Reader Request: Incorporating Fine Jewelry

Lovely reader Nique asked:

I would love it if you would do a post on how to incorporate fine jewelry into an outfit. I am very fortunate to have a dad and husband who like to give me gifts of jewelry, but I am finding that my accessory choices have been big and bold lately, and the fine pieces seem almost too delicate to make a statement. I love these pieces, so I don’t want to get rid of them, and I hate that they are sitting in my jewelry box languishing away, but I don’t really know what to do with them.

This is a toughie for me, too, as I gravitate toward large, bold pieces for everyday wear. And whenever I wear my fine pieces I am constantly afraid of breaking or losing them. So I’ll offer a few suggestions and hope they’re helpful!

Layer multiple pieces

Fine necklaces can work in layered jewelry mixes like this. It’s not a look that appeals to everyone, and it doesn’t have the same impact or proportions as a single, statement-y piece. But it does allow you to work gorgeous, delicate pieces into an edgy, contemporary look. Fine necklaces are generally fairly short, and should be closest to your neck. Then add a slightly longer piece, and another yet longer one. (I generally prefer layered looks with at least three items.) If you mix metals, make sure it looks intentional, and if you’re incorporating colored gems make sure they either match or “go.” Genuine pearls also work well in layered mixes, a la Tilda in “Burn After Reading.”

Juxtapose looks

Pairing combat boots with a sundress is a fairly bold, fun, visible way to create a sartorial juxtaposition. Pairing gem studs or a gorgeous sapphire ring with your biker jacket may seem ridiculously subtle by comparison, but it CAN work. Especially if you do some of the aforementioned layering. If, like me, you gravitate toward bold jewelry because you gravitate toward bold looks overall, try using a piece or two of fine jewelry to create interesting pairings. A tennis bracelet with a scrunched-sleeve crewneck sweater, boyfriend jeans, and pumps. Two delicate necklaces in the deep v of a wildly patterned sundress. Chandelier earrings with a graphic tee, denim jacket, and leather skirt.

Tweak your outfit

What do I do with items I love but can’t seem to work them into everyday wear? I tweak my clothing choices. It’s a last resort, but it works. Ladylike, romantic, delicate, or even old-fashioned looks can be crafted around fine jewelry, and if your pieces are going unworn it might be fun to dedicate one day per week to building outfits around them. If you’re going to go this route, make sure to include a few nods to your typical style: Chunky shoes, bold colors, whatever your signature may be. But build the outfit with the jewelry in mind: Pick a neckline that really lets a necklace shine, pull your hair back to show off those earrings, cuff your sleeves to keep bracelets visible. Since fine jewelry is often received as gifts – definitely the case for Nique – it can feel very emotionally rewarding to dress around it.

Mixing fine and costume jewelry can be challenging, as the contrasting levels of quality may appear obvious. So proceed with caution should you choose to mix, and try to choose mixes that either appear to have similar quality levels, or have very clearly differentiated quality levels. In other words, be intentional. Bee wears giant piles of necklaces and jewelry nearly every day, and mixes high and low constantly, so she might be a good source of inspiration.

Image courtesy John Sanchez Photography.

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  • Becky

    I prefer fine, delicate jewelry, and I’ve found that it helps to work to that same scale in my clothing; delicate textures, lighter-weight fabrics with narrower hems and smaller-scale details. This works with the size of my features and bone structure. I’m not tiny or willowy, but I’m not taller or more athletic than average, so it seems to work.

    I am a quiet person, too, so I feel like fine jewelry that needs to be seen up-close in an uncluttered setting to be appreciated reflects my personality better than bigger, more statement-y accessories.

    Just like it took me some time to discover that my introverted personality does *not* mean I’m dull to other people (I’ve never been dull to myself!), I am exploring how “quiet” style can be expressive, interesting, and creative. Vive la difference!

    • poodletail

      Everything about what you’ve said, Becky, makes me happy.

      Great post, Sal. These grandmas and great-grandmas would be so happy to know their bijoux are being enjoyed and worn.

