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THIS MONTH:
PARIS Spring 2004


diamond is forever, we're told, and while it won't easily disintegrate, you might not want to wear it forever, depending on the setting. Fads abound at the high end of the jewelry world, just as they do in fashion, and the $100,000 plus pieces can be just as trendy as the glamorous faux numbers designed by couture houses.

OK, you can always buy a major rock, and you don't have to worry how it's set if it happens to be, say a hundred carat diamond. I've seen one, and it was eye-catching even before it was set as a pendant on a beautifully crafted necklace. But beyond the rock, being cool in your jewelry is complicated. Isn't being cool always complicated? I mean, things can change so quickly.

Take Bulgari, for example. There is no doubt that Nicola Bulgari is the most influential jewelry designer in the post war period, and he has the most imitators. Some of them are high end, like London's Elizabeth Gage, others are churned out in Asia by the truckload, especially by one lady with a savvy merchandising sense. As Abbeville's Mark MaGowan said, "Nicola changed the face of jewelry."

When Bulgari first collected old coins and surrounded them in coiled gold rope, the race was on to see who could acquire his jewels the fastest. Then he upended the preexisting dominance of precious stones plus pearls and added semiprecious cabochon stones to his mix. There was a time - late sixties, early seventies - that elegant women picnicking on the Turkish seacoast, sunbathing in Palm Beach, Barbados, or a marvelous little one-owner island in Malaysia all wore Bulgari gold chains with cabochon stones. Yes, you wore them swimming, to your personal trainer, your hairdresser. If you worried about replacement of the inevitable lost or damaged pieces, you could not be taken seriously.

Overkill, so everyone put their Bulgari away and concentrated on David Webb. Remember the Duchess of Windsor's flamingo pin? David Webb. He drank from the well Bulgari dug, but with his own vision. Definitely a talent. However, soon his river bracelet of massed precious stones of various colors was imitated like mad. The favorite sport of jewelers in the trade was to gather up all their off-color, flawed, or basically boring stones at the end of the year and set them in a river bracelet. The December jewel auctions would overflow with these rivers for eager Santas.

You know what's coming next: overkill for David Webb. But now guess what - both houses are back, and they surged forth this year. Jennifer Aniston wore a divine-looking scalloped diamond Bulgari bracelet to the Golden Globe awards. The 18k white gold bracelet Jennifer Aniston wore to the 2003 Golden Globes consists of 993 Round Pave Diamonds weighing 14.59 carats. It is a relatively new piece and is BCI (Bulgari Collection International) meaning it is one of a kind. Besides, the company is introducing a new line called Allegra that people are already calling about. Bulgari's Robert Butler describes the new pieces this way, "They look like you threw a handful of precious stone confetti and just let it land where it wanted to."
Then there's JAR, Joel Arthur Rosenthal, the New Yorker who set up shop in the Place Vendome in 1977 and pushed all the French dealers off the map. He creates only around seventy pieces a year, and the craftsmanship is unequalled. Like Schlumberger and di Verdura before him, he derives inspiration from nature, and his designs are large pieces composed of tiny intricately set stones that shimmer seductively. The designs look rather Art Nouveau, which makes sense, as every hundred years or so, styles are rediscovered. Would you like a piece of JARs? Gwyneth Paltrow has one. Put your name on the waiting list and then start cashing in your bonds so you'll be able to make your move when your so-pricey piece treasure becomes available. Could you just stroll by and peek in the window, perhaps chat with Joel? No, he works in his cave and emerges by appointment only. By the way, do you know who trained Joel? Nicola Bulgari, of course.

We mentioned di Verdura and Schlumberger, and they are still hot - selectively. The gold and enamel Schlumberger jewelry that was once a must-have has now faded from view (except in the stores). But the marvelous bejeweled birds and fish he created are more in demand than ever. It's the same with di Verdura's sea motif jewelry. He was the first major jeweler to combine sea shells with precious stones, and New York's Serman Shepps should thank him every day. They have done a booming business for decades setting shells with cabochon stones and selling them to the Hamptons - Newport - Palm Beach players.

