These 10 jewelry staples have stood the test of time precisely because they’ve changed with the times
The Tennis Bracelet: In 1987, while Chris Evert was competing in a match at the U.S. Tennis Championships, the clasp broke on her diamond bracelet. She requested that the match be suspended until she found her bracelet, and her request was granted. Since then, the in-line diamond bracelet has been known by its sportier moniker. Although few women wear diamond bracelets to play tennis, jewelry designers added safety chains to back up the clasps and the tennis bracelet’s modern look was born. Now, any in-line repetitive-design bracelet is referred to as a tennis bracelet, though styles can range from five rows of black diamonds set in 10k gold ($9,179; avianneandco.com) for a man’s bracelet to a slate marquis large triple-row tennis bracelet by Alexis Bittar in sterling silver (pictured).
Diamond leaf hoops in blackened gold; $14,400; Arunashi, Los Angeles; 213-291-2391
The Hoop Earring: Few earring designs are as ancient, as coveted, as controversial and, now, more mainstream than the hoop earring. One of the oldest hoops found in Mongolia—in jade—dates back 8,000 years. Hoops represented Persian and Egyptian royalty, denoted rank in militaries and, in Europe, signified a sailor or pirate who had sailed the world. Worn by African cultures for centuries, hoops made their way west on the ears of slaves brought to the New World and the Caribbean. (At that time, some referred to hoops as slave earrings.) In the 18th century, hoops finally began their rise to becoming a jewelry wardrobe staple. Today, the simple hoop is continuously being reinvented—with oxidized metals and in sculptural geometrical shapes and organic forms found in nature. Armenta modernizes the 18k yellow gold hoop with a diamond floret detail in oxidized sterling silver ($2,390; armentacollection.com). Annette Ferdinandsen’s hoops in diamonds and 10k gold ($2,200; 845-266-5751) resemble thorny branches. And diamond leaf hoops in blackened gold by Arunashi (pictured) simulate gently aged vintage pieces.
18k gold ring with solitaire diamond; price on request; Lucifer Vir Honestus, Milan; 39-02-2900-4270; lucifer-vir-honestus.com
The Solitaire Ring: The notion of “claiming” a mate by adorning them with something pretty has been around since cavemen fashioned crude rings from blades of grass. Ancient Egyptians used the never-ending circular shape to create engagement bands. The modern tradition of the diamond solitaire—a French word meaning “one” or “unity”—is thought to have started with Austria’s Archduke Maximilian in 1477, when he presented Mary of Burgundy a gemstone ring to seal their betrothal. Wealthy Europeans followed suit and a jewelry craze was born. Today, designers are playing with the solitaire using colored and sliced diamonds in sculpted settings. An earthy, hand-sculpted 18k white gold solitaire with a vinelike prong setting by Lucifer Vir Honestus (pictured) pushes the design envelope, as does a 2.05 ct. gray teardrop diamond engagement ring by Melissa Joy Manning ($72,500; melissajoymanning.com). Even the concept of a solitaire—a single stone design—is being challenged, as seen in Sylva & Cie’s two-diamond Moi and Toi ring ($15,500; sylvacie.com).
Russian gold-plated crystal and pearl circle link necklace; $3,000; Miriam Haskell, NYC; 212-764-3332; miriamhaskell.com
The Pearl Necklace: Before the technique for culturing pearls was developed in the early 1900s, a natural pearl was so rare and expensive that only the very rich or very noble were able to wear them. In one of jewelry’s best apocryphal tales, Cleopatra wagered Marc Antony that she could give the most expensive banquet in history. She crushed one pearl from a pair of earrings, dissolved it in either wine or vinegar, and gulped it down. In today’s prices, that ingested pearl is estimated to be worth $4.5 million. Antony admitted she had won. Pearls went on to become a synonym for professionalism in the workplace and also to represent a conservatism that today’s designers are challenging. Fenton pairs cultured pearls with spikes ($710; fentonusa.com), while Saint Laurent combines them with handfuls of charms and other accoutrements ($3,495; ysl.com). Meanwhile, Miriam Haskell’s Russian gold-plated crystal and pearl circle link necklace (pictured) combines vintage opulence with timeless regal beauty.
Lavender drusy and diamond studs in 18k white gold; $3,850; Kimberly McDonald, NYC; 646-205-9994; kimberlymcdonald.com
The Diamond Stud: The word diamond comes from the ancient Greek word adamas, which means invincible. India was thought to be the only source of diamonds—800 B.C. was the first record of diamond mining in the country—until the 1866 discovery of the Kimberley Mine in the Northern Cape of South Africa, which produced so many diamonds that the stones’ value plummeted. De Beers Consolidated Mines went on to control the diamond supply, but demand remained weak until its 1947 slogan “A diamond is forever” struck a chord with U.S. consumers. Today, the United States is the world’s largest diamond market and diamond stud earrings are among the category’s perennial best sellers. Designers continue to have fun with shapes and, lately, messages. Take Sydney Evan’s yellow gold and diamond Love stud earrings ($840; sydneyevan.com), which feature “Lo” on one lobe and “ve” on the other. Anna Sheffield has created a mismatched pair of black diamond arrow-inspired studs—one side in a triangular shape emulating the arrow and the other, the tapered end ($800; annasheffield.com). And Kimberly McDonald embeds drusy in 18k white gold with diamond pavé (pictured).
