The world of fine jewelry is experiencing something of a renaissance. An influx of new voices and fresh talent has reimagined how women adorn themselves. Diamond-studded barrettes? Sapphire-strewn ear cuffs? Etched-gold iPhone covers? Why not? But with all this novelty, it’s easy to overlook those tried-and-true essentials that are the foundation of a stylish jewelry wardrobe. Just as every woman has an arsenal of go-to jeans, pumps, and little black dresses that can be relied upon season after season, there are certain jewelry staples that should form the backbone of one’s collection.
The key to these jewelry MVPs is their versatility, affording a range of options from everyday sparkle to high-wattage glamour. Here, we highlight the eight pieces that compose a full and balanced jewelry diet, with examples running the gamut from timeless classics to icons done with an irreverent twist. As this guide to the ultimate jewelry essentials proves, the basics needn’t be boring.
Despite its relatively simple appearance, the chain is one of the most challenging pieces to create—and is a true test of a jeweler’s skill. As each link needs to be individually formed and polished, then seamlessly connected, chains require meticulous attention to detail. But, in the end, a great chain should feel effortless. They’re ideal for dressing up a casual daytime ensemble—easily elevating a T-shirt and jeans—or adding a dose of laid-back chic to evening attire. Whether in pure gold, like this hand-engraved bracelet from Marco Bicego, or dusted with diamonds, like Anita Ko’s chunky curb link choker, chains make simplicity sing.
The Chandelier Earring
When it comes to turning heads, no one piece is as impactful as a pair of chandelier earrings. There’s a particular magic to the way they frame the face, imparting a radiant glow and seductively swinging with every movement. Girandoles, a specific variety of earring marked by three stones suspended from a central bow motif, were first popularized in the 17th century and named after the swag-festooned lighting fixtures of the time. It’s a form that designers continue to riff on, like these modern interpretations by Hanut Singh and Irene Neuwirth. Now more than ever, chandelier earrings are a canvas for designers’ creativity—Margery Hirschey’s Calder-esque mobiles and Silvia Furmanovich’s painterly wood marquetry petals are prime examples of wearable art.
The Statement Cuff
Few jewels pack the punch of a bold statement cuff. Toeing the line between armor and adornment, the style has been synonymous with strong women throughout history, from Cleopatra to Wonder Woman. And many of the most iconic cuffs were created by or for legendary ladies of moxie—just consider Coco Chanel’s gem-studded Maltese Cross cuffs made by Verdura in the 1930s or the sculptural Bone cuff designed by Elsa Peretti, who embodied the female empowerment of the 1970s. Their sizeable silhouette has a potent presence; wearing just one will up the ante on simple black sweaters and cocktail dresses alike. Or, take a cue from Wonder Woman and wear one on each wrist to double up on the statement cuff’s eye-catching powers.
Stacking rings are the fine jewelry equivalent of a white T-shirt—they go with everything. Their greatest beauty is their adaptability; just wear a few delicate gold bands for an understated look, or mix in some diamonds or colored gems for a splash of sparkle. There’s a clean, minimalist appeal to a combination of symmetrical bands, but there’s fun to be had in juxtaposing rings of varying widths, colors, and styles. Some, like Spinelli Kilcollin, do the work for you by linking several bands together in one ring. Others, like Van Cleef & Arpels or Jane Taylor, offer an array of options to create your own custom stack. With an infinite number of possible combinations, there are truly stacking rings to suit every occasion.
Dating back to the Georgian era, the rivière is composed of a single strand of stones that flow around the neck like a river. Women of the 17th and 18th centuries were mad for the way rivières showcased vibrantly colored stones, and the style has an intrinsic elegance that endures to this day. The relatively simple silhouette is easy to wear, adding a touch of glamour to outfits for both day and night. It’s a form that lends itself to being played with, such as Larkspur & Hawk’s whimsically asymmetrical mix of stones or Ana Khouri’s modernist rendition that hugs the contours of one’s décolletage.
Prized for their unique luster since antiquity, pearls have long been associated with beauty, status, and purity. Before Mikimoto invented a method for cultivating pearls, they were incredibly rare—one could search for decades to find enough matching natural pearls to create a single cohesive strand. Thankfully, pearls of exceptional quality are easier to come by today, and designers have moved beyond the staid pearl necklace. Because they lack the flash of most other gems, pearls are easily worn with everyday attire. But rather than the ubiquitous string of pearls, why not opt for something with a contemporary edge, like Mizuki’s pistachio-hued pearl ear jackets or Nikos Koulis’s hoops of silvery-gray pearls?
The Cocktail Ring
As their name suggests, cocktail rings are ideal for festive occasions. As such, they provide an opportunity to branch out from your usual style formula. You won’t be wearing it every day, so why not have some fun? Just look at the usually understated Meghan Markle, who sported a gob-stopping aquamarine ring for her wedding reception. It’s a look that feels and looks jubilant. Cocktail rings are the perfect format for flaunting the natural beauty of candy-colored stones, like Retrouvai’s juicy pink tourmaline framed by turquoise or Vram’s fiery Mandarin garnet accented by a medley of orange sapphires. When it comes to cocktail rings, bigger and bolder is best.
Brooches began as a practical solution for fastening clothing—from scarves to blouse necklines—but soon evolved into a celebration of decorative artistry. The brooch’s heyday was around the first half of the 20th century, with jewelers turning out pins to complement all the latest fashions. After waning popularity, the brooch is back and as relevant as ever. Traditionally, brooches have been a venue for expressing one’s personality through eccentric motifs, like Cartier’s emerald-eyed panther or Buccellati’s leggy yellow diamond spider. While they may not be required for securing clothing anymore, brooches are a wonderful way to punctuate everything from a denim jackets to belts. And many are multipurpose—Belperron’s converts to a cuff, and David Webb’s would be equally stunning on a long gold chain.