Jewelry shopping can feel like a daunting task. While some women feel like ornamentation is in their blood, plenty of people find themselves overwhelmed by all of their options.
Whether buyers are looking for the perfect bracelets to complement their own outfits for upcoming events or they want to purchase jewelry as a gift for a loved one, there's no need to panic. Venturing into the wide world of historical and contemporary jewelry for the first time can feel intimidating, but it can also be fun. Read on to find a beginner's guide to women's jewelry that will make the whole buying process easier.
Jewelry: A Brief History
People have been ornamenting themselves with jewelry since well before the dawn of recorded time. In fact, some early examples of primitive jewelry were made by pre-humans, including Neanderthals. The seashell beads made to make them are over 115,000 years old but are still recognizable to modern Americans as being intended for ornamentation.
Over time, jewelry makers honed their crafts. By the ancient Mesopotamian age, jewelry makers used different metals and colored stones to craft intricate shapes. In ancient times, jewelry was worn primarily or exclusively by the upper classes as a signifier of wealth and power.
In more recent times, the wearing of jewelry has been divorced from its ancient associations with class. Women from all backgrounds can, and often do, ornament themselves with everything from expensive diamond rings to affordable but stylish costume jewelry. Today, women have more options than ever, but fine jewelry makers often continue to draw inspiration from the trends of the past.
Types of Jewelry
The types of jewelry designed for women have changed throughout the ages. Even today, there are many categories of both fine jewels and costume or fashion pieces, each of which serves a distinct purpose in terms of ornamentation and symbolism. The most popular pieces fall into one of the following categories:
Rings carry a lot of symbolism. People use engagement rings to propose to their fiances, and men and women alike wear wedding bands as symbols of their commitment to each other. There are also plenty of people who wear one or more rings as simple fashion statements.
Rings can be worn on any finger, including the thumb, and come in all shapes and sizes. Some are large and gaudy, while others are much more subtle and refined. Diamond rings have long been a symbol of wealth and remain so today, and they tend to be less overstated.
Modern options like mood rings, stack rings, and thumb rings are all far less expensive and are designed for casual wear. These days, it's common to see women wearing multiple rings that complement their unique outfits and personalities.
Like rings, this type of jewelry comes in all shapes and sizes. From large hoops to understated studs, earrings complement a different style of clothing and personality type. For formal occasions, most women choose an earring set that is made from fine metals like gold or silver, but there are also plenty of more affordable options for casual and daily wear.
Many women purchase one or more earring sets with versatility in mind. Classic precious gem stud earring sets are a good option when versatility is a priority. Dangling hoops or drop styles are more popular for special occasions when women want to really stand out.
Bracelets are worn on the wrist and can be worn either singly or in stacks. They're one of the most common types of jewelry given as gifts. Like all forms of jewelry, bracelets can be simple and subtle, or they can be gaudy and eye-catching.
When buying fine jewelry bracelets, the quality of the stone is far more important than the size of the bracelet. Simpler designs tend to convey more elegance and class than larger, bulkier pieces. Elegant chains such as rope, box, bead, or mesh chain bracelets are also a great option for women who want to keep things simple and elegant while still making an unforgettable statement.
When it comes to casual wear and statement pieces, most women choose bangles over chains. These bulkier bracelets can be made from any material, ranging from precious metals to plastic or even wood, and may be brightly colored. For maximum effect, stack bangles instead of wearing just one.
Wearing a necklace is a great way to add some character to any outfit. This type of jewelry is incredibly versatile, so it's easy to find pieces that complement a woman's unique sense of style. Some women choose elegant pendants, while others prefer simple chokers, and most keep multiple styles in their jewelry collections to wear on different occasions.
Most of today's most popular jewelry falls into one of the categories listed above. There are, however, several less common varieties that are equally worth noting. They include:
- Anklets, which resemble bracelets worn on the ankles instead of the wrists
- Brooches to hold together clothing
- Armlets, which are worn on the upper arm instead of the wrist
- Belly chains
- Toe rings
Once buyers familiarize themselves with their options, there's no wrong way to select jewelry. Choose pieces that suit the wearer's personality and style, and make sure the pieces will be suitable for whatever occasions are most likely to come up.
Active women tend to prefer simpler bracelets and necklaces, even for daily wear, because they don't get in the way of physical activity as much. Fashionistas often purchase jewelry that reflects a variety of different styles and can be worn with specific outfits for maximum effect.
When buying jewelry as a gift, make sure to consider the recipient's current wardrobe and jewelry collection. Gift givers should purchase pieces that are similar enough to those already in the collection that they will fit with the woman's wardrobe, and think about both the occasion and their relationship with the recipient.
Some types of jewelry are designed for occasions, while others are better suited to everyday wear. It's usually easy to tell the difference. Oversized jewelry must be taken off each day and is best reserved for occasional wear, for example, while simpler pieces can be worn all the time.
Most women choose fashion jewelry for casual wear and fine jewelry for special occasions. However, there are also plenty of jewelry lovers who maintain separate collections of fine jewelry for daily use versus special occasions. They tend to reserve more elaborate pieces that feature multiple gemstones for parties and dinners, then wear simpler precious metal chains and rings on a daily basis.
It's also very important for women to select jewelry from their collections that complement their outfits. Try to look cohesive and put together. Even bulky statement pieces need to be matched with the right outfits to have a positive effect.
Must-Have Jewelry Pieces
Wondering how to get started building up a collection of fine jewelry? Think small at first and pick just one or two stylish, classic pieces that will be versatile enough to suit many occasions. From there, women can start to develop their personal styles and find more jewelry to match them.
While keeping up with all the latest trends can be a challenge, it's relatively easy to choose classic pieces. Every woman who wants to get into wearing fine jewelry should start by building a collection that contains:
- Diamond studs
- A pearl necklace
- Gold hoops
- Sterling silver hoops
- A gold necklace
- A sterling silver necklace
- A pendant or locket
- One or more bracelets
- Several rings
- A watch or two
Creating a collection of fine jewelry takes some time and money. Instead of trying to follow all the latest trends, look for pieces that have a timeless appeal. Most fine jewelry will never go out of style as long as buyers look for classic pieces made by jewelry makers who prioritize quality.
How to Choose Fine Jewelry
When possible, try to buy hand-crafted artisan jewelry rather than mass-produced pieces. They have more character, and the minor variations in the metal and stones make hand-made pieces more unique. Many of today's master artisans use age-old techniques and source their precious metals and gemstones ethically, while jewelry wholesalers cut corners to produce more goods at lower prices.
When it comes to fine jewelry, quality is far more important than quantity or size. Learn the basics of how to tell natural gemstones from imitations, find out about karat ratings for gold, and ask about whether gemstones have been treated. It's also wise to check the reputation of the jeweler by asking friends who have purchased pieces from the same shop or looking up information online.
Celebrate the Long Tradition of Jewelry
Women have been wearing jewelry for thousands of years. Now, modern Californians can tap into the historical currents of the past by purchasing hand-crafted, artisan pieces based on historical designs. Visit the Museum of Jewelry online to view collections that draw on jewelry trends ranging from the bronze age to the present to find the perfect piece.