Shells. Clay. Vines. Ceramics. Bones. Beads. Reindeer horns. Stones. Glass. Claws. Metal. Tusks. Jewels.
What do they all have in common? Over the last 75,000 years, they’ve all been used to create jewelry. From prehistoric times to the modern day, jewelry has been used to show wealth, mark social or marital status, hold clothing in place, demonstrate everything from love to affiliation with a religious or social group, act as a talisman, provide personal or emotional meaning – or simply add a level of decoration and beauty to an outfit.
After a brief overview of jewelry’s history, we’ll take a much closer look at all of the different types of jewelry we commonly wear today. As you’ll see, there really isn’t that much new under the 21st century sun.
A Quick History of Jewelry
How old is jewelry? Archaeologists have found ostrich-egg necklaces from prehistoric times, decorative beads dating to the Paleolithic era, and stained seashells worn as jewelry by Neanderthals. Many experts believe that the earliest humans may have begun decorating their bodies even before they began covering them with clothing. There is little question that civilizations like the Phoenicians, Etruscans and ancient Greeks all crafted and wore jewelry extensively.
But many say the traceable history of “modern” jewelry began about 5,000 years ago, when the Sumerian Queen Pu-abi was entombed with nearly every type of adornment we could imagine today. Excavation of her tomb revealed necklaces, earrings, diadems, bracelets, rings and other pieces featuring gold, enamel and semi-precious stones. The Egyptians weren’t far behind in their use of jewelry, but their craftsmanship and technique were a major step forward; most people are aware of, or even have seen on display, some of the stunning jewelry discovered in King Tut’s tomb – and that’s just one small example of the body decorations that the Egyptian dynasties created.
The crafting of jewelry took on an entirely new importance during the Greek and Roman eras that followed. Both societies created intricate techniques for working gold and combined them with the use of precious stones like emeralds, sapphires and diamonds, and semi-precious ones like amethyst and amber, to fashion jewelry masterpieces to be worn by the wealthy and powerful. However, other citizens often wore less-ornate pieces, such as rings said to be able to ward off the “evil eye”.
Over the following centuries, the craft of jewelry-making was continually improved and new types of pieces, including brooches, torcs and religious jewelry, came to the fore. Increased trade brought greater availability and importance to gemstones during the Renaissance, the Napoleonic era saw a rise in the prominence of matching jewelry pieces, and the rising wages of the Industrial Revolution not only let many members of the middle class afford beautiful jewelry, but also spurred an entirely new product: costume jewelry, which allowed nearly every citizen to adorn their bodies with pieces (even if they were fake) just like the ones previously only seen on royalty or the rich.
The 19th century founding of jewelry giants like Tiffany & Co. in America, Cartier in France and Bulgari in Italy, along with design breakthroughs like the Cartier diamond solitaire setting and the increased marketing of rings, necklaces and other pieces, firmly established the jewelry industry as a permanent fixture in the Western fashion world. Since that time, prevalent styles and materials have changed, design and gemstone cutting techniques have improved further, and new sources of desirable gems have emerged. And the popularity of – and demand for – jewelry has never waned, even during the days of the Great Depression and World War II.
Ancient men and women certainly never visualized a world where you could order an expensive diamond ring over the computer, or purchase a nose ring at a nearby mall kiosk. However, their fascination with jewelry seems to have been as strong as our culture’s is today.
Types of Jewelry
Much More Than Engagement and Wedding Rings
If you were ask 100 members of a Family Feud audience the question “Name a type of jewelry”, the number one answer would most likely be “diamond ring” or “engagement ring”. Believe it or not, though, the value of all types of what the industry calls marriage jewelry or bridal merchandise (engagement rings, wedding rings, anniversary rings, and so on) represents only 35% of all jewelry sales in America each year. The remaining 65% is spread across a wide range of categories, from baby jewelry to body jewelry, from pinky rings to religious jewelry, from custom-made, modern pieces to antique or vintage jewelry.
