Making quality jewellery accessible; the changing face of precious metals and jewellery materials
This week’s blog is a continuation on last week’s theme – how are jewellery designers making high-quality jewellery that is both fashionable and accessible. You now know that there are more than just four gemstones out there and that most have very strange names, but what about the other materials that are being used to create jewellery that fuses fashion and quality?
With jewellery always having been about the ‘big four’ gemstones, quality pieces tended to also always be about 9/18/24ct gold; I remember how excited I was to get my first gold ring at 11 years old. No longer did I need to wear silver or that really cheap stuff set in base metals that turned your skin green; I finally had a ‘proper’ piece of jewellery! How things have changed since then, which is a result of two things – the greater accessibility of quality materials and the changing fashion of jewellery design.
The changing face of jewellery design
Thanks to highly-respected jewellery designers using a greater variety of materials in their designs and a much more broad-minded approach to what constitutes ‘high quality’ jewellery, it is no longer just about the gold. Gold is still used but quality and durability is so much more than just one type of precious metal, and we are finally embracing and accepting the many other materials that scream quality!
Liri’s jewellery designs benefit from this change in attitude, but they also play a role in educating people even further about the types of materials that can be used in jewellery that is going to last you years, if not a life-time. As you know, the philosophy behind Liri’s designs is to make high quality, yet contemporary jewellery, to fuse fashionable designs with precious metals, genuine gemstones and other quality materials.
So how does a contemporary yet high quality piece of jewellery look? Apart from using a much greater diversity of gemstones that can replace cheaper glass, crystal or plastic beads with the real deal, we need also to consider the other materials used in the designs – the metals, the suede and the leather. Let’s look at each in turn to see how they actually enhance jewellery designs and bring us pieces that we would never have taken seriously 20 or even just 10 years ago.
Sterling silver = cheap jewellery, 9ct gold = quality jewellery
As I’ve mentioned, when I was a child, I couldn’t wait to get my first piece of gold jewellery. Until then I’d worn sterling silver – my first piece of jewellery was a sterling silver baby bangle, a trend that continued until I was 11 years old when I got my first silver ring. Don’t get me wrong, I loved it – it was a ring, I was 11, and it wasn’t plastic fashion jewellery! But I was acutely aware that it was ‘only’ silver, which, in those days, was seen as a cheaper, lesser metal to the ultimate in sophistication and quality – 9ct gold. As a self-conscious child with many well-to-do friends along with my obsession with jewellery, I was painfully aware that I was wearing ‘cheaper’ jewellery. So when my parents bought me my first 9ct gold ring, I was over the moon, I finally had my first piece of ‘posh’ jewellery! And this is how it continued; from then on I was given 9ct gold jewellery for Christmas and birthdays and soon amassed quite the collection. During this time, the distinction between the two metals became even more entrenched and I began to leave sterling silver behind. I had finally made it, why would I continue to buy silver when my parents could afford 9ct gold? But there was a price to pay – having to put up with a certain type of design – lockets, curb chains, cluster rings; quality meant, you guessed it, boring designs. Yes, this was the fashion for ‘quality’ jewellery, but it was a case that quality meant uninspired designs.
So, what’s changed?
I think it is safe to say that sterling silver has shed its image as the poor man’s precious metal, which is due to two reasons – its growing use by highly respected jewellery designers who are designing quality yet fashionable pieces, and the sky rocketing price of sterling silver during the past decade. Yes, gold is still desired and commands a high price, but silver is more than putting up a good fight. Coupled with its use in fashionable designs, it has, for quite a number of years, become the metal of choice for quality yet fashionable designs.
Most of Liri’s collections use sterling silver as their main precious metal. The Regale and Warrior collections are entirely of this metal, with pieces in the Freedom, Dainty delights and Kul collections also matching gemstones with silver perfectly. Silver is versatile, it is bright and shiny and it compliments practically every gemstone perfectly.
But I still like gold jewellery……
Just when we thought sterling silver had taken over contemporary jewellery design, gold jewellery started to make a comeback a few years ago, only this time it was different. Rather than seeing pieces in solid 9ct gold, we’ve been seeing the growing use of gold ‘substitutes’. The price of gold has remained high, which, it is fair to say, prohibits its use in many contemporary jewellery designs; if we used 9ct gold, we’d never sell our jewellery! So what do we use to give our gold-loving customers the contemporary designs they want? Enter Vermeil and gold filled.
Gold filled has been around for years. Also known as rolled gold, It is a layer of gold (from 9-14ct) pressure bonded onto another metal, usually brass. It shouldn’t be confused with gold plating, which is often a gold ‘colour’ plated on a base metal that wears off over time and is not durable – remember it turning your neck, ears and fingers green when you were a kid? Gold filled combines the quality of ‘real’ gold with durability and affordability. My mother was given a rolled gold bangle for her 21st birthday (she’s now 67) and it is as good as new. The gold has not faded, worn off or discoloured. It is considered high quality and lends itself to fashionable and durable designs. I love using it.
