Building A Precious Jewelry Collection From Scratch

Imagine you are just starting out in adult life. Or it’s time for a sea change – shifting style, resetting priorities.

But imagine, either way, you want to build a jewelry collection from scratch, and that you have complicated your existence by preferring, strongly, the precious. You may even be allergic to silver, nickle and brass. It happens.

What’s that you ask? Why yes, I’m happy to advise! Show pictures of sparkly bits from around the web? Don’t mind if I do!

What Pieces?

Earrings – Baseline in America. Earbobs, as the Victorian called them, have become almost as ubiquitous as shoes. Luckily, earrings can be little, therefore inexpensive, and quite easy to collect.

  • Diamonds should be tiny, or raw, not middle-of-the road. Jewelry is too much fun to settle for the equivalent of gem wallpaper. Of course, if you move in Very Large Diamond circles I suspect you do not need advice and are humoring us by playing along. We thank you.
  • Accent your pearls. Medium-sized plain pearls make a conservative social and political statement, like it or not. Expand the category by accenting your studs. Now you’re just a little harder to peg.
  • Buy one pair of earrings in the color you can wear every day. Mine are turquoise, but you can pick coral, amethyst, or acid green.

Necklaces –  may have the most impact of any jewelry. “Statement” necklaces have been all the rage for a few years, but statements in precious metals and stones can require you sell your car, IPO your startup, or marry a prince. As an alternative strategy, collect neck charms, and wear them in multiples. Gold chain required, whether white, yellow, or rose. By the way, take a look at Imogen’s series on choosing the right necklace for different necklines.

BraceletsNot for the workday in my world. Computers, clanking, say no more. But for nights out, if you are going to wear only two items (which I recommend), then dramatic earrings – offset by a large bracelet or row of bangles – focus attention on your face. I often avoid necklaces at night, because if my neck is covered, there’s no space, and if my neck is bare, well, you haven’t lived until you’ve felt the thrill of an unornamented decolletage with fancy dress. In this scenario, bracelets required.

  • Bangles. Love them, but the industry seems to impose a “bangle tax” similar to the “wedding tax,” and gold bangles always  cost more than they should. Collect them over time, like rings in a tree trunk.
  • Cuffs. Expensive. Here’s where I relent around Go Precious Or Go Home. Alexis Bittar makes brilliant Lucite cuffs, or you can go for something in shagreen, essentially the leather of stingrays. I know!

Rings – Because rings often indicate relationship status, they tend to have meaning you may not, well, mean. Cocktail rings imply a fondness for glamor and flair. Teeny little rings with skulls say you play for the hipster team. We all understand the language of family signet rings. I don’t think there is such a thing as a basic ring wardrobe. You use or create moments of meaning to build a ring language for yourself.

Where And How To Shop?

For the true basics, i.e. a pair of gold hoops, or a gold chain, I recommend stalking the counters of your local department store. Seems that occasionally they really do need to unload inventory, and you can even negotiate for discounts above the 30% OFF! signs.

You should augment your basics with extremely special pieces, (again, no wallpaper) and I recommend finding a local designer you appreciate and/or going vintage. I love both my grandmother’s Georg Jensen bracelet, and my Claudia Kussano earrings. We’ve got a reader here who designed the raw diamond piece in this collage. If you live in Atlanta, why not go find Lee at Katura Design and talk to her? Knowing the creator is a universal plus.

Finally, follow up on your social media recommends. Blue Nile and Etsy create their own social ecosystems, with recommendations, favoriting, etc, In the blog world you’ve got the audacity of Wendy Brandes.

The good thing about jewelry shopping is that just looking is so much fun. Even the jewelry you don’t buy twinkles up your day.


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  • thanks lisa for such a lovely mention.
    this augers well for spring break!
    the earrings that you featured were re-styled from a ring of large diamonds. i can’t recall exact carat weights but i think the large diamond is close to four carats faceted and the larger rough in the other earring is almost ten carats offset by a carat faceted beneath.
    i work not only with clients in the south but internationally as well. one project at a time…
    have a great weekend.
    all best, lwM

    8:38 pm
    Lisa said...

    You too!

  • Thanks for the advice, and the link, which I’ve pinned. It’s always good to have a decent foundation of the good stuff. I was always an earring girl, but recently have had to scale back there because I have been loving the statement necklace lately.

  • Love that shagreen cuff. Any thoughts on amber? I suppose it is totally out of style. I guess I’ll leave mine to the granddaughter, if I have one!

    7:57 am
    Joanna Ecke said...

    And The source I cited above (Amy Kahn-Russell) carries beautiful amber, most in a modern chunk on a bracelet and the like.