Those numbers actually make sense when you consider how often you (and/or your significant other) buy jewelry. You only purchase an engagement ring and weddings bands once in your life (in theory, at least – divorce rates of 50% may have skewed those numbers in recent years). But you probably do your part to keep your local jewelry store or Piercing Pagoda, or sites like JTV and Blue Nile in business with regular purchases of earrings, necklaces, rings or “cute charms”.
Watches are also jewelry according to industry standards, so they help increase the percentage of non-marriage merchandise sold each year. So too, do categories of jewelry which probably wouldn’t even come to mind unless you happen to have them or need them: class rings, anklets, personalized jewelry like men’s cufflinks or women’s brooches, hairpins, fraternity pledge pins, army dog tags and medic-alert bracelets are all also considered jewelry. By this point, it should make complete sense that 65% of all jewelry sales have nothing to do with weddings. After all, a typical jewelry box isn’t the size of your bridal set; it’s large enough to hold all of the trinkets and treasures you buy from year to year (and those which may have been handed down from your mother, grandmother or other family members). Jewelry is an enormous and still-growing industry (with nearly $100 billion of revenue annually in the United States just in fine jewelry alone), and that’s because so many people buy so much of it.
Choosing Jewelry by Precious Metal
One of the biggest choices a bride has to make when choosing her engagement ring and wedding band is between yellow gold, white gold and platinum (unless, of course, rose gold or one of the less common precious metals like palladium or titanium has caught her attention). But the same choice must be made for other types of fine jewelry, and metals like silver or stainless steel may be good choices for less important, less expensive pieces. In this section we’ll look primarily at the use of precious metals in jewelry.
There are often aesthetic or emotional reasons why people choose one metal over another. Many consider yellow and rose gold more “romantic,” while others prefer the more modern look of white gold or platinum. Price, naturally, also plays a role in the decision. White gold has been the most popular precious metal for decades but platinum is finally starting to catch up, and a trend toward nostalgia in general and antique looks in particular has brought about a resurgence in the popularity of yellow gold. Here’s a guide to the pros and cons of each.
- White gold jewelry: The prevailing opinion among buyers is that a white precious metal is a better “match” for the look of white diamonds (and many colored gemstones) than yellow gold, and white gold is more affordable than platinum. White gold is an alloy of gold and other metals so it is more resistant to scratches and more durable than yellow gold, another plus. In some stores you may pay a bit more for white gold, but in others, prices are solely determined by carat. The potential downsides to white gold are that the outer rhodium coating (often applied to ensure a uniform color) often has to be re-dipped every five years or so, white gold can cause allergic reactions because of the nickel sometimes used in the alloy, and it’s said to be a bad match for olive or darker skin.
- Yellow gold jewelry: Those who want a more vintage look to their jewelry often choose yellow gold, and there are several other good reasons for selecting it. It’s the easiest for jewelers to fashion because it’s softer than other metals, it’s the most hypo-allergenic, and even though it can be scratched more easily, it requires less care and maintenance than white gold, only needing the occasional cleaning and polishing. It can also “hide” a lower color grade of diamond, since those stones usually have a yellow tinge to them. The cons are partly aesthetic (it doesn’t look “modern,” doesn’t compliment some colored gemstones well, and is a poorer match for pale skin colors) and partly practical (the denting and scratching problem we’ve mentioned, caused by the softness of yellow gold).
- Rose gold jewelry: This is usually a choice based on style, with the color giving jewelry an antique look to many eyes. Rose gold is also stronger than its white or yellow counterparts because of the copper in the gold alloy that creates the rose color; however, that makes it a bad choice for people who are allergic to copper.
- Platinum jewelry: As the heaviest precious metal, platinum is more strong and durable than gold. It initially has the same modern look as white gold and carries a certain aura of status, with a price tag to match: platinum jewelry costs can cost as much as twice the price of gold. The metal is hypoallergenic, but needs to be polished every 3-5 years and some of the platinum can wear off during that process.
