Useful Jewels

I’m a jewelry-hound. Happy to admit it. Much of my jewelry is picked up from thrift and antique stores for dirt cheap, some of it is self-made, and lots of pieces have been purchased over the years from artisans and craftspeople. But even the cheapie pieces from Target make me happy because I’ve learned that, for me, jewelry is what makes my outfits feel complete. And I love having lots of options on-hand.

I’ve also learned that there are certain styles of jewelry that appeal to my eye but don’t work for my lifestyle. Like many women who work at a computer, bangle bracelets just irritate me. Shoulder-duster earrings are such fun to look at, but even with my short ‘do I feel self-conscious and perpetually at risk of catching them on something and injuring my tender lobes. Choker necklaces make me feel … well … like I’m choking. But there are also some real workhorses in my jewelry box.

Stretch bracelets

I adore bracelets, especially since I prefer 3/4 or cuffed sleeves and feel a bit naked without some kind of wrist candy. But as I mentioned above, bangles are a bother and although I love wraps and a few link/clasp styles, stretch bracelets are my absolute favorites. I adore stretch sets like the silver ones shown above, but also keep my eyes peeled for semi-precious and pearl versions. Stretch bracelets sound like accessories for playtime, but there are lots of sophisticated iterations for us grown-up gals.

Stud earrings

With short hair, I find that my tendency to wear chunky, eye-catching necklaces means that large, dangly earrings often look like overkill. It’s too much big jewelry in one area for my taste. So I’ve been collecting various types of stud earrings, which help complete my looks without competing with other jewelry. Bigger studs like these pyramids are fun, but I also love dichroic glass and Moissanite/CZ studs.

Chain necklaces

Bold, bright, colorful necklaces always attract my eye, but it’s my simple chains that get the most wear. Long, short, chunky, and delicate they play nicely with just about everything in my wardrobe.

Classic watches

Every time I get a Sundance catalog, I drool over the duotone Tokyobay watches. I love the idea of a pink watch face on a red watch band. But I know for a fact that I would wear such a watch approximately never. After years of living watch-free, I’m just recently beginning to wear them again and find that my classic, pared-down watches are marvelously versatile.

Metal earrings

Earrings can be a great way to add a little pop of color to outfits, and I do love my bright baubles. But, once again, it’s the plain metal ones that get the most wear and feel the most useful. Shape and size can vary greatly, as shown here in three of my favorite pairs, but the common factor is that they’re all plain silver.

Related post

What are YOUR jewelrybox workhorses? Any of them overlap with mine?

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  • Leslie

    Definitely stretch bracelets. We have a great local store in West Lafayette that sells all sorts of faux, precious & semi-precious beads from around the world. String ’em on stretchy bands, layer ’em up & I’m good to go.

    Scarves. Scarves hide the beginnings of my turkey neck and add a great punch of color to a plain top and jeans/trousers/skirts.

    Little jackets. Denim with trousers & skirts, Some seasonal color with jeans. Works well with above-mentioned scarves.

    Cute shoes, preferably colored. But don’t match them perfectly to the scarf…better to pull one of the scarf colors.

    There’s my ensemble most days. Classic and almost never the same as I like to mix up the scarves & shoes.

  • Interesting question! Besides my “constants” (3 bracelets and earrings which I don’t switch out), I have about 3 each of rings, bracelets, watches, long necklaces, and short necklaces which I find I wear the most. I’d guess what they all have in common is a substantial or “statement” size, my taste has never run to the delicate. We share a love of silver for sure!

  • Linda L

    I also have a massive jewelry collection and enjoy selecting just the right pieces to make an outfit look finished. I would say my workhorses are my Honora pearls in all colors and styles (including a lot of stretch bracelets), sterling silver watches, and South American artisan pieces.

  • I can´t do necklaces. It´s the way I move, they always fall into my plate or get stuck on things. The same goes for long hair, so I always keep mine up. Instead I do brooches. I suppose that has become my signature piece, since it´s not that common a type of jewellery, at least not around here. I have noticed them getting more expensive at Ebay, though, so I guess they must be becoming more popular.

  • I’m actually the complete opposite when it comes to bracelets–I also work at a computer, and I prefer bangles because they slide far enough down my arms to be out of the way, whereas stretch bracelets drive me nuts (and are harder to find in my size anyway).

    My other jewelry workhorses are hair flowers/fascinators, which add a pop to any outfit, and dangly but not super-long rhinestone earrings. I also have a few rings that I wear regularly in the cooler months, but not in the summer, when they get uncomfortable.

    And then there are pearls! I love love love fake pearls, especially big chunky ones. If I’m in a hurry and don’t want to think too much about my outfit, I usually grab a chunky pearl necklace.