  • i felt fairly sure when i first “met” you and amid privilege that it would always be escapism for me – surely accessories like yours would never enter my “surly arty scion-of-calculator-salesmen great-cousin” orbit. here i am, years later, with my first fine jewelry purchase in the works, thanks to your inspiration. i apologize in advance for the zillion selfies with which i will bombard you when it arrives. (you get me, lisa c, you really do.)

    8:38 pm
    Lisa said...

    We should compare past lives:).

  • May I add one more source? Try Amy Kahn-Russell jewelry, which is available lots of places. She does a less expensive line for hsn now, called Statements. I am lucky enough to attend her twice yearly studio shows here in CT. Not a day goes by that I do not wear some staggeringly gorgeous piece of hers. If you like jade, cinnabar,druzy, Herkimer diamonds…well, she’s It.

    8:39 pm
    Lisa said...

    Thank you for the info!

  • Thanks for the shout out! I’d add, look for pearls other than the usual round whites: keshis, beautiful colours of freshwaters, gold South Seas.

    A beautiful watch Is jewelry; even though people don’t use them for timekeeping I still like the look.

  • Aside from my wedding set (which is quite nice), I don’t wear jewelry. Earrings irritate my ears if there’s even an iota of nickle in the allow, and I’m just hard on the stuff otherwise. Since I don’t really care for costume jewelry – especially things that “make a statement” – I simplify matters by not wearing any at all, beyond a small, pewter brooch I own that says “Le Chef” and has several replicas of cooking equipment hanging from it. It looks nice on my blazers.

    I’ve never liked wallpaper, either. Not a scrap of it in my home.

    8:40 pm
    Lisa said...

    No earrings? I think I’d feel naked…

  • I have a few pieces of what you refer to as precious jewelry and some costume as well. My costume is mostly vintage which, to me, means I enjoy it on two levels

    I’ve bought pearls based on Duchesse’s recommendations, so I do suggest reading her posts. They are helpful.

    I have a long and beautiful 14K gold chain (bought, thankfully years ago before the prices were so high), and I enjoy wearing an ancient coin on it. I should consider changing things out. Thank you for that idea.

    This is a fun post, and you are right in saying that even the jewelry we don’t buy can be enjoyed.

  • Starting jewelry from scratch would be great. Imo women wear far too much jewelry.
    I´d settle for one great piece / special occasion.
    Having had my ears pierced, means that I have to wear studs.
    At my age, nothing hanging though.

  • What a fun post! I guess my signature color would be peridot – that distinctive green shade – which is my birthstone. I have been collecting many pieces of this stone my entire life.

    I would say unique colored pearls – Black, pink, etc. are fun as well. I have to admit I have a hard time with colored diamonds. Raw diamonds are unique and beautifully in a geode-like way. But these chocolate Le Vian diamonds I see in my fashion magazines? I have to ‘pooh pooh’ to them!

    8:40 pm
    Lisa said...

    Le Vian? Bah!

  • Jewelry is one of my favorite subjects too! What a lovely collection of beauties pictured here. I especially like the pearls with the pink gem accents. Very pretty.

  • Fun post!

  • Great post! I love a big ‘ol cuff or statement necklace so I love to shop at Fornash. Also love Lilly P jewelry! I have real stuff but rarely wear it :)

  • Great post.
    You and the Duchesse both write beautifully about jewelry.
    I agree entirely about bracelets at the office but a great pair of earrings and a big bracelet or group of bangles for a night out is perfect.
    I also love the multiple pendant look on chains of different lengths.
    Finally, as the Duchesse commented, a good watch is an important part of any jewelry wardrobe even though we can all find the time on our computer screens and phones!

  • Another fun and informative post. I always look forward to what you’ll have to say.

  • I’ld love to see a post or posts on how a Sturdy Gal can incorporate some yearnings toward Artsy Cousin. I can’t carry off AC to save my life and it doesn’t fit my reality but I’m often drawn to that look. Maybe you’ve done this in the past and I missed it.

    Have a great weekend.

    8:41 pm
    Lisa said...

    Laura, absolutely. I think that’s me too, so in some ways it is the subtext of all my posts. I will try to put one together that doesn’t require reading everything.

  • Oh! Oh! Will you preemptively forgive me for hijacking the thread? My father is a gemologist and jeweler, and I spent much of my childhood in the Smithsonian’s Gem and Mineral hall where he worked when he wasn’t cutting commission pieces. Most precious stones that are commercially available –I’m counting everything from your local department store to Tiffany– are so dramatically altered between the time they’re pulled out of the mine and the time they end up in a setting for sale, that there’s hardly an intellectually honest difference between “real” and “fake”.