- Silver jewelry: Most silver jewelry is actually sterling silver (an alloy containing at least 92.5% pure silver), because pure silver is too soft to make jewelry which will hold its shape. Sterling silver is strong, and commonly used to make bracelets, rings, necklaces and earrings for casual use because of its shiny, lustrous appearance. It is used much less frequently in fine pieces or those featuring gemstones, however, because sterling will tarnish and fade over the years (although not as quickly as pure silver jewelry). And of course, it’s a lot less expensive than gold. The cheapest type of silver used for jewelry is silver plate, which is really just a thin layer of the metal on top of a base metal; it’s not only cheap, but it quickly becomes cheap-looking.
- Stainless steel jewelry: We mention this only because stainless has become more fashionable of late, combining a “street” look with the shine of precious metal. This industrial metal is inexpensive, extremely strong, won’t stain and is difficult to damage, so it’s starting to show up in some fashion jewelry designs and even a few engagement rings here and there.
- Tungsten and titanium jewelry: “Alternative metals” like tungsten and titanium are becoming a factor in 21st century jewelry making, particularly for men’s rings. They’re different in several ways, most importantly weight; titanium is extremely light while tungsten is quite heavy. Titanium jewelry is also hypoallergenic, while tungsten can sometimes cause allergic reactions. However they’re both extremely durable and scratch-resistant (titanium is much harder than gold or platinum, and tungsten is the hardest jewelry metal available), have a striking modern look (shiny for titanium, dark grey for tungsten), and are cheaper than gold or platinum. The biggest downside for both is that they’re nearly impossible to resize.
Choosing Jewelry by Stone
Some people start their trip to a jewelry store or an online visit with a specific piece in mind: “I want a new ring” or “I need some new earrings”. Others are more focused on a specific gemstone or mineral; for example, they may always be on the lookout for beautiful new amber or turquoise jewelry.
There are literally hundreds of different choices when it comes to stones and minerals and their many variations in color. A quick rundown of just a few:
- Precious gemstone jewelry: Is there anyone who doesn’t stop and look for at least a few minutes after noticing a display of sparkling diamond jewelry? The inherent beauty of these stones makes them almost impossible to ignore, whether they’re set in breathtaking diamond rings or more sedate diamond earrings. However, stunning sapphire, ruby or emerald jewelry can be just as captivating – and unfortunately, just as expensive (or even pricier) than diamond jewelry. For most people, owning jewelry is a must, but owning diamond, sapphire or emerald jewelry is a decadent luxury to which they aspire.
- Semi-precious gemstone jewelry: Earrings or necklaces with semi-precious stones are often chosen because they are the buyer’s birthstone or favorite color. But to some “collectors” the eye-catching purple of amethyst jewelry or purplish-blue of tanzanite jewelry is even more addictive than the sparkle of diamonds. They also usually cost less, making pieces featuring semi-precious stones easier to collect. The dark green of high-quality jade jewelry conveys not only beauty but the mystery of the Orient, and the ancient belief that turquoise jewelry has powerful healing and protective qualities adds intrigue to the pure, robin’s egg color of quality stones. If you’re one of these “collectors,” you know that the perfect number of pieces of your favorite gemstone jewelry – is one more than you already have.
- Gemstones that aren’t really gemstones: Many people love buying pearl jewelry, amber jewelry or Moissanite jewelry, even though those pieces aren’t made from actual gemstones. Pearls, of course, are grown inside mussels or oysters when sand or a similar material gets into the creature’s protective shell. Most modern pearls are cultured, which means someone has deliberately put the substance into an oyster’s shell to grow the stone. Amber is really tree resin which has fossilized over millions of years. Much of its allure stems from the bugs or other items which have often been trapped inside the fossils, making each of the orange “stones” unique and fascinating. It is possible to have an actual Moissanite gemstone in a piece of jewelry; it’s just extraordinarily rare, because natural versions of this diamond look-alike are almost impossible to find. Nearly every piece of Moissanite jewelry you’ll ever see features a lab-created stone – perfect in every way, and much less expensive than a diamond.
