The occasions on which one gave jewellery were once clear-cut, laid out by Debrett’s and cemented by generations of staid upper-class Christian British traditions. Something to mark the rites of passage, what-what! Silver spoons at the christening, a leather-bound prayer book and a gold cross on Confirmation, pearls at 16, a locket at 18, gemstone bracelet at 21 – if you were lucky.
It used to be that the first hint of proper sparkle came, for most, with an engagement – though you were by no means guaranteed a hit: the jeweller Solange Azagury-Partridge says, "I have clients with a really good collection of jewellery they’ve bought themselves, and one ugly engagement ring their husband chose". But the old landmarks that called for jewellery have been rendered useless by a modern world where, for a start, half of us will never get hitched. Even if we do, the really good stuff doesn’t even kick in until you’ve been married 40 years, with a ruby wedding anniversary. These old traditions are not fit for purpose. Jewellery should light up your life, introduce a bit of escapism and sparkle into the day, and it should tell your story.
"These old traditions are not fit for purpose. Jewellery should light up your life, introduce a bit of escapism and sparkle into the day, and it should tell your story"
Here are Omnēque’s modern life moments when a precious gift is an absolute must.
An excellent place to start is with a graduation reward. Women make up 40 per cent of university students in the UK – and, we might add, are statistically likelier to get a First. You’ve put in the hours, slaved to get the grades, and lived on lentils with 10 students in a one-bathroom dump. For the rest of your life you’ll have a recurring nightmare where you’re sitting an exam and the questions are written in hieroglyphics. What you need now is a classy pendant, or similar, to wear to job interviews. A young friend who was broke after three years at Manchester told friends and family not to mark her 21st ("What’s the big deal with 21 anyway?"), but to chip in towards an Edwardian locket for her 2:1.
In similar vein, there’s an into-orbit moment in your working life when something stellar happens. It may be a promotion, a bonus, a raise, tenure, a book deal or first meaningful success of any size. Mark the triumph with a statement piece, something talismanic you can caress when your luck feels less fluent. Something that whispers "sweet stone of success".
"Mark the triumph with a statement piece, something talismanic you can caress when your luck feels less fluent. Something that whispers ‘sweet stone of success’"
In 2008, after I sold a film option on my time editing the Erotic Review to the actor Rachel Weisz, I spent some of the cash on a 1940s Miriam Haskell choker. Not only do I love Haskell’s costume pieces (she was the high priestess of fake pearls), they’re very collectible. The same necklace would cost double now – some consolation for the fact the film never got made.
We aren’t talking that patronising gesture where a man buys a woman a "pushing present" (surely one of the most revolting phrases in the modern world) for bearing "his" child. Instead, this is a Great Big celebratory present to yourself. After having created a human being and laid down your undercarriage for their grand entrance, you definitely deserve something far cooler than a ring. This is the time for a gold cuff, a glamorous amulet to accompany you through the highs and lows of parenting.
Heartbreak is unavoidable in this life. We will all lose people we’ve loved through split-ups, distance or death. There’s no cure, but the grieving process can be sped along with something shiny. The Victorians knew a thing or two about this and popularised the concept of "mourning" rings and brooches.
"Heartbreak is unavoidable in this life"
My fingers are covered with memento mori for those I’ve loved and lost: an eternity ring for my uncle’s husband who died of AIDS in the 1990s, a sapphire for my mother-in-law who worked at Bletchley Park in World War II, and a platinum band for my beloved mum.
"There’s no cure, but the grieving process can be sped along with something shiny"
Consolation needn’t be sombre: a close friend commissioned a divorce ring after her husband decamped. With great glee, she had her engagement ring and eternity rings remodelled into a much funkier "liberation" ring with the motto "D-I-V-O-R-C-E 2015" engraved on the inner circle.
Friendship and Frivolity
It’s strange how often women associate jewellery with a gift from a man, when for many of us, straight or gay, the longest-lasting loves of our lives will be our female best friends. When I see one of three ultra-close friends there’s a surge of joy and anarchy unmatched by other bonds. And there comes a moment in any devoted relationship when you want to celebrate the joy and all your sweet memories. There used to be a vogue for matching tattoos, but how much classier to go out with your bosom chum and get matching gems? I bought four matching paste brooches, like school crests with the word "Love" on them, and distributed them to my coven.
"I bought four matching paste brooches, like school crests with the word ‘Love’ on them, and distributed them to my coven"
Another woman I know went to a jeweller with her best friend and shared the purchase of some gorgeous emerald earrings. Now she wears one, the pal wears the other.
Bloody Hot Bling
Finally, at the age of 52, let me put in a plea for some major mid-life meno-bling. It’s daunting when you hit your half-century, ditto when you have your first hot flush. There’s an even larger mental adjustment as you wave goodbye to fertility and a distinguishable waistline. No wonder many doctors misdiagnose the symptoms as depression. You’ll never be so urgently in need of a full-on, glitzy treat. Also, at this time of life, women start to seriously grow into their jewellery. A tonne of precious metal and beautiful rocks is like carrying your own personal lighting rig everywhere with you. Take a tip from grandmother Jan de Villeneuve (in the image above), become the Burton to your own Taylor, and light up the second act of your life. Doesn’t matter what you did with your life, you deserve it. I’m tilting for some Christian Dior 1950s drop earrings with a hint of Cleopatra in their swagger. To hell with growing old gracefully. Razzle-dazzle all the way.
"To hell with growing old gracefully. Razzle-dazzle all the way"
PHOTOGRAPHY CREDITS: Jan de Villeneuve by Roberto Aguilar