  • anotherjen

    How do you clean your silver? I have a lot of silver and am not sure how to get rid of tarnish gently. Thanks!

    • Val C-MN

      Hi anotherjen,

      I usually clean my silver jewelry with a Blitz polishing cloth (available at JCPenney/Macy’s jewelry counters. One side (the lighter color side) takes off the tarnish and the darker color side buffs back the shine. Some people use liquid/spray silver cleaners but I find the polishing cloth works well and then you can use a damp towel to remove any of the residue left from cleaning the piece from the polishing cloth.

      If there is gemstone or filigree (intricate scrollwork) on the piece, I still use the cloth to clean off the tarnish and then I take a jewelry cleaner and a tooth brush to clean underneath/sides of the gemstone, let them sit a while in the cleaner to loosen remaining dirt/debris, and then clean with the brush again. Then, I rinse the piece with clear water.

      The key with sterling is to make sure the piece states on itself that it is 925 sterling silver or higher. 925 = 92.5% silver and the rest being another alloy. 925 and higher silver can be polished back to its original sheen. Anything less will not buff/polish back to the original luster. Always buy 925 or higher with sterling.

      The key to sterling, copper, and bronze keeping its luster (without having to clean tarnish from the pieces all the time) is to keep those items away from air whenever you are not wearing them. Oxygen naturally oxidizes these items so whenever you are not wearing them for a couple of days, put them away in the jewelry box, armoire, satin bags, jewelry pouches, etc. This will keep you from needing to polish them so often. I have tons of silver jewelry and I rarely have to polish them because I keep them stored away in my jewelry amoire when I am not wearing them.

      Once you have cleaned your silver pieces, you may want to get some anti-tarnish jewelry rolls/organizers like QVC’s Preserve Anti-tarnish jewelry storage rollup organizers or the Lori Grenier Anti-tarnish
      Silver Safekeeper organizer units.

      Also, if you can find the 3M anti-tarnish strips, you can cut those into smaller pieces and store with your jewelry in your jewelry box. I wouldn’t use this method with opaque gems (like pearls, turquoise, larimar, coral, and other gems that can absorb oils and dyes from other things, but metal and faceted gemstones are fine to use with these strips). I cleaned a lot of sterling for myself and for the retailer I used to work.

  • Eliza

    I have a thing for unusual jewelry. A few of my favorite dressy pieces are (modern or Victorian) reproductions of ancient jewelry. They’re chunky enough to make a real statement, but still have the detailed look I love.
    For everyday wear, I usually like necklaces of semi-precious opaque beads. I tend to be a bit more formal than most, and the shine of silver or gold pushes me over the edge into feeling overdressed. Recently, I’m really drawn to black jewelry. Jet beads are perfect when I’m in all black/charcoal and want to add a little subtle interest. A short little strand of red-orange coral beads gets a ton of wear year round!

  • Susan

    I have a pair of hammered silver tear drop earrings on a sturdy wire that are my workhorses. I also have the same earrings in 14K gold, but I don’t wear them quite as often. I also have a number of silver bracelets that I wear together that I would consider workhorses.

  • D

    My tastes are similar to yours- stretch bracelets, studs, and metal earrings get constant use from me. I also wear the same 3 rings (wedding set, plus a silver flower ring) almost every day. I don’t do the simple chains much anymore, and I am not a regular watch wearer, but I can see how they could easily become a favorite.

    I have a similar fear of ear lobe damage with long, dangly earrings. Eeeek!

  • Kaitlin

    I am totally with you on the metal earrings! Even though I enjoy colored ones when they happen to pair perfectly with an outfit, my silver, bronze, and gold earrings get the most use. I think part of the reason I lean that way is that I can depend on them to help my outfit look mature and polished.

  • What a great post! And such great ideas for working girls! But my best advice for jewels is always have that one great go to statement pieces that can be worn with anything!

    • Am I the only one who finds the phrase “working girls” questionable?

      Call me a crazy feminist, but I really dislike it when people refer to grown women as “girls.” I find myself correcting colleagues who do this–nobody who works in our building is a girl, not even the college students.

      • Anna

        Rose-Anne, this reminds me of the time my (then) physician told me I was “in good shape for a girl your age.” Admittedly, this was a few decades ago. He wouldn’t dare to use such language these days. I was rather timid then and said nothing, but for years afterward I wished I had drawn myself up and said, “Dr. XXX, there is no such thing as a girl my age!”

        • Anna, there are so many times I find myself feeling ambivalent about speaking up about feminist issues. Thank you for sharing. I try to take some comfort in the fact that I do speak up sometimes–maybe we build our bravery one act at a time. It’s still tough being a feminist, whether you are first-, second-, or even third-generation.