- Crystal jewelry: Some gemstones are in crystal form when they are mined, and you can buy many forms of unique crystal jewelry created from naturally-mined rock quartz. However, the term “crystal jewelry” is popularly used to describe man-made, faceted glass crystal with beauty and sparkle, which can be fashioned into every type of jewelry imaginable. Swarovski is the best-known and most-successful manufacturer of this product.
- Cameo jewelry: Evoking thoughts of earlier, romantic times, cameos are either the semi-precious stone banded agate or conch shells, decorated with gorgeous pictures created by a master carver and then polished to a three-dimensional finish. They were most commonly worn as during the Renaissance and through the 19th century as pendants or pins, but also on bracelets and rings. Cameo jewelry is still being produced today but is seen more often as antiques or heirlooms than contemporary pieces.
The jewelry industry doesn’t release statistics showing which types of jewelry (such as rings, earrings and bracelets) are the “biggest sellers.” However, just by knowing that marriage jewelry – in particular, wedding rings, engagement rings and anniversary rings – represents 35% of all U.S. jewelry sales, it’s pretty easy to conclude that rings are more popular than any other type of jewelry on the market. That jibes with claims by historians that rings have been the most-worn type of jewelry throughout time.
Topping the list, of course, is the modern classic: the diamond engagement ring. Despite a recent increase in sales of “alternative” engagement rings, a full 80% of American brides now receive a diamond ring along with a wedding proposal. Advertising by the diamond giant DeBeers is largely credited for diamond engagement rings reaching “required” status in the middle of the 20th century, but whatever the reasons, there’s no question that this symbol of “forever” drives the high end of the jewelry market.
By the time a diligent shopper has finished researching diamond rings, she or he might feel eligible for a graduate degree in gemology. Just evaluating a stone involves a dizzying mix of color, cut, clarity and carats. Then there are issues like shape, setting and side stones, and all of the related questions: solitaire rings, halo rings or three-stone rings (or if you’re feeling really extravagant, five-stone rings)? Separate wedding and engagement rings, or bridal sets? White gold, yellow gold, rose gold, platinum or an alternative metal? It’s almost enough to make you call off the engagement.
However, if you break the confusing number of decisions into several categories, it’s much easier to take a deep breath and dive into the buying process.
First and foremost is budget. There’s no sense looking at stunning three-stone diamond rings and platinum wedding bands set with pavé diamonds if your budget is $1200. Be realistic in setting an upper limit and sticking to it, and you’ll find there’s a wealth of beautiful diamonds and settings available to you.
Next, think about the overall look of the ring. Are simple, classic solitaire rings which showcase a sparkling diamond your style? Do you favor the flashier look of halo rings with a center stone surrounded by smaller, brilliant diamonds? Or perhaps the popular three-stone rings, with a center diamond flanked by two matching or contrasting stones? Making that decision will then allow you to consider the shape of the diamond(s), evaluating options like the exceedingly brilliant round stone, the more elegant marquise or emerald cut, or a more unusual pear or heart-shaped diamond.
Take one more deep breath, because you’re almost there. The color and style of the shank (what’s commonly referred to as the band) is another key to the ring’s overall look. Deciding between precious metals and whether you want the shank to be plain or adorned with gemstones, patterns, designs or engravings, will pretty much complete the decision-making process. All that’s left to do is to evaluate the actual diamond itself – and to make sure your budget can handle the ring that’s left on the counter.