    There’s heat treating, irradiation, oiling, in-filling (filling a stone, particularly diamonds, with gas to make them look clearer), lasering and straight up dyeing, among many others.

    Unless you’re purchasing an antique piece over 150 years old or an individual stone (usually still rough) from a reputable dealer; it’s almost guaranteed your finished stone will have little to no resemblance to the stone in its natural state.

    There are a few stones, spinel comes to mind, that are rarely treated, but it’s not a gem most people know about, even though many of the rubies in the French and British crown jewels including the Black Prince’s Ruby and the Timur Ruby are actually spinels. Other than that? You’re getting seriously autotuned jewelry, 999 times out of a thousand.

    At this point, unless you’re willing to go through the hoops to ensure you’re getting a truly rare and precious gem (and it’s a PITA, my grandfather took 25 years to build my grandmother’s perfectly matched 21″ strand of natural 9mm pearls, one by one), I suggest looking for craftsmanship and not worrying whether the stone itself is “precious” or not.

    Sorry for the hijacking!

    8:43 pm
    Lisa said...

    Love the hijack! Expert advice, however gathered, is wonderful.

    I agree, I think more about the metals than a perfect stone.

  • I think I’m glad that my tastes run to quirky sterling silver and semiprecious stones. The best thing that I have is an enormous circular labradorite pendant on a handmade sterling chain; it still only cost 1/3 of a mortgage payment.

  • Well now, this is a fun post! I have to admit though, I would gladly accept some middle-of-the-road diamond earrings, wallpaper-ish or not. I have a gold bangle that I love, but it no longer goes to work with me – too many run-ins with the mean, nasty file cabinet. Now it’s strictly weekend wear. It would like a friend (or two), but you’re right, the bangle tax is a little high right now.

  • Something else to consider is having older pieces remade so you can wear them. My wedding bands are remade from my grandmothers (both of them) rings (the metal had worn so thin they were all falling apart), and I’ve a pair of screw on pearl earrings from the 50s (think chased silver setting) which, as I’ve pierced ears, I’m contemplating having remade either as a pendant or rings. Also a big fan of using leather for pendants or bracelets (no clanking on the keyboard).

    The days of cheap antique jewellery are long gone, but it’s worth keeping an eye open for estate jewellery (although having said that, one side of the family sold off the good stones and replaced them with paste. The settings remain lovely). Remodelling can cost a lot less than purchasing new. It’s also useful to find a jeweller you trust and whose work you like – and keep going back. They will take on work that others will just laugh at you for (restringing a necklace of flying fox teeth giving to my mother in New Guinea some 80 years ago).

    8:44 pm
    Lisa said...

    Concur on the leather, love it with precious stones/pearls.

  • I have two dear sets of diamond earrings – one pair of small set hoops and one pair of white gold drops with a line of diamond chips, both of which were gifts from my husband that I love. They’re not big like the statement pieces everyone is so fond of but I adore them.

    Lately I’ve been more interested in bracelets and bangles. I’d so love a small collection of jade bangles or a big cuff bracelet, but either way I haven’t found pieces that I’m willing to part with my money for. I wear jewellery so rarely that I have to be sure I love it to buy.

    8:43 pm
    Lisa said...

    I confess to a love of lavender jade…

  • I’ve been enjoying more and more some of the nicer stainless steel items in the men’s jewellery ranges. Of course they are a bit of a gamble if allergies are why you avoid anything other than gold. Stainless steel doesn’t count as precious of course, but it does count (in my opinion at least) as REAL rather than costume. If you buy plain stainless rather than stainless with a colored finish or stainless with leather or rubber accents it is worth that little bit extra because it will stand up to wear and storage.

  • Excellent suggestions Lisa. I would hate to have to start over on jewelry though. If I did, I would definitely go the pearls route, a couple of gold bangles, a gold necklace or omega with a few nice charms, and finish with some David Yurman pieces to wear with sportswear and call it done. Oops, I forgot a watch and rings. This can really add up fast…

  • I would argue against the browsing of department store counters. While you can occasionally get them for a clearance price, the overhead on big anchor store business is such that the original price of the piece gets marked up 30% more anyways. Besides the fact that they do not have nearly the quality control of jewelry stores, allowing for subquality stones to be passed off for a truly good piece, using heat coloring and other procedures that pull down the resell price of the piece, and the fact that the shopping assistants have very limited background in stones, and while maybe able to throw around a few facts, will not be able to share what you really should know before you buy.

    8:45 pm
    Lisa said...

