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Commentary: The Business

Monica Stephenson: Redefining Heirloom

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A new era in collecting has arrived,
driven by individualistic, organic design.


There is a revolution happening in jewelry.
Have you noticed? A perfect storm of
individual expression built on a return to
craft mentality, the use of relatively repetitive
fashion as a canvas for interesting jewels,
the emergence of CAD/CAM and laser
technology, and visual digital media that is
accessible anywhere. Together, these trends
have resulted in a brand-new jewelry-collecting
mentality among consumers.

These consumers are not buying the traditional
styles that have dominated the last
three decades or so of jewelry: important
gemstones with diamond accents, settings
that border on boring. These modern
collectors are buying handmade designer
jewelry with a very distinctive style. This
is jewelry made with the care of what we
have considered “important” or “high”
jewelry, using rare and precious materials.
It just doesn’t look like your grandmother’s
jewelry box. These are the new jewelry
heirlooms.

In this new era of jewelry, gemstones
may have internal characteristics that are
not considered flaws — they
are considered character.
These gems are often cut
into shapes — asymmetrical,
organic, completely custom
— and are set in unconventional
directions (upside
down, anyone?). Gold, silver
and platinum are alloyed into
dynamic colors, or darkened
with rhodium to really let the gems shine.
Alternative metals like titanium or steel are
incorporated. We have entered into a truly
creative era that knows no boundaries.


“THE WEARER
WANTS TO CONNECT
WITH HER JEWELRY
IN A MORE VISCERAL
WAY.”

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We have pretty short memories — and an
attention span that barely beats a goldfish’s
— so a stroll through historical adornment
reveals some truly inventive creations: iron
jewelry to finance the French government,
bone and shell elaborately carved, poured
glass, feathers.

It seems that everything old is new again
as a fresh generation of designers discovers
materials and the technology to mold them into jewelry. The
eye-popping prices
fetched at auction
prove a precedent
for interesting
jewels.

Intrinsics still
matter. Consumers
still want to know
carat weights and
quality. And transparency
of where
gems and metals
originate has never
been more important
to the market.
It’s just that we’ve
moved beyond a
three-stone ring
in lightweight prongs. The new heirlooms
tell their story in their own distinct voice,
not just because the jewelry designer wants
to express it that way, but also because the
wearer wants to connect with her jewelry in
a more visceral way. The story shifts from
“I have a 4.0 carat ruby” to “I
have the most precious gem in
a ring that was meant for me.”

At some point, the ultimate
wearer has moved beyond
being concerned about whether
she might love the design
forever. Forever is a big word.
Maybe she will love it for five
or 10 years, rework it or give
it away. Or maybe she will cherish it for the
rest of her life. The emphasis is on how the
collector connects with the piece when she
purchases it, and how that jewelry reflects
her personal style.

This new era of jewelry heirlooms connects
us to jewelry as a talisman, a keepsake,
a celebration, a symbol of what makes
us so unique. It’s small batch. It’s artisanal.
It’s homegrown. It’s free range. The new
jewelry heirlooms can be everything
we want to express about ourselves: the
ultimate form of art on the canvas of our
bodies.


Monica Stephenson founded the blog idazzle.
com, “An Insider’s
Guide to Jewelry,”
in 2008 and recently
launched ANZA Gems,
a responsibly created
jewelry collection
benefitting gem trade
students in Tanzania
and Kenya.

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