You’ll notice we haven’t made much mention of wedding bands yet. We’ll take a closer look at them shortly, but there’s an easy way to handle the entire shopping process: bridal sets. These are matched pairs of engagement and wedding rings, which ensure that the two look perfect together on the hand. Bridal sets will limit your overall range of choices – but can help save your sanity if you’re getting overwhelmed.
When you think about diamond rings, engagement rings automatically come to mind. There are other types of diamond rings, though. Diamond anniversary rings are now commonly given by husbands to their wives on special wedding anniversaries, particularly the 60th (which is known as the diamond anniversary). Over the last few decades, “promise rings” (usually given as a precursor to an engagement) have become popular and many of them feature smaller diamonds. Diamonds are commonly featured in the design of wedding bands, of course, and gemstone rings with diamond accents (or even as side stones in three-stone rings) are an interesting approach that’s seen more frequently than ever. Also in demand are non-engagement rings featuring colored diamonds, particularly the trendy black diamond.
Nearly ten percent of all jewelry sold today contains colored gemstones, and a large amount of that business is the sale of gemstone rings. Many feature precious stones (rubies, emeralds and sapphires) and are very expensive. However, a huge number feature semi-precious stones which can vary widely in rarity and affordability. The highest-quality black opal, alexandrite and Imperial topaz can be extremely costly, but you can find beautiful varieties of garnet, amethyst and aquamarine, for example, for very low prices. Pearl rings don’t feature actual gemstones but are usually classified as semi-precious, and since nearly all pearls are now cultured, pearl rings can provide a classy look at a bargain cost.
Look through just about any woman’s jewelry box or nightstand and you’ll probably find a large number of gemstone rings of all types and values, testimony to the popularity of these pieces. Then consider the fact that gemstone rings can easily be found at every low-level department store, kiosk and flea market you can find – and you’ll understand why these rings are such big sellers in the jewelry world.
Gold and Silver Rings
Gold is an important, yet supporting, player in the world of wedding jewelry. However, it isn’t just a shank or wedding band metal – it stands very well on its own. You can find an enormous number of standalone designs which show off the beauty of yellow or white gold, such as mesh rings, dome rings and twist rings, as well as vintage or antique designs which are evocative of earlier, more classic times.
Silver rings are even more common than standalone gold rings. Because of sterling silver’s relatively low price and shiny appearance it’s a timeless choice for every style of ring you can imagine, from gemstone-set cocktail rings to handcrafted beauties celebrating the values of an ancient culture, from designer pieces to stacking, casual or novelty silver rings. We’ve already mentioned the ubiquity of inexpensive rings at mall kiosks and small shops; a huge percentage of them are silver. And some brides are now opting for sterling silver diamond engagement rings, because of their eye-catching gleam and the more-affordable price of a silver ring.
The jewelry industry has long considered “fashion rings” to mean what’s nicely referred to as costume jewelry, and more bluntly labeled as “fake.” Until recently, you could be fairly certain that pieces advertised as fashion rings were created from silver and man-made stones like cubic zirconia.
In recent years, though, the term has become more generic. While it is still used to make a cheap piece of imitation jewelry sound fancy, it also may describe a ring that’s new, fashionable or trendy whether it features man-made crystals or valuable diamonds. The lesson of the story: don’t automatically write off a store or site advertising fashion rings – there might be a hidden gem (literally) underneath the somewhat-insulting label.
This is another jewelry category in which everyone thinks of just one item; in this case, it’s wedding bands. That’s with good reason, since a large chunk of the 35% we keep mentioning (Remember? 35% of all jewelry sold is wedding jewelry.) is comprised of men’s and women’s wedding bands. Gold or platinum wedding bands, titanium or tungsten wedding bands, simple or ornate wedding bands, bands with large diamonds or gemstones, bands with small or pavé diamonds or stones, bands which are engraved and bands which are brushed or otherwise treated – there’s an enormous selection of wedding bands to choose from.