    Yes. I agree about stones. I was largely thinking about gold, which is sold by the weight anyway. I suppose they might short the weight – eek, but if not, at least you aren’t paying for anything but the basic piece.

  • What a terrific discussion about jewelry. Lisa, thank you for your suggestions. I have been putting together a collection over the years, using my favorite designer, Beverly Novick. My “look” has changed as I have changed and matured (for want of a better word!) and Beverly has helped my slowly build a collection of beautiful pieces that I wear every single day.

    Beverly Novick’s latest collection, Italian Silk Links, is elegant with a little edge. The necklaces come in beautiful, soft shades, and can be purchased with different stones, such as chocolate freshwater pearls, faceted smokey topaz and Madera citrine (a lovely cognac color). These pieces are very reasonable and perfect if you want to treat yourself without breaking the bank. Beverly also has a more expensive line and some of these pieces are on my wish list. Her website is and the links can be found under “Collection.”

    There is no better feeling than putting on a beautiful of jewelry – whether expensive or not. It pulls my outfit together, even is I am wearing jeans, and helps me get ready for the day.

    8:10 pm
    Lisa said...

    Thank you so much for adding to the resources here. Jewelry is certainly my must-have accessory.

  • I aplogize first: i have a broken wrist so typing skill isminimal – more later though! My partner and I arecustom jewelers in silver andgold of symbolic jewelry – a whole different way to go! Jewelry with intrinsic meaning. We make lots of wedding rings and occasion pieces and well, anything to do with your spiritual self that you want to wear on your body! Whata gift to be able to do this for ourfellow humans. (sorry can’t embed); will omment more later!!

  • What a fun post, Lisa. Just accompanied someone to Tiffany’s this week on a consult. So less painful spending someone’s money but so much fun to play with though I was not the recipient. I recently bought some gold bangles, or plated, should I say. Was deciding on whether to buy one by one as you mentioned, but I’m hard on bracelets since I wear them everyday and need them to be more sturdy than gold.

    I have been coveting a specific pair of Alexis B. earrings for probably a year now but I keep resisting the urge. Lately, he has come out with some very interesting pieces. Perhaps for my birthday but my jewelry budget has been redirected to lenses and camera equipment. Tough choices. :). I’ll live vicariously through your jewelry for the time being.

  • Thanks for this advice, Inam so clueless about jewelry. I have the pieces I have inherited, but finf it vey difficult to know what to invest in, so mostly I don’t.

  • I bought an antique necklace when I got married a few years ago, and somehow that sparked the desire to have less-more-quality jewelry. We had my engagement and our wedding rings made by a local jeweler who is a friend, and last summer we had him make me a necklace for my birthday. I find I am happy with wearing mostly just a few pieces I love. :)

  • Just wanted to share my joy at recently purchasing a set of freshwater pearls, they’re beautifully large almost baroque in shape and just fabulous. After trying many pairs of more traditional pearls these suited who I am and make a bolder statement. Now, ready for earrings! :)

  • Lisa, I have just turned 49 and have decided to really trick out my fine jewelry collection. Your post is really helping me. I have separated the piddly little stuff from the keepers. I sold a bunch of scrappy little chains and came up with enough cash to roll into some beautiful pieces I will appreciate and wear to death.

    I have my wishslist on Beladora for my 50th birthday already. This is where I sold my gold and bought new estate pieces. Nancy is the best out there. It’s a plus that I can jet up there to see her pieces in person.

    7:20 am
    Lisa said...

    Beladora is wonderful. And I’m honored to be helpful:).

  • I love this! Your blog is just a delight by the way!

    I am a 25 year old southern prep, I severely dislike “statement” jewelry, it is a tough time. My boldest piece is the 18 inch strand of 8-9 mm cultured pearls my husband gave me for our wedding… other than that I have a few tiffany silver necklaces he has given me.

    Otherwise, I wear earrings, mostly pearls, david yurman, tiffany, and a pair of keshi pearls from nantucket, a pair from marthas vineyard surrounded by lapis—all from the husband, he has a love of pearls. My mother gave me a lovely pair of sapphire studs, the husband also gave me the tiffany silver knots. I love all these items dearly, feeling dressed with a pair of earrings and my wedding rings… however, it’s difficult to find a like-minded young lady. Most all girls my age seem to be obsessed with the gaudy engagement ring/cheapy statement ring. I so love the appreciation of the fine jewelry. I often think that I could easily be content with the jewelry I have now (okay, perhaps add those tiny diamond earrings and a david yurman bracelet). Less is more… I hope we can pass that around.

  • Brooke, welcome!

    And sounds like both your hus and your mother have wonderful taste:).