Mae West‘s baubles are more jewelry in the 1930’s than in my 30’s – but a girl can dream.
Let me preface the following by saying that every jewelry journey is one’s own – the way mine has gone and my preferences and choices are in no way a judgment of anyone else’s or a ruler by which any others should be measured. As many other parts of our lives are affected by or a result of how and by whom we were raised, when and where we grew up, and even who we grew up with, so it is with our jewelry journeys.
I inherited my love of jewelry from my grandmother. My mother does enjoy jewelry, though to a much lesser degree; it would be safe to say the fervor my grandmother and I have skipped a generation. My earliest memory of a piece of jewelry that was mine was a costume, base metal ring topped with a small pink resin heart with sparkles frozen in it; the next piece was a sterling silver ring with a CZ solitaire. I remember it catching my eye from a seller’s kiosk in Piccadilly Station on a family trip to London. I had to have it and remember it set me back $35 USD, a lot for a 12-year-old. That managed to satisfy me until high school when the serious collecting started.
High school meant driving privileges, part-time jobs, and peers to stand out from and compete with. The jewelry of choice among the girls I went to school with was James Avery and David Yurman, both well out of reach of the minimum wage pay of those of us who bothered to work; most pieces worn around by the lucky few at school came from parents or grandparents. With my new freedom, I found myself hunting for more unique pieces at charity shops, thrift stores, and resale shops. I picked up fantastic vintage, handmade Native American, American, and Taxco sterling silver pieces. Looking back, this is where I got most of my self-gathered semi-precious gemstone education and love of antique and vintage fine jewelry – citrines, garnets, onyx, malachite, amethyst, lapis, pearls, and every shade of topaz under the sun.
College meant even more time and a campus job meant a little extra spending money – here is when I made the conscious decision to collect carefully in preparation to trade up in the future. On trips to visit old friends at their schools, I always managed to duck into a few resale or antique shops and find something here or there; one of my more memorable finds was a huge retro 14k smoky topaz cocktail ring… in a mishmash bowl of costume rings, $6 each. My 20’s were spent slowly upgrading my largely sterling collection to a few 10k and 14k pieces smattered with diamond chips or small pavé – don’t worry, I did keep some exceptional sterling pieces! I bought a few entry pieces from designers, making sure to only purchase their most classic pieces. The time before grad school saw my cache expand into 14k, 18k, and platinum; my personal style had also evolved into multi-finger, stacked rings, and bracelets.
In my 30’s, I realized that while I still wore jewelry religiously and in abundance, I was wearing the same pieces most days. Going through my collection, I decided it was time to part with many pieces that I just didn’t see myself wearing again – an example would be me trading several pieces of 14k, including a poor quality 1ct marquise diamond solitaire, for a 6-carat 14k diamond rivière necklace at a trade show. I am investing more in higher quality, substantial pieces that I’ll wear for many years to come if not forever. I’ve inherited some pieces already from my mother, but I don’t think I’m at the age to pull some of them off – so it’s a question of balance. A quick example would be me selling several 14k half eternity bands with anywhere between 0.10 to 0.50 carats that I collected over the years to put toward a ring I now wear every day – a timeless, vintage 18k white gold 4-carat eternity band.
Now, instead of collecting beautiful pieces of fine jewelry simply for the sake of collecting, I’m trying to check off the list of “classics” that every woman should have: a diamond tennis bracelet, a diamond rivière, a white pearl necklace, a white pearl bracelet, diamond studs, pearl studs or simple drop earrings, a simple diamond band, and a cocktail ring. I admit I have more than enough examples of that last category! I also started having custom pieces made – sometimes by taking apart and melting down jewelry I no longer wore (sparing the handmade, one-of-a-kind pieces of course).
Jewelry has been a journey for me – a timeline that marks my changes in maturity, finances, and personal taste with rings, bracelets, earrings, and necklaces. I’m not sure how milestones over the next decades of my life will affect my journey or where it might take me, but I’m looking forward to it.
What are some essential pieces in your collection? How has the way you wear jewelry as you get older changed how you buy new pieces or whether you choose to keep older pieces? Share with us in the comments!
Written by Gloria Cheng