      • I’m happy with your comment too, Becky. I have called it “quiet dressing.” I’m never happier than when I’m in white and khaki – and have to keep color and pattern very subtle. Same for jewelry. So I work little hints of interest into the mix, a pair of lavender pearl studs with a tiny diamond accent, with slightly rough gold setting, paired with two diamond solitaires, one round and one emerald cut, hung casually like charms from a neck chain.

  • I have some incredible jewelry from my grandmother, but I DO have a hard time incorporating it into daily wear. Thanks for the tips–I’ve never considered layering the necklaces or her gorgeous real pearls with other pieces.

    I do love wearing her pretty (and bold) rings with simple outfits like white tees, dark denim, and pretty scarves.

  • Genevieve

    Ah, great one! We all have at least one incredibly pretty, incredibly delicate and incredibly difficult to style heirlom, don’t we? Its made me want to rush home to yank out my fine jewelry to start building some outfits around! On thing that’s helped me get more wear out of some fine jewelry was getting chains of various lenghts and thickness in gold and silver. It lets me swap pendants around and is more versatile.

  • Bubu

    I hear this! I have a stunning diamond and white gold watch (breaking of course all those rules about no jewels on watches) from my great-grandmother that I think I wore on my wedding day and maybe one other occasion. Not easy. On the other hand, my husband gave me a beautiful black pearl earring and necklace set for our anniversary this year and I wear it a lot – it is simple and delicate in design and goes great with a basic v-neck, or to balance a patterned blouse with something that does not compete with it but adds and complements.

  • Emma

    My only piece of fine jewelry is a diamond solitaire necklace I got for Christmas a few years ago. I make it a point to wear it at least 3 or 4 times a week because I refuse to let it be something I “save for good.” It’s a beautiful necklace, actually 5 smaller stones mosaic-ed together to look like one big stone on a white gold chain, and I love wearing it with big statement earrings. It’s small enough to let the earrings be the star sometimes but still shiny and sparkly enough to make it worth wearing.

  • Linda

    What counts as “fine” jewelry exactly? Precious stones?

    Most of my jewelry is arty/funky–lots of oxidized silver, etc. Not gigantically bold, but a diamond solitaire on a chain would do nothing for me. I love that my boyfriend gets this–he has picked out fantastic necklaces for me.

    So I am not answering the question at all, I guess. I do have a spectacular, maybe Victorian garnet-encrusted bracelet my mom got me on a trip to Prague. I suspected the only way I would wear it would be if I could manage to wear it every single day as part of my Eccentric Charm, and that never happened. (Also, it’s gold-based and the ring I wear every day is silver-based.) So unless I get invited to a Downton Abbey party I don’t know how I’m going to show this off.

  • ParisGrrl

    If you’re lucky enough to own several bead-style necklaces, like pearls or whatever, you can combine and wear them in a torsade. Even a simple twist-tie concealed at the back can work for this, or use a brooch as a pendant to connect the strands. This is a fun way to mix-and-match colors and stones, and it gives a bolder look than single strands.

  • Lynn

    I have also inheritied a number of fine pieces and have found that I feel best wearing them when they look “unexpected.” In another words, I don’t wear the dinner ring with a cocktail dress. Instead I wear it with pants and a tee. I never wear several pieces of fine jewelry at once except wedding rings, and layering with less expensive necklaces works really well (as long as the pearls don’t get scratched!). BTW I also wear my grandmother’s beloved mink jacket. I would never buy new fur, but these minks have been dead for 40+ years, and wearing it reminds me of how excited she was to get it for Christmas all those years ago.

  • Nebraskim

    I do not wear “statement” jewelry. I have three pairs of diamond earrings that I wear pretty much interchangeably and they are the only pieces I wear daily aside from wedding/engagement set and a gold “rolling” ring I got from my husband. I do wear a watch and I prefer a nice watch. For 25 years, I wore a gold Seiko “Rolex oyster” knockoff until last year when I bought a Fossil ceramic watch in white with “diamond” crystals around the rim of the bezel. Because I only wear “fine” jewelry, a friend asked me recently if the crystals were real diamonds because she didn’t think I would wear fakes. Ha. Fooled her.