But there are two other popular (and related) types of bands readily available at your local jeweler or online: eternity bands and anniversary bands. Eternity bands have a full line of identical diamonds encircling a gold band (although other gemstones, or even cubic zirconia, are occasionally used), symbolizing eternal love. They are usually given to a wife by her husband on an important anniversary, quite often the 25th or 50th. The phrase “anniversary band” is sometimes used interchangeably with “eternity band,” but more often it describes a similar ring given for the same reason, which has stones set only halfway around the metal. You may also see the phrase anniversary band used to describe three-stone rings, five-stone rings or even seven-stone rings presented as an anniversary gift, since the phrase is more of a marketing term than anything else.
While we’re on the subject of marketing, the concepts of eternity and anniversary bands didn’t originate with an ancient civilization or a European monarch. They came from a major jewelry company. Care to guess which one? That’s right. It was DeBeers, of course. In the 1960s the firm had an enormous oversupply of small Russian diamonds, and needed a way to use them all – so it began producing and marketing rings which used large numbers of tiny diamonds. Today, eternity bands are very big sellers for DeBeers.
Rings may be the most popular type of jewelry sold, but women (and these days, men as well) probably own more earrings than any other single form of jewelry. That’s partly because most earrings are relatively inexpensive, partly because multiple ear piercings are more common than ever, and partly because it’s so easy to change earrings to match colors, outfits or moods. In addition, diamond or gemstone earrings normally feature small stones, so they are the least expensive way for people to own jewelry with precious or semi-precious gems.
As you’d probably expect, diamonds are the biggest “fine jewelry” sellers in the earring market. Classic diamond stud earrings lead the way, but other forms of diamond earrings like drops, hoops, huggies and more elaborate styles are also in high demand. Those who can afford the price tag can certainly pay thousands of dollars for high-quality, one-carat (or larger) diamond earrings, but it’s quite possible to spend just a couple of hundred dollars for good quality, smaller stones which will sparkle like – well – diamonds, when worn out for the evening. Similarly, ruby, sapphire and emerald earrings are popular ways to own precious gemstone jewelry without spending a fortune, and an assortment of semi-precious gemstone earrings is quite commonly seen in women’s jewelry collections. Often-overlooked but still in demand, pearl earrings are found in many of those collections as well, because they can add a glamorous look to everything from evening wear to casual outfits while still being completely appropriate in a business setting.
Stud earrings are the top choice among gemstone earring buyers, with so-called dangle and drop earrings coming in second. The huge popularity of studs is partly due to the popularity of multiple ear piercings; the majority of people will wear a more-fashionable earring in front and place studs or beads in the holes behind it, or in the cartilage at the top of the ear. That way, the earring that’s most easily seen will stand out, and there’s no risk that multiple dangles and drops get tangled up.
Styles like hoop earrings and ball earrings are usually made primarily or completely from precious metals. Gold and silver earrings are each sold in massive quantities each year; gold earrings are more expensive, but have the metal’s desirable luster, shine and elegant look, while also being durable and less likely to cause allergies or infections. Silver earrings obviously won’t look like gold and are more suited to casual looks, but have most of the other advantages and cost much less. They do require regular polishing, however, and there can also be problems when earrings sold as sterling silver are really silver-plated because nickel used in the alloy can cause infections or rashes.
There are people who find bracelets more of an annoyance than a fashionable piece of jewelry. After all, it can be difficult to pound away at a keyboard all day when charms or a bangle are continually clanging against your desk. On the other hand, many women (and men) find bracelets to be the perfect accessory, and it’s easy to understand why: humans have always loved bracelets. Our ancestors were fond of decorative wrist jewelry, with bracelets commonly worn in ancient cultures from Egypt to China. And our species’ fascination with wrist decoration is seen at an early age even today, since the first piece of “jewelry” a child usually fashions on her own is a bracelet made of yarn or a rubber band – and may replace a baby bracelet which was placed on her wrist by her parents shortly after birth.
