How to Wear Antique Jewelry in the Modern World

Turquoise, diamond and gold necklace, diamond and gold earring, Victorian era.

Georgian and Victorian jewelry comes from eras rich in history that give us a glimpse into the lives of those who lived during that time, how they dressed and the meaning behind the jewelry that they wore. Despite being a couple of hundred years or more later, a good deal of jewelry made during those times is available today and it’s more wearable than you might think. To show us how to best wear antique jewelry with today’s fashions and contemporary jewelry, we spoke to New York-based antique jewelry dealer, Dana Kiyomura, who founded Keyamour in 2015, a curated collection of period antique fine jewelry from the Georgian era to contemporary signed jewelry.  

Kiyomura’s first piece of advice when adorning yourself with antique jewelry is to have fun. “Purchase what speaks to you and your aesthetic,” she advises. “Have fun and don’t take it too seriously.”

Some antique jewelry may seem overly elaborate for today’s lifestyle. If you do happen to have an ornate piece, Kiyomura suggests keeping the focus on one piece. “If you have an elaborate necklace wear it with small cluster earrings or diamond solitaire studs,” says Kiyomura, who found herself drawn to how jewelry and fashion intersect while she was earning a degree in history from the University of California, Berkeley. “If you’re one of those cool girls, wear it with jeans.”

Green “paste” stone and gold necklace, gold, pearl, diamond and ruby locket, Victorian era.

Like today, long gold chain necklaces were very fashionable in both the Georgian and Victorian eras. Many of these chains are surprisingly light and easy to wear. Make them modern by layering long necklaces together in varying lengths. Kiyomura recommends adding in pendants and lockets — contemporary or vintage — to further personalize your look.  Want to keep it really simple? Knot the chain and wear it long and dangling.

Cartier enamel pansy brooch is attached to a long gold chain, amethyst choker, Victorian era.

Another great way to wear a long chain according to Kiyomura is to double it and add a brooch by carefully sliding the pin of the clasp through the chain links. Wear the chain with the brooch on the side and you’ll be the chicest person in the room. “It’s more fun to wear the brooch on the side, then it becomes more than just a pendant. If you want to add more than one brooch, cluster them together on the chain,” says Kiyomura, who was a buyer at CIRCA and the director of acquisitions at New York City-based vintage jewelry retailer Fred Leighton, prior to founding her company.

Amethyst necklace and green stone necklace, Victorian era.

Colored gemstone necklaces were popular choices in Georgian and Victorian jewelry and there are many fabulous pieces to collect. You can of course, wear one, but if you’re feeling a bit more daring, add a second necklace in another color. “All the colors were complimentary in that era,” comments Kiyomura. “What’s important is to match the hues and tones of the gems. Also, the length matters, the necklaces need to nest correctly.”

Amethyst choker, Victorian era.

Chokers were also a popular necklace style during parts of the Georgian and Victorian eras. Wear them as is, or layer a choker with a long chain.

Many of us have a contemporary diamond solitaire necklace in our jewelry box and you may be wondering if it’s okay to wear it with antique styles. “Layer it with chains, complement it with a short colored stone necklace, or wear it with great earrings,” says Kiyomura, who spent three years working in the jewelry department at Christie’s auction house in Los Angeles.

Gold, amethyst and diamond long earrings, Victorian era.

Earrings are a lovely way to draw attention to your face in a very stylish way. There are all kinds of antique earrings to choose from, many of which make a big statement. Some are long with lots of movement and are very dramatic. In keeping with her philosophy of having one piece of jewelry as your focal point, Kiyomura suggests wearing those earrings with no necklace, but instead wear a big bracelet and rings to balance the earrings and to avoid looking overdone. “Victorian earrings have everything,” notes Kiyomura. “They have length, color, movement and shape.”

Long earring has detachable top that may be worn for day, add the bottom back for a more glamorous night look, Victorian era.

Another popular earring style in antique jewelry is the day/night earring. As the name suggests these earrings do double duty. The bottom will detach leaving a smaller top that is the perfect adornment for day, re-attach the lower half for instant night time glam.

Gold and ruby buckle bracelet, enamel and gold buckle bracelet, Victorian era.

It’s always fun to have a wrist party and Kiyomura has a couple of pointers for wearing bracelets. “A lot of people wear big watches. I like to wear bracelets on the other wrist to avoid damaging either the watch or the bracelet. You can wear a thin chain next to a watch. If you want to stack bracelets, stick to a theme, such as bracelets that have a buckle motif.”

Diamond cluster ring, Georgian era, enamel and gold mourning rings, Victorian era.

Rings are one of the most worn pieces of jewelry and they were beloved by Georgians and Victorians. Rings can be worn on any finger and Kiyomura notes that a big cluster ring is a great focal point. She also notes that stacking rings from one time period is a good way to wear multiple rings.  Engagement rings have their own way of being worn. Kiyomura explains that many antique rings are large with different shapes and a wedding band doesn’t always sit flush with the engagement ring. To resolve this issue, she advises wearing the wedding band on your left hand ring finger and the engagement ring on the right hand.