  • spacegeek

    Oh my yes, I wear fine jewelry all the time, in combination with “low” jewelry. I have a F21 long necklace with an owl on it today (price=$10.99) combined with a snake chain that is significantly more expensive, fine jewelry earrings and ring, fine watch and costume bracelets! I don’t even think about whether something was pricy or not–it is more a matter of what “works” together!

  • Eliza

    In the winter I often layer silk scarves and good jewelry. I know that combination probobly sounds hopelessly old fashioned, but if you play around with way the scarf is tied and use colors like turquoise or hot pink it can look pretty and unexpected. Or thread a pendant onto a wider length of ribbon which has more visual impact than a thin chain.

    I also like to change up the way I wear jewelry. A thin necklace chain looped several times around my wrist makes a more substantial bracelet. Tiny pins are sweeter as hair ornaments than lost on a huge expanse of lapel. Rings can be threaded through waist or neck ties or scarves-worn-as-headbands for a bit of sparkle.

  • KL

    In terms of “outfit” jewelry, I mostly wear necklaces and earrings–but in terms of “everyday” fine jewelry, I ONLY wear a fine diamond-trim watch and a silver Trollbeads charm bracelet with one charm on it. I usually am bothered by the feel of bracelets, but I get used to it when I wear the same pieces every day.

  • rb

    I have the same issue with fine jewelry – it’s too small!

    I finally took all those dainty gold bracelets and earrings and neckaces and had them melted down. Now I have a chunky gold bangle that I wear almost every day. I remember the pieces that went into it, and that’s sentimental enough for me.

    Fortuately, I’m a pearl girl, so for the fine jewelry I buy for myself, it’s not that expensive to find something chunky enough to suit me. Or at least not as expensive as it would be with diamonds or gold/platinum.

    • How did you go about getting your jewelry refashioned? I have a ring I want to redo, but have no idea where to go or what questions to ask or how to find out what a reasonable price would be.

      I also have some jewelry that I think is costume, but don’t know for sure. Do I walk into a jewelry store and ask, “Could you tell me what this is made out of?” Do they charge for the “consultation”? Basically, I don’t want to look hopelessly clueless, but I do want to know the details of what I have.

      Sally, maybe you could do a post on how to talk to a jeweler, with a focus on small towns that only have chain stores?

      • I do redesigns of old jewelry all the time — I consider it my specialty — and I do them long distance. Am doing one for someone in Colorado right now. I’ve done them for people in Australia, California, you name it. You don’t have to be down the block for me to work with you. You can get in touch with me by email at wbjewelry at hotmail dot com to discuss redesigns.

        If you’re talking about jewelry you have that’s metal, it should be stamped with 14K, 18K, or the like (there’s a list of stamps here: http://gilletts.com.au/information.php?info_id=39). Look on necklace clasps and earring backs or posts.

        A decent jeweler should be able to tell you if gems are real or paste.

        I can’t say I’d encourage you to do an elaborate redesign with anyone who isn’t a real artist, unless it’s extremely simple. Look at their other work (and ask if they handmade it, because if you’re looking at something they got wholesale from Hong Kong, that doesn’t represent their skill). If all they’re doing is basic settings, don’t expect them to create a work of beauty for you. Before I was in the jewelry business, I tried to have a regular small-store bench jeweler redesign some pieces for me. They came out horribly and totally unlike my sketch. He just didn’t have the skill. Needless to say, I’ve recently re-redesigned all of those pieces!

      • Hazel

        Your best bet with things like that is always to go to a local independent jeweller. They’d be delighted to talk with you about refashioning your jewellery, and should be able to tell you whether something is costume jewellery or not quite easily. I don’t think you would be charged for that- I never have been.

  • My whole life, I’ve adored fine jewelry, and because it’s always been part of my wardrobe, my personal style has grown around it. I wear lots of 3/4 sleeves to highlight a bracelet or two, and simple V or scoop necks to show off a necklace. I’ve even sewn two dresses to highlight fine jewelry necklaces that I own or have been given. Importantly, neither of the dresses were black – they were both deep muted jewel colors that suited me and set off the jewelry.

    To make a small valuable brooch have more impact, take a piece of vintage lace, or use pinking shears to cut out a square or round of a fabric that you like. Use the brooch to pin the lace/fabric to your garment or lapel.