What else is current? Edwardian brooches. Fred Leighton always stuck with them, even when most of his sales were art deco pieces. In the eighties, the chic New York women (and Andre de Bord considers them the most chic in the world, even though he's French) were all wearing art deco. Now they like Edwardian. The trendy way to appear now is in your well-cut denims, a good-looking blouse or T-shirt, and the Edwardian brooch.

Another idea: buy a fancy colored diamond, and not just because Ben bought J Lo that pink number. It's quite a stone: gorgeous color, flawless. Trust me, it cost a fortune. But Ben wasn't ahead of the curve here; the colored diamonds have been riding high for about a decade. True, too many yellow diamonds came onstage, and only a few of them had fabulous color, but have you ever seen a turquoise diamond, an orange or violet one? They are exceedingly rare, devastatingly beautiful, and beyond chic.

If you've given up on small colored diamonds because at these prices you'd rather have your jewelry make more of a statement, start massing bracelets. Tiffany has gold bangles with pave diamonds, and women will buy six or eight and wear them on one arm. Note "one." The identical twin wrists look is out, whether you're talking about matching cuffs (which means you have to set aside the ones you bought during the Art Deco craze) or bangles or anything else.

One woman I know wears her bracelets every day for beach, black tie, the bath, and she does use both arms. She needs to, considering the extent of her holdings, but none of the bracelets are matchey-matchey. No one would recognize her without this trademark. It has always worked for her, and now it's working for others as well. Celebs as young as Britney Speers are buying band bracelets - diamond, emerald, ruby, sapphire, some combos for variety, and piling them on.

Earrings are getting flouncier again - the Cartier twenties tassel has returned. In the same save-for-another-year jewelry box that contains your art deco cuffs might be large enough to also hold your single diamond earrings. Don't worry, they'll come back. Styles, like the sea, always do.

The experts tell us there's an overall the look for high end jewelry, the look that all the big houses (Tiffany, Cartier, Van Cleef - you know) are buying into in some form or another. Why? It's what people want. The look could be described this way: witty classicism that doesn't take itself too seriously. You're fine with a bouquet of violets or lilac brooch. Not the stiff secret setting flat-looking flowers, but blooms that fall naturally, as if they were real flowers. You might have a pair of diamond en tremblant earrings or a shimmering butterfly, a finely crafted zebra. Zebra, yes, but don't reach for that Cartier lion; it's been too copied. Look for design that shows a natural creativity, jewelry reinterpreted as an art form with the stones in a subsidiary role. In other words, don't seek a baroque pearl made to look like a bird. Find a fabulous bird that may have a baroque pearl as part of the design. Look for imagination, and compare a piece to fine sculpture, as a basis for judgment. Subtle and beautiful are your guiding principles. In your face is definitely out (most places).

You'll want to know who else is wearing what these days, so here's some news. Queen Latifa (who chose that name for herself at age eight) likes ropes of diamonds, 1,055 diamonds to be exact, by Chopard around the neck, Catherine Zeta-Jones: a garland of Garard diamonds around the neck or a fifty carat diamond pendant. Madonna: a Harry Winston diamond necklace that looks like the one her friend Gwyneth Paltrow wore on her big Oscar night. Calista Flockhart treasures the 18C diamond necklace she (or someone like Harrison) bought at Neil Lane. Cute little Kate Hudson adds sparkle to her smile with 45-carat diamond earrings from the ubiquitous Harry Winston. Get used to reading the word "diamonds." The stars love 'em. But trust the elegant Nicole Kidman to think of a different spin: diamond and pearl multiple hoop earrings designed by Fred Leighton.


Being sophisticated, you are not going to cover yourself in diamonds, and, in fact, the true fashionistas are giving them a pass in favor of oriental rubies, natural pearls, Kashmir sapphires, and, as we said, the colored diamonds. What you want to do is just stick to the basics: top stones, top designers, and then whatever's in style, you still will not have to apologize for your jewelry. If you like it, wear it. You'll look great.