Fine jewelry stores and online sites don’t sell as many bracelets as they do rings or earrings. They still do a brisk business in them, though, offering styles that range from pricey tennis bracelets to affordable link bracelets. And needless to say, you can pick up a cute, cheap bracelet for yourself or your kids almost anywhere.
Today’s most common styles are bangle bracelets (rigid jewelry which usually hangs loosely on the wrist without a clasp) and charm bracelets, which never seem to go out of style. Many bangles are made from materials like plastic or wood and worn casually by teens or younger women. However, more sophisticated bangle bracelets, made from gold or silver and sometimes adorned with precious or semi-precious stones, have grown rapidly in popularity and are now a common fashion accessory. A number of bangles are often worn at the same time, so they contrast with each other and make a pleasing noise when they touch. Charm bracelets shouldn’t require much explanation, since your mother and grandmother probably also wore them; they have been rediscovered in a big way in the 21st century, though, and companies like Pandora now gross well over a billion dollars a year selling upscale bracelets and charms.
Fine jewelry worn on the wrist never goes out of style, and there is an enormous selection of diamond bracelets, gemstone bracelets and pearl bracelets on the market for women who want to prominently display their gems. After all, it’s easy to put a stunning diamond or ruby bracelet front and center when you’re waving at someone. The best-selling type of diamond bracelet is the elegant (and very expensive) tennis bracelet, with a chain of individually-set diamonds encircling flexible silver, platinum or gold bands. Surprisingly, while this design has been around for a long time it has only been known as a “tennis bracelet” since 1987, when tennis star Chris Evert lost hers on the court in the middle of a match. Multi-strand pearl or gemstone bracelets, and pearl-and-beaded bracelets, are also quite popular these days
Many other types of bracelets can make trendy fashion statements. Turquoise bracelets are usually thought of as one of the most beautiful examples of Native American art and are perfect as casual jewelry, yet designer houses like Bulgari also use this semi-precious gemstone to create exquisite turquoise-and-silver bracelets which sell for thousands of dollars. Beaded bracelets are another good example; they’re a suitable “home” for every type of gemstone and can fit perfectly with either a delicate or “clunky” look, depending on their design.
Some types of bracelets can look very different, depending on who is wearing them and what they’re made of. For example, cuff bracelets are usually thin, hammered gold or silver bracelets which may be engraved or decorated before fitting tightly to a woman’s wrist as a fashion statement. However, men (or women looking for a goth, cool or tough image) are more likely to wear cuff bracelets made from leather.
In the same way, link bracelets and stretch bracelets can be elegant: intricate and intriguing silver or gold bracelets in mesh, rope or ornate Byzantine designs, possibly decorated with dazzling pavé diamonds. They can also be simple: inexpensive chains of material like rubber or plastic more suitable for children or hipsters than fashionistas. And the colorful and trendy Shamballa bracelet, based on ancient Tibetan culture and the Buddhist religion, is now available in different styles, with beads made from all sorts of materials (from traditional and simple stones, to diamonds and Swarovski crystals). They can demonstrate either an appreciation of their true meaning – or just an appreciation of pop trends.
Historians tell us that necklaces have been around since the Stone Age and have been worn in nearly every culture since then. We don’t need experts, though, to tell us how ubiquitous they are today. You see them wherever you look. Chains with charms, pendants, lockets or religious medals or symbols. Chokers. Pearl and beaded necklaces. Exquisite diamond necklaces. Ropes strung with beads. Stunning accent pieces worn with cocktail dresses. Simple heart pendant necklaces worn by daughters or girlfriends. It’s quite clear: people are as fascinated with necklaces today as they were 40,000 years ago.
It may be a question of semantics, but you could say that the best-selling necklaces are “only” chains. They are usually gold or silver, but sometimes are base metals with gold- or silver-plating, or made from rope or elastic. They can be simple box chains intended primarily to hold charms or pendants, or may be fashioned into fancier curb, Figaro, mariner or Franco designs which stand all on their own as beautiful silver or gold necklaces.
