurring of lines between categories means jewellery wearing has never been more fun or more democratic. And remember, nailing the look favours the brave.

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