Boulder opal cuff with 14k gold root-shape prongs; $24,995; Jamie Joseph, Seattle; 206-935-3974; jamiejoseph.com
The Cuff: Power, indestructibility, and protection define the cuff, which was a favorite of Nubian royalty, Incan civilizations, and also rulers in locales as far flung as Egypt and China. In Europe, leather cuffs protected the arms of bow-and-arrow–wielding men. Coco Chanel wouldn’t be caught dead without her Byzantine-inspired Verdura white lacquer gem-set cuffs. Today, Todd Reed is toying with oxidized silver and raw diamonds ($9,680; toddreed.com) in homage to Mother Nature, a theme many designers favor. Barbara Heinrich created a cuff to resemble a gold lotus leaf encrusted with diamonds ($8,750; barbaraheinrichstudio.com), while Jamie Joseph’s boulder opal triple wisteria cuff (pictured) combines a large blue stone with 14k yellow gold root-shape prongs.
Gold-plated charm bracelet; $240; Robert Lee Morris, a division of Haskell Jewels, NYC; 212-764-3332; robertleemorris.com
The Charm Bracelet: Every charm bracelet tells a story through its idiosyncratic combination of baubles, which reveal the wearer’s personality, commemorate milestones, or serve as precious reminders of travels far and near. Ancient peoples wore charms to ward off evil spirits or bad luck. Charms also were used to designate religious affiliation. There was even a time when “mourning” charms, containing hair or portraits of the deceased, were popular. Hedi Slimane disrupts the status quo, throwing everything from crosses and bugs to strings of leather and cloth onto Saint Laurent’s charm bracelets ($1,795; ysl.com). But others prefer the classic route. Verdura offers a Maltese cross charm bracelet made from peridot, citrine, pink tourmaline, amethyst, and blue topaz on 18k gold ($18,750; verdura.com). Robert Lee Morris chooses the affordable track with a group of gold-plated charm bracelets featuring padlocks, crescents, and hearts (pictured).
Circular and rose-cut black onyx links and marquise and teardrop-shape onyx pendant with 1.64 cts. t.w. rose-cut diamonds; $43,360; Irene Neuwirth, Venice, Calif.; 310-450-6063; ireneneuwirth.com
The Statement Necklace: Jewelry that’s voluminous in size and audacious in style dates back to the early Bronze Age, when oversized solid gold collars denoted royalty. In the demure 1950s, the statement necklace took a hiatus, only to roar back into fashion in the ’70s. Today, the bigger and bolder, the better. Monique Péan makes the neck the centerpiece with a fossilized jet and woolly mammoth inlay necklace with diamonds ($17,610; moniquepean.com). A necklace from Orlando Orlandini is an explosion of 18k yellow gold strands bursting with dozens of 1.05 ct. diamonds ($26,500; orlandoorlandini.it). Meanwhile, Irene Neuwirth kicks up the design factor with a pendant of marquise and teardrop-shape onyx separated rose-cut diamonds (pictured).
Bee Cluster ring in oxidized cobalt chrome and 18k yellow, rose, and white gold with diamonds; price on request; Sarah Graham Metalsmithing, La Quinta, Calif.; 800-670-0917; sarahgraham.com
The Cocktail Ring: During the Prohibition era in the United States (1920–1933), women wore giant cocktail rings to flaunt the fact that they were imbibing illegally. The rings doubled as fabulous conversation starters. Mounted with colorful gemstones, the vibrant baubles ascended their popularity in the 1940s and 1950s, long after the prohibition was repealed. In fine jewelry circles today, designers are getting creative with these age-old symbols of rebellion, utilizing everything from oxidized metals to oddly placed satellite diamonds to distinguish their rings in the marketplace. San Francisco designer Sarah Graham juxtaposes matte-black finishes of oxidized cobalt chrome with 18k yellow, rose, and white gold set with colored diamonds on her Bee Cluster ring (pictured). Jamie Joseph insets precious stones with diamonds—a green-blue square tourmaline ring with diamond is a modern twist ($1,265; jamiejoseph.com). Lucifer Vir Honestus’ Paraiba tourmaline pavé ring is an absolute stunner ($7,200; lucifer-vir-honestus.com).
Sterling silver and 18k gold diamond and tourmaline pendant; $4,245; Armenta, Houston; 281-933-0522; armentacollection.com
The Pendant: The pendant—derived from the Old French word pendre, meaning to hang—has come a long way since man first cut holes into rocks and shells and hung them on vines or grass. By the second century B.C., Sicilian carvers were creating opulent filigree pendants of gold and inlaying them with garnets. Pendants went on to feature everything from crocodiles and crucifixes to cameos and costumed figures. Armenta’s sterling silver and 18k diamond and tourmaline cross pendant (pictured) could have walked off the history pages. Other designers opt for a quirky, almost cartoonish bent. Alison Lou’s emoji-inspired smiley face pendants feature ruby heart eyes ($1,990; alisonlou.com). Fossilized materials, such as agate tusks, shark’s teeth, dinosaur bone, and walrus ivory, are used often in modern pendants, while some designers are returning to what the ancients wore—shells. Dezso encrusted a fossilized shell pendant with a Polki diamond encircled with 18k rose gold—a look that’s precious yet laid-back ($605; dezsosara.com).