Customer Watch: Jewelry Size, Scale & Volume

In the world of fashion, it’s extremes of size in jewelry that are most chic today. Big and bold is good. Small and delicate is good. Anything in between often isn’t terribly interesting, according to the fashion press, unless the jewelry is piled on in volume. Size in jewelry is related to two additional concepts: scale and level of refinement. My recent blog posts on the Michael Kors mega-chain necklace, on the one hand, and the ethereal delicate Midsummer Night’s Dream pieces on the other, demonstrate two examples of jewelry that are most on-trend today. They happen to be the two extremes of size, and they also provide excellent examples of extremes in scale.

Scale is different from size. Scale relates to the detail in a piece of jewelry, akin to the construction details in clothing, such as the size of stitching, pleats, plackets and collars.

Relating the scale of jewelry to a person’s form and features creates a visual balance and a harmony between the wearer and the item being worn. Thus, a slender, small-boned individual can most easily wear a delicate item of jewelry. That same item may appear rather skimpy and sad on a larger or taller individual. Fine chains and other delicate pieces of jewelry are by necessity small in scale because they are so small in size-scale is physically constrained by space. Dial up the volume of small pieces, however, by wearing multiples, such as a mix of bangle bracelets or nested chains, and small-scale jewelry can work beautifully for a wider range of individuals.

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Illustration: The extremely narrow heel of this Yves Saint Laurent footwear is so out of scale with the shoe (and the wearer’s leg) as to cause a double take.

Along with a person’s form, his or her features are equally if not more important in assessing the optimal scale of jewelry. A petite woman may have relatively large eyes, a wide nose, or a generous mouth, making some or all of her features average to large-scale. And a tall, full-figured woman may have relatively small eyes, nose and mouth. Either circumstance gives the woman a wider range of jewelry that will be flattering.

Most of the statement jewelry popular today is actually small to medium scale in terms of the level of detail of the pieces, even if the jewelry itself is relatively large. The exceptions are large metal pieces, such as the mega-chains. This is to be expected, since gemstones are inherently small to medium in scale, and precious materials of all kinds are expensive and therefore used judiciously.

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Illustration: A selection of bracelets from the August 2009 issue of InStyle magazine. From the top, Dinz by Adina Reyter, $44; Alyssa Norton, $285; and two from Giles & Brother by Philip Crangi, $125 and $350. Although the bracelets are small, medium and large in size, they are all of small to medium scale in design.

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What can happen, given the inherent scale of most jewelry, is that there is a disconnect between the scale of jewelry and the scale of other accessories being worn. Here’s an example from the August 2009 issue of Town & Country magazine. Milla Jovovich is shown wearing a dress and belt by Donna Karan New York, accessorized with jewelry from Tiffany & Co.-a bracelet by Frank Gehry and a necklace by Jean Schlumberger. The bracelet, a “black-palm bangle” is large in scale, and nicely complements the huge scale of the belt. But the gold necklace gets lost in the ensemble. As beautiful as it is, it doesn’t have enough presence to balance the size and scale of the other accessories. I would have skipped the necklace and given Jovovich a pair of chunky earrings stylistically compatible with the belt.

The item of the largest scale will catch the eye first, so be sure that everything else worn with it is of sufficient scale to provide harmony to the entire look.