    Also, if you have or have been given fine jewelry and you don’t like it or it’s not your style right now, please hang on to it. I sold some that didn’t suit me at one time, and I wish I had it back now, but there’s no replacing it. On the other hand, when I’ve had pieces remade, I have never regretted it, and I always love the remake more than the original item.

    • The most useful simple remake I’ve done was taking a 7mm 16 inch strand, and making it into a three-strand bracelet. Much more impact, without entering “statement” territory.

  • Eleanorjane

    Ooh, I love antique jewellery! And ‘fine’ jewellery that’s complex and interesting. I’m not so into the streamlined modern pieces.

    I do get what the questioner is saying about styling though. I have a few pendants that I don’t wear as much as I’d like. I have no problem with earrings and I just put brooches on all my winter coats or cardigans (for some reason, I don’t really wear them in summer). I can wear pearl studs with anything, but they’re especially good for work.

  • I’m mostly a bold costume jewellery person, but I do have some smaller pieces and find they work with different types of outfits. So for instance a plain scoop neck top needs a bold necklace, but a print textured shirt with collar, worn open at the neck is a great wear to show a smaller silver and amber pendant. The print and collar would fight with a larger necklace, but by having just a little V by undoing one button the small pendant works.

  • Anne

    Sally, your timing is always amazing! Initially when I read this post I thought, “Nah, I really don’t have precious jewelry. This doesn’t apply to me.” As I went along about my day I started to think about it some more. (Mindless errands will do that to you.) Last fall I took a bunch of tiny delicate little necklaces, handed down from the grannies and great aunties, to the jeweler to see if I could cash in the value of the gold. Turned out that they weren’t all that valuable. Over the weekend I painted and framed a piece of peg board and hung most of my costume jewelry on it. Now my little jewelry box is quite a bit emptier and I can see all those little delicate pieces again. It got me thinking: If they don’t have much monetary value, and I was ready to part with them anyway, why not just start experimenting with them? I usually don’t bother with them because my day mostly consists of cooking, cleaning, and running errands. I felt that I couldn’t justify wearing that jewelry while scrubbing sinks and toilets. The truth is, these women who left these pieces to me spent their days much the same way I do. I know they didn’t leave their baubles languishing in a felt box. Neither should I.

  • Delicate jewellery can be hard to work with, but there are ways around it. I have one grandmother’s gold and diamond dress watch (a 1950s Lavina), which is too fine for my wrist. The straps were too small anyway and rather badly frayed, so replaced with two LONG black shoelaces. It now wraps several times around the wrist and looks to scale. If I could find longer laces still I’d use those! I don’t wear it on weekends when I’m liable to be doing manual labour, but it’s great for work and going out and NEEDS to be worn to keep time properly.

    Like Emma, I have a diamond pendant that gets worn regularly – it’s made of stones from both grandmother’s engagement rings. Other family pendants get put on leather thongs and worn that way – it definitely gives them a tougher edge.

    Bracelets are awkward because I’m not as fine boned as my ancestors obviously were! So they mostly sit in one of the boxes, taking turns out on the dressing table. I do have a lovely silver gateleg bracelet that a boyfriend bought me (under direction), but was told by my jeweller that some of the links were thin and it can’t be worn on a daily basis.

    No fine earrings (good, my hair’s too long for them to be shown off) and I constantly struggle with how to wear brooches without channelling my inner nanna.

  • a. marie

    My recommendation is to wear something simple up top, such as a black turtleneck or black leather jacket with diamond or pearl earrings or a necklace and compliment this with something more edgy on the bottom- funky pants and/or boots etc. This is the trick I try and use. While I own a lot of super funky boots, my tops and jackets tend to be solids with a lot of black. I wear scarfs more often than not. Again, I use this as accent or to add color or pizzaz.

  • I agree that layering and mixing and matching can create a bigger look. You can see me wearing a lot of bracelets here — the skinny individual diamond bangles on their own are quite boring, but I mixed them in with everything I have:
    http://wendybrandes.com/blog/2011/11/what-wendy-wore-the-committee-to-protect-journalists-dinner/

    On the main page of my blog, on the right side, there’s a photo icon for my Jewel of the Month link, where you can see me wearing six big rings at once. A huge look. Now I have a small pinky ring and I add that on the right hand to make even more of a statement.