Stop by the nearest shopping mall, your local flea market, or any outdoor event where vendors have booths and you’ll find a mind-boggling number of inexpensive pendant necklaces everywhere you turn. As with earrings, women often own many chains and charms because just switching out a charm or pendant can completely change the type of image they present. Pendant necklaces may also be the most “personal” form of jewelry because it’s easy to pick up a charm which will forever remind you of an event, a location or even a special moment – at a very low price.
You won’t find the same number of high-fashion necklaces in your local jewelry store, since a large amount of their display space is devoted to rings. But what they do have on display can be quite tempting: designer diamond and gemstone necklaces, gorgeous solitaire pendants on chains, and statement necklaces with stones set in intricate designs are among the goodies commonly on display.
Most styles of fine necklaces are timeless, but extra-long necklaces are currently trendy. Stores are doing a brisk business in simple yet decadent extra-long gold necklaces, long shiny silver necklaces which immediately catch the eye, and extra-long pearl necklaces which look like they were designed to accompany a stylish black gown. Meanwhile, Y-shaped necklaces which were fashionable in the Victorian era are now making quite a comeback; many now feature modern and geometric shapes as an alternative to the old-fashioned, antique look that Y-shaped necklaces have had for generations.
“Everyone has a cell phone – no one wears watches anymore.”
Obviously, many people have abandoned the cheap watches they used to tell time, since all they have to do is glance at the phone that’s already in their hand. However, watch sales continue to increase nearly every year. Sales are driven in large part by expensive, higher-end timepieces (particularly for men) with mechanical watches much more popular than their electronic counterparts. Yet inexpensive watches are far from dead; the number-one watch manufacturer in the world remains Swatch with a market share of nearly 20%, more than companies well-known for luxury watches like Richemont and Rolex. Of course, you have to sell a lot of Swatches in order to equal the revenue from selling just one Rolex, so luxury watches remain a favorite of brick-and-mortar and online retailers – and a favorite of consumers. What about smartwatches? The traditional watch industry is watching their development closely, but they’re certainly no threat to the luxury watch market at this point.
For many years high-end men’s watches and designer women’s watches have been almost two separate products. Men’s watches were larger with mechanical movements, while women’s watches were daintier and more likely to be electronic. Women’s, of course, were also likely to be more ornate, often adorned with diamonds or gemstones. However, the most recent trend is toward larger and “more masculine” women’s luxury watches with high-quality movements, giving ladies more choice in timepieces than ever before. Needless to say, gemstone and diamond watches for both women and men remain a stylish choice for those who can afford to indulge themselves, as well as showy bling for the nouveau riche.
Not many companies give retirees gold watches anymore. Gold luxury watches, on the other hand, are as popular as ever. For women, there are choices like feminine Chopard gold watches with a circle of diamonds around the face, classic Jaeger-LeCoultre pieces with gold hands, numerals and cases, or sporty gold Rolexes, always a great choice for either sex. Rose gold watches are also making a comeback for women. On the other side of things, perhaps the most popular men’s gold watch over the last 25 years has been the classic Rolex President (officially known as the Day-Date), yet the models which sell the most are sportier gold-case offerings from top watchmakers like Breguet and Audemars Piguet. One interesting note: gold watches are sold more in Europe than anywhere else in the world.
It’s often said that “gold is for them, silver is for you” – implying that gold is to show off wealth, while silver is for personal enjoyment. Whether or not you believe in that philosophy, the beauty and function of a fine silver watch is something to savor, even if the world at large doesn’t take notice of what you’re wearing. Many of the world’s best watchmakers and designers, including TAG Heuer, Cartier, Giantto, Longines and Tiffany manufacture and sell men’s and women’s luxury silver watches which are more affordable than gold timepieces, but gorgeous showpieces more satisfying than a Swatch or smartwatch could ever be.