Despite my love of gold as a child, I spent most of my early adulthood coveting sterling silver – it was the era of celtic jewellery, which was all in silver. But after having moved to Mauritius, I fell in love with gold all over again, for two reasons. As a predominantly Hindu nation, gold figures highly in jewellery here so you appreciate it through osmosis; but rather than being the chunky curb chains and lockets I was used to as a child, designs here mirror my love for all things dainty, there is plenty of gold jewellery to see and plenty of inspiration for my own jewellery designs.
Not only does seeing jewellery in beautiful designs ignite my creative fire, but living on a tropical island with (almost) year round sun, turquoise beaches and vibrant colours also leads me to wanting to use much more gold in my designs than in earlier creations. I absolutely love the Costa collection, the gold is of the perfect tone to match the ‘cool’ tones of the Tanzanite gemstones in the designs; I describe it as the Mauritius coastline first thing in the morning.
Golf filled is great to mirror the cooler tones of 9ct gold, but what if you want something more vibrant, that is truly going to capture the colour and energy of Mauritius? 24ct gold is prohibitive in its price, so how can designers, again, maintain quality, but provide inspiring designs? Make way for Vermeil. Like gold filled, Vermeil is seen in high end, contemporary jewellery designs but is again an accessible, yet high quality alternative to ‘real’ gold. See the beautiful pieces by Missoma.
So what is it? Again, It is a layer of ‘real’ gold plated onto sterling silver. It is different from gold plated jewellery (which is often just gold ‘colour’) in that it is a layer of gold, usually 10 carats pure and 2.5 microns in thickness, overlaid onto sterling silver rather than a base metal. As a result, it is very durable. My favourite Liri collection using vermeil is the Paradise collection. The vibrancy of the Vermeil with the rich tones of Turquoise and Lapis Lazuli reflect the beaches of Mauritius perfectly.
With precious metals being more accessible, I am able to design jewellery that matches my design tastes but also mirrors that which customers want. You will probably have noticed that my designs include a lot of very dainty gemstones, which I love to incorporate with equally dainty precious metal beads. My personal favourite is using 2mm round precious metal beads to create a really sparkly yet understated piece, this bracelet is just gold and gemstone perfection to me.
Leather and suede
But jewellery can be more than just gemstones and precious metal, right? Yes it can, and I am glad to see that high-end jewellery is being made out of a growing variety of materials. With so many man-made materials available ‘more than just gemstones and precious metal’ can mean plastic, glass, resin, anything! Don’t get me wrong, these materials can be used to create beautiful pieces, but if we stick to the theme of contemporary design with quality, we have to make a concerted effort to source materials we know to be of good and durable quality. So how do I go about replicating some of the biggest trends by using quality, durable ‘other’ materials?
In think it is fair to say that one of the biggest jewellery and fashion trends of recent years has been the tassel – they are everywhere, from necklaces to keyrings, even earrings, they really have caught our imagination. Some stunning designs are these by Isharya, necklaces by one of my favourite designers, Annie Haak ar simple yet effective, with these keyrings by British designer Red Meg being just perfec. However, these high end, quality designs are amongst the minority and I think it’s safe to say that most of what we see with the tassel trend is bunches of cotton tied together hanging from a long-line necklace of glass beads. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with these, but if you’re looking for fashion, quality and longevity in one, you’re not really going to get it like this. Again, every element of the piece must scream (and be) ‘quality’.
So what do I use? In my Natural Beauty collection of long line tassel necklaces I use a mixture of gemstones, silver or Vermeil, leather and suede – real leather and suede! No need for anything to be imitation, especially with the variety of vibrantly dyed materials out there now. In my Dainty Delights collection, it is tassels of gorgeous metals all the way.
I truly think the is no contemporary design or trend that has to succumb to the ‘throw away’ mentality where we use cheap materials. If you want to be stylish but truly value quality, there is no trend on which you have to compromise your values.
Changes in fashion
Despite the changes we’ve seen in the availability of quality materials, we also owe a lot to the changes in jewellery fashion for the fusion of quality with contemporary design. Despite us being happy with our lockets and cluster rings in the past when we wanted something ‘nice’, we now want more from our jewellery. It’s no longer a case of buying to satisfy a cultural expectation, we now want designs to reflect every personality and mood, we want a piece to suit every type of occasion; we want such a vast range of jewellery to suit our every whim that the possibilities for designers truly are endless. The diversity of the human race, with its endless needs, lifestyles and desires ensures we can create a piece that suits everybody. It really is a great time for jewellery design!
So to sum up, we currently have the perfect mixture of the increasing accessibility of high quality materials with the demand for varied contemporary design to suit expanding tastes. All together they enable designers to experiment and to create to their hearts content, whilst also using materials that ensure their pieces will last.
There really is no jewellery design or trend out there that has to be compromised on quality just to be accessible. We really can have it all.
Until next week,