    That said, I don’t see anything wrong with layering a delicate fine jewelry necklace with a big chunky piece of costume jewelry. Not everything has to be equal size.

    And, if you’re lucky enough to have generous jewelry givers in your life, there’s nothing wrong with steering them towards the type of jewelry you like. Most male customers I’ve dealt with are happy to know that the woman they’re buying for is going to love her gift — they’re not attached to any particular aesthetic, and they don’t feel bad if they get steered in a different direction. So just casually say, “Wow, look at this jewelry! This is my style!” to your husband while showing him the big, bold designs on the Wendy Brandes Jewelry website (I picked that site totally at random, with no bias whatsoever, obviously!) and wait for the more suitable gifts to roll in 😉

  • Thanks for this post: every week I flip through my jewelry box, stare at the genuine sparklies, and go back to my cheap, chunky stuff. One problem I have getting over is I was taught not to wear sparklies during the day. Am I the only one who heard that one?

    • *waves magic wand* Wear away! Just no sparklies at the swimming pool:).

  • Val C-MN

    Nique, I am speaking up for all the pretty jewels in your chest/armoire: “WEAR me, Nique. Girrrrl, let us see the sunlight (and the moonlight)!!!!!” LOL

    Having worked 11 yrs part-time for a cable shopping network in the Mall of America selling jewelry most of that time and having been a fine jewelry lover/collector for 15 years, I have a lot of jewelry. I wear gemstones most days and either gold, silver, or stainless steel. I like costume but I own much more in fine jewelry.

    If I want to wear different metals, I chose a two-tone watch or necklace to “finish” the mix. Sometimes, I wear different gemstones (bracelets or rings) that are a similar or contrasting color scheme, in the same gem family, etc. I have some signature things I wear on stressful days (blue topaz- my birthstone, elephant pendant/ring/or bracelet, favorite watch or a portrait pendant). I think of it as “arming myself with all my good luck items = good day.”

    Think of the color scheme you learn in art class: primary colors red, blue, and yellow (i.e. garnets, rubies, carnelian, sapphires, topaz, aquamarine, iolite, citrine) and the values of white and black (i.e. diamonds, crystal quartz, onyx, spinel, agate, mother of pearl, and pearls) mix well with any color, any fashion style, and any metals for any time of the day/night.

    I will advise as I have often told my customers: life is too short to save jewelry and clothes for special occasions. Every day you are living can be a special occasion to wear what you have. The jewelry was bought for a purpose (someone gifted you with a piece they thought you would like or you bought something that you liked). So, every piece you own has an emotion or thought tied to it. Wear whatever you like whenever you like. Now, sometimes a certain place or event may dictate how much jewelry you can put on but in general, wear whatever you want.

    If I receive a comment on my jewelry choices, then I say “yes, jewelry makes happy” or “yes, I worked a long time in jewelry and I love to wear my collection”. Nique, you could have the mindset “My dad and my hubby like to buy me jewelry. I like the way their faces light up when I wear something they gave me.”

    In fact, wear something this week that you haven’t worn in a while (or ever) – even a different piece each day. Try doing that for a whole month or so. Believe me, with practice, you will start wearing more and more of your pieces. Every jewel you own will have its own day to shine.

  • Carol N.

    Late addition to this topic, but if you have fine jewelry, wear it or keep it safe somewhere. All of my fine jewelry (except the rings and earrings I had on) were stolen earlier this year, along with all my costume jewelry. I took comfort in the fact that I wore all of it regularly so none of it was languishing in the jewelry box. I have always worn brooches or pins on my suit jackets and that had become a kind of ‘signature’ of mine. Some were nice heirlooms while others were costume and quirky. I had a glorious collection of lizard pins that I wore all the time. I’ve worn more than one pin at a time as well, mixing a fine gold circle pin with older pieces that I picked up at a flea market or estate sale. I think that as long as you love the pieces you can find the way to use them and make them your own.