          I also think the girls vs. women issue is tricky because women sometimes like to refer to themselves as girls, like “girls’ night out.” So I can understand why people might be confused!

  • Laurel

    My favorite jewelry is sentimental, so that’s what I tend to wear the most. Of that, almost all of it is within the same style (delicate, 16″ chain, gold) so it’s all pretty interchangeable. I also tend more toward sparkley studs over dangling earrings.

  • I like rings the best because I get to look at them all day! Can’t look at my own earlobes 😀

    I do think you should live a little and try some longer earrings, especially with that ‘do. Step outside the box! Maybe it won’t be so bad.

    • tina

      I like my WendyB rings and my teeny geenie and wolf necklace!!

    • Jeanne

      Same reason I love bracelets and long necklaces. I like to look at my jewels!

  • Yes! I completely agree with you about stud earrings and metal dangly earrings. Most days my jewelry consists of a necklace and earrings; of the two items, the necklace tends to be bigger and more eye-catching. To “balance” the necklace, I like simple earrings, whether they are studs or danglies. Earrings make me feel polished for the day.

    I do like your idea about chain necklaces. I have approximately ZERO chains but think they can add a lovely shimmering touch to an outfit. That might be a hole in my accessory wardrobe that I could fill!

  • Olivia

    What I wear most often are 3 sets of tiny, silver hoop earrings*, my wedding ring plus another ring on my right hand (sometimes big, sometimes small), and a watch. I used to wear simple chain necklaces with a single pendant (I have a set with different colored hearts), but sine I had my first baby a few years ago I don’t wear them much because the kids pull on them.

    *I have three piercings and I never change out the top two sets of hoop earrings, but I do change out the first one for dangley earrings of all kinds fairly often. The are another thing I don’t wear as often now that my baby is in the grabby stage, but I look forward to wearing them again.

  • I love me some dangly silver earrings. I often wear my hair down (a little past my shoulders) and it’s blonde, so silver blends in less than does gold. Plus silver goes with everything, and on a college budget I need versatility…

    But something I’ve been loving lately is my chunky, minimal silver watch. It makes me feel like such an adult without looking too corporate. I wear it almost every single day.

    I do love necklaces and rings as well, but tend toward more dainty or sentimental pieces that aren’t as show-offy as my earring preference.

  • Chris

    I like and wear almost identical jewelry to yours. When I was 15 I had some dangly earrings that got caught on something and ripped one ear lobe. It took many years for the scar tissue in that lobe to go away. When it did, I got my ears re-pierced and now wear only studs. As it turns out, I prefer smaller ear rings anyway.

    I have a few bangles that were gifts but I have to remove them when I’m at work using the computer or at home working on machines or cleaning. Bangles are nice looking but not very practical for women who work with their hands. OK for a night out!

    In fact, if I am using any kind of machinery or power tools, I take off all jewelry for safety’s sake.

    Stretch bracelets suit me and also, are fun and easy to make.

    I like a watch with a large face, bold numbers, and a plain, leather band. I usually buy so-called men’s watches for this reason.

    Like you, I like metal jewelry and have a particular fondness for silver.

  • France

    hi everyone
    anotherjen; I clean silver with a little bit of tooth paste once a year, I have earings, bracelet , neckless and ring, I clean them once a year. I t suits me because its kind of a neutral that goes with all my closet, I leave by the coast so its always kind of cludy,
    my dresses althogh have the color. bye

  • Carol

    Silver hoop earrings – all sizes.

  • Val C-MN

    Having sold jewelry a long time and still collecting jewelry, I have a lot of it. I enjoy the variety and I often plan my outfits by whatever jewelry that I want to wear.

    My workhorses are gemstones, earrings, elephant jewelry, a portrait pendant of my mother, bracelets, and watches. However, I have certain workhorses for stressful days. Those items just put me in a more focused mindset for the stressful day.

    I have a lot of hoops, studs, and button-style omega back earrings. For necklaces, I wear on a regular basis pearl necklaces and pendant chains (snake, rope, omegas) by which I can alternate pendants although I do have chain link, bead, and statement styles as well. For bracelets, I prefer gemstone link, pearl stretch or bangle/cuff styles.

    If I catch myself in a rut, then I try to go for a long time without repeating most pieces. A certain ring, necklace, or bracelet may get repeated on my “stressful” days, but for the most part, I will try to alternate until I go through all of my jewelry. This allows me to re-connect with pieces I have. This allows me to actually wear my jewelry instead of it languishing away in the jewelry armoire.

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