Jewelry Trend: Big Statement on a Small Budget

Jewelry and chocolate have a lot in common this season: You can’t stop with just one piece.

Stacks of bangles adorn wrists; layers of chains circle necks; and pendants, pins and earrings are built with unusual materials piled one atop the other. Worn in multiples and combined in eccentric, slightly kooky combinations, today’s jewelry makes its statement with size, color and audacity -- not price.

With many accessory collections featuring a strong vintage feel, now is the time to reassess that pile of forgotten chains, bangles or rhinestones cluttering your jewelry box. Don’t go on a treasure hunt for the perfect piece: how you style and combine pieces is more important than any single item.

Big trends seen everywhere include cascades of pearls mixed with matte metal chains; rhinestones partnered with ribbon; and rosettes that anchor asymmetrical assemblages of beads, chains, leather and fabric. Metals don’t aspire to impersonate the precious; they’re content to look like they belong in a hardware store.

A recession-inspired return to less-precious materials, coupled with a new consciousness about sustainability, has helped inspire a creative renaissance in fashion jewelry. Free to experiment with less costly materials, designers are crafting wood, glass, rubber, leather, lace, Lucite and grosgrain ribbon into jewelry that only looks expensive. Silver -- sterling or not -- is back at center stage too. Los Angeles jewelry designer Jeffrey Levin, whose designs have graced the covers of Elle, InStyle and Vogue, is even creating a new collection of what he calls “wristwear” made from recycled rubber.

The trend is good news for all of us who have despaired that our jewelry is a hodgepodge of different styles, materials and decades. Matching is out, mixing is in. Now is the time to flaunt your personal style, says Ken Downing, senior vice president and fashion director of Neiman Marcus. “You can combine bracelets and bangles that feel as if they have been collected not only from various places on a journey, but also from various times,” says Downing.

A frail seed-bead bracelet can slip beneath a chunky wooden or silk cord cuff. That intricate necklace of mirrors, medallions and bells you bought in India (or the neighborhood thrift shop) is now the height of fashion, particularly if it’s part of a heavily embellished look. Forget restraint: Big necklaces can complement earrings the size of a corsage. Or copy the baroque approach of designer John Galliano of Christian Dior and pile a bib necklace of gold medallions across a brocade tunic, fling a rhinestone-studded cord around your neck and still feel free to tack on tasseled earrings.  

Colleen Sherin, fashion director at Saks Fifth Avenue, advocates mixing layers of chains and not worrying about everything coordinating perfectly. “An off-kilter, eclectic look is really on trend,” she said. “You can mix your pearls with chains, organic beads or stones.”

Finding the right balance of glitz is important so that you don’t look like Mr. T. “If you are going to layer your necklaces, make sure what you’re wearing is a bit simpler,” says Sherin. “Make a statement either with your clothing or your jewelry.”

Here are some do-it-yourself tips on giving your pile of jewelry an up-to-the-minute look:

  • Layer two or more chains, bead strands or pendants.
  • Take the pendants from several necklaces and string onto a single chain or ribbon.
  • Using a crochet hook, weave ribbon through a segment of wide, chunky chain and tie the loose ends in a bow behind your neck.
  • Replace the chain in a pendant necklace with a complementary color of sheer organza ribbon. For variation, string the ribbon with a few crystal beads set far apart.
  • Resurrect your big crystal cocktail rings and anything acrylic or clear plastic.