“Have fun and experiment with length and color,” concludes Kiyomura. “Have one piece or type of  jewelry as your focal point and don’t over-do it. As Coco Chanel said, ‘before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off.’”

All images courtesy Keyamour, jewelry is available on the Jewelers Circle.

Authored by Amber Michelle

Harry Winston: A Diamond Legacy

Floral motif diamond and platinum necklace, converts into two bracelets, circa 1959, courtesy J&SS DeYoung.

From the red carpet to royalty Harry Winston jewels are seen sparkling on some of the world’s best known luminaries at some of the world’s most high profile events. Winston himself became quite famous due to the important diamonds and gemstones that he acquired and through his penchant for sharing his passion for diamonds and gemstones with the public.

Harry Winston was born in New York City in 1896. His father had a small jewelry shop and young Harry spent a great deal of time there. The defining moment for his future career as a purveyor of exceptional diamonds and colored gemstones happened when he was just 12 years old. Winston stopped by a pawn shop and was looking through some costume jewelry, when he saw a green stone. The pawn shop owner thought it was a piece of glass, but Winston knew better. He bought the stone for 50 cents. Two days later he sold it for $800. The piece of glass was actually an emerald.

In 1909, Winston’s family moved to Los Angeles where they opened a store. Young Winston worked there alongside his father before moving back to New York City a few years later.

Harry Winston’s First Company

When Harry Winston arrived back in New York City, in 1920, he opened his first business, the Premier Diamond Company. It was a fortuitous year for Winston, he also met his wife Edna, that same year, although they did not marry until 1933.

After opening the Premier Diamond Company, Winston realized the complexity of the diamond market and breaking into it with few resources. Known for being an astute business person, Winston made a name for himself by purchasing the estates of well-known socialites, industrialists and other notable families. These acquisitions gave Winston access to diamonds and colored gemstones that he would not have otherwise been able to acquire. He often took the jewelry apart and reused the stones in his own creations.

Harry Winston ring with 52-carat Colombian emerald, minor oil, diamonds and gold, 1970s, courtesy Paul Fisher.

Winston opened his eponymous store on Fifth Avenue, in 1932. And a couple of years later he was making headlines with the purchase of the famed Jonker Diamond, the 726-carat rough diamond was discovered in South Africa and named after the miner who found it. Winston brought the rough diamond back to New York and promptly sent it out on a press tour around the country. While on tour the uncut diamond was photographed with stars of the silver screen, Shirley Temple and Claudette Colbert. After its press tour the Jonker was finally cut, yielding 12 gems, with the largest weighing 125.35-carats.

That was the start of Winston and his connection to some of the most important diamonds in the world. Harry Winston has also been the guardian of the Vargas Diamond, Winston Diamond, Star of Independence, The Washington and perhaps most famously, the Hope Diamond.

Court of Jewels

Harry Winston and diamonds were so inextricably intertwined that in 1947 Cosmopolitan Magazine, dubbed him the “King of Diamonds”, a title that stayed with him for the rest of his life. Winston loved sharing his passion for jewels with other people and wanted to make sure that the public was informed about gemstones. He also had a passion for philanthropy, so in 1949 he created another headlining event: “The Court of Jewels” a traveling exhibition of spectacular gemstones and jewelry. The exhibition toured several cities and in each destination  money was raised for local charities. He later donated The Hope Diamond and some of the other items from “The Court of Jewels” to the Smithsonian Institution. In fact, he mailed The Hope Diamond to the museum through the United States Postal Service.

The Harry Winston Cluster

Classic cluster diamond and platinum earrings by Harry Winston, circa 1969, courtesy J&SS DeYoung.

Harry Winston is known for the use of exceptional diamonds and gemstones in its jewelry. Winston always let the stone dictate the design rather than the setting being the main focus. With that in mind, the cluster design is one of his most renowned creations and the idea came from a rather unusual source: A holly wreath.

Winston arrived home in Scarsdale one winter night and glanced at the wreath on his front door that was sparkling with snow and frost. The next day Winston went to his head designer, Nevodon Koumrouyan and together they created the now iconic “cluster” design. The Cluster which features diamonds in round, pear and marquise shapes all in one piece is designed so that the gems are angled and in perfect proportion to each other creating spectacular sparkle. The diamonds are always set in platinum so that the setting is barely visible instead emphasizing the gems so they appear to be floating. It’s a look that is closely associated with the firm.

Hollywood has come knocking on Harry Winston’s doors many times. Its sparklers have been worn in a number of films including the Alfred Hitchcock movie “Notorious”, “The Graduate” and  “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days”.  And who could forget Marilyn Monroe in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes”  purring the famous line – “talk to me Harry Winston” — as she sang “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend”.  Winston also started the trend of loaning jewels to stars walking the red carpet for various award shows, which earned him a second nickname: Jeweler to the Stars.

Harry Winston passed away in 1978. His son, Ronald Winston took over daily operations of the business until he retired in 2014. The company was sold to Aber Diamond Mine, which later sold the company to Swatch. But Winston’s legacy of “rare jewels of the world” continues to today as a new generation of clients discover the magic of his jewelry.

Authored by Amber Michelle