The Basics of Jewelry Style

Set of diamond jewelry

If I had my way I’d wear jewelry, a great pair of heels and nothing else.

~Jada Pinkett Smith

Jewelry trends change from year to year — one season, we’ll see big statement pieces, and the next, it’s all about subtlety. But no matter what the trends say, you always have the right to look at them as suggestions and not rules. Bucking trends never shows a lack of sophistication. If anything, it shows you’re confident enough to follow your own tastes.

When Your Tastes are Off-Trend

Let’s say you’re getting married, and you’ve dreamed of black diamond engagement rings for as long as you can remember. But the stores are filled with traditional clear diamond rings, and the jewelry store associate raises an eyebrow at you for asking about colored diamonds. What do you do? Well, find another jewelry store for one. And secondly, follow your heart. Shop for the ring that makes you feel good.

Girl wearing trendy jewelry: rings and bracelets

Here’s the thing about jewelry styles: as with clothes, there are the classics and the on-trend pieces. Trends come and go, and the classics stick around. But even off-trend styles are rarely out of favor permanently. Like the crop top and high-waisted pants, trendy styles cycle. So if you like a jewelry style that’s off-trend, consider yourself a forward-thinking trendsetter — because someday that piece will likely be the one everyone wants.

A Brief History of Jewelry Trends

To put things in perspective, it helps to look at changing jewelry trends over the long haul. While trending styles can be attributed to certain exceptionally talented designers, they are rarely a result of unbridled creativity. Instead, they are historical inspirations, arising from changes in society, politics, and economics. Here are some major themes in jewelry styles through the 20th century to our current times.

Edwardian

The Edwardian period, named after King Edward of Great Britain, from 1901-1915, focused on light, delicate jewelry. Diamonds secured by platinum were the most popular. Other precious stones included rubies, emeralds, and sapphires. Motifs were fanciful, like bows, ribbons, and sporting events.

Art Deco

The Art Deco period from 1915 to 1935 was inspired by Cubism and Fauvism in art. It was a nostalgic celebration of Louis XI furniture, with Middle Eastern and Asian influences. The jewelry was somewhat architectural, a blend of glamor and luxury, with a hint of pride in technological progress.

Retro-Modern

The Retro-Modern period from 1940 to 1950 was a reaction to World War II. It was designed to rail against the bland clothing styles of the war.  The jewelry was oversized, colorful, and gaudy. Motifs like flowers and butterflies flourished. The emphasis was on nature, on flora and fauna, a return to Eden, a way to blot out the horrors of the war. Since precious metals and stones were scarce, semi-precious stones, like citrine or aquamarine, were often used.

Mid-Century

The Mid-Century period from 1960 to 1970 was a return to feminine values and elegance, but jewelry continued the focus on nature motifs — flowers, vines, animals, starbursts, and anything else along those lines that could be worked with mesh or brushed metal. Matching jewelry sets were hot. You could wear a favorite motif as a pair of earrings, a necklace and a bracelet.

Modern

The Modern period from 1970 to our time has been a sharp break from the past.  Conventional designs waned in favor of abstract designs. Gemstones in yellow gold jewelry became a mainstay. Designed turned eclectic, Bohemian and multicultural. Size, originality, and complexity became popular around the 1980s as more women entered the workplace.

Classic Jewelry Styles

Classic jewelry styles

Classic jewelry styles are the evergreen designs that pull together the very best aspects of prior trends. They are considered staples. They may be crystal pearls in colors like pink and coral set in gold for a simple two-stranded necklace. They may be gemstones strung on a silver string, lightweight and lovely. Or they may be delicately layered styles using faux leather. It’s hard to define classic jewelry other than to say that it uses the best ideas from the past in terms of metals, stones, design, motifs and a quest for elegance.

Trending Jewelry Styles

Trendy jewelry, by contrast to classic jewelry, is more fanciful, and it’s often casually referred to as bling. Think of jangling necklaces and sparkling earring. Many times, a piece of jewelry can be an incongruous blend of opposites — perhaps a blend of large and small, real and fake, conservative and outrageous. The idea is not to focus on aesthetics but to lift the spirits and celebrate your wild side. In short, it’s meant to be playful, an impulse for novelty. The best of these jewelry trends always evolve into classics.

At this point, you might feel obliged to define yourself as either a classicist or a trend-setter. But there’s no need to. Just think of jewelry in the same way you think of clothes. Sometimes, you show off your sophisticated side, and other times, you’ll dress more playfully. On those sophisticated days, you reach for classic jewelry styles. And when you’re feeling creative, spunky or even a little edgy, have fun wearing a trendy piece that captures that energy.