Curated ears and chunky rings: welcome to the new age of jewellery

Mise en Dior earrings


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Curated ears and chunky rings: welcome to the new age of jewellery” was written by Jess Cartner-Morley, for The Guardian on Sunday 19th March 2017 10.01 UTC

Diamonds are no longer a girl’s best friend. Women who once wore double strands of pearls now have multiple ear piercings. Silver and gold go together. Welcome to the new age of jewellery.

Don’t worry. This is not one of those “There are no rules, just be yourself!” articles. We all know those are a lie, right? There are always rules. Fashion is about making it clear that you know them. Nailing this season’s look – be it the right trainers, modern brow arch or correct number of buttons done up on your shirt – says to the world: I know what’s up. You walk into a room and, before you even speak, your message is clear. “Modern life? I’ve got this.”

How exactly is your jewellery to perform this sophisticated feat of visual messaging, you ask? By going alt. Alt – in the sense of a challenge to the traditional, rather than in the sense of Steve Bannon, in no way our icon here – is the modern spin on jewellery.

Alt is everywhere. Getting too close to a gesticulating fashion designer is a risky backstage game these days, now that everyone from Gucci’s Alessandro Michele to Dior’s Maria Grazia Chiuri is sporting clusters of outsize chunky rings across both hands. Look around you in the coffee queue and you’ll notice the dinky appeal of friendship bracelets has been ousted by chunky Apple watches and resin cuffs. Every millennial worth her salt wears a dark, stark choker, while at Chanel’s data centre-themed show, a pendant like an office pass lanyard came encrusted in crystals.

Solo earring at Mary Katrantzou’s London fashion week catwalk
Bold and beautiful … a solo earring at Mary Katrantzou’s London fashion week catwalk. Photograph: Giannoni/WWD/Rex/Shutterstock

The sea change in jewellery goes beyond the catwalk. Cos has extended its chic-architect aesthetic into slender metalwork pieces, while Uterqüe is the fashion insider’s secret pre-fashion week splurge for statement pieces without the Marni prices. At Astley Clarke, new creative director Dominic Jones is recalibrating the aesthetic towards something edgier. As an alternative to a locket, for example, there’s a fine chain that drops to a matchstick-sized bar of silver studded with tiny black diamonds. There is little room for sentimentality in alt jewellery. Forget wearing your heart on your sleeve. In 2017, you wear your attitude on bare skin.

Emma Watson's front-to-back earrings at the Golden Globes in 2014
Front-to-back earrings, as worn by Emma Watson at the Golden Globes in 2014. Photograph: Jason Merritt/Getty Images

In the new alt era, the most important pieces in your jewellery box are your earrings. So radical are the new jewellery rules, in fact, that the simplest way to update your earring look is to forget everything you ever knew about wearing them and start over. A modest pair in a size proportionate to the dress code? Wrong on both counts. First, your earrings shouldn’t be a pair. Mismatched trumps a matched set these days. A single shoulder-grazing chandelier packs even more punch when the other lobe has just a stud or an ear crawler. (Alt jewellery glossary #1: an ear crawler is an earring that fixes like a regular stud but heads up rather than down, hugging the curve of your ear.) On Mary Katrantzou’s London fashion week catwalk, a gold earring the length of a pheasant feather swayed under the model’s long hair, while the other ear was bare. (In real life, leaving one ear entirely nude will invite helpful strangers to point out that you’ve lost an earring, so wear a small one in the other ear.) Second, the old notion of saving major jewels for after dark no longer holds. Tiny studs look cool with an LBD and mega resin sculptures with a white T-shirt.

If your earrings aren’t mismatched, they should be front-to-back. (Alt jewellery glossary #2: a front-to-back earring is one in which the spike of a stud anchors not into an invisible butterfly, but into a larger earring that can be seen from behind the lobe.) This trend began with the Mise en Dior earrings, designed by Camille Miceli six years ago and worn by Jennifer Lawrence, Emma Watson and Rihanna during the Raf Simons years at Dior. At Simone Rocha’s show in Southwark Cathedral last September, she combined the alt trends of outsize earrings (the size of snooker balls) with mismatching (contrasting bright colours) and front-to-back. There’s alt, and there’s haute alt.

But better doesn’t have to mean bigger. When Maria Tash opened a pop-up piercing studio in Liberty a year ago, it was deluged with fashion insiders desperate for a few of her tiny, avant garde earrings: a little pave hoop on the forward helix (the upper, outer part of the ear) or a dainty rose gold stud on the tragus (the small inner piece of ear that extends over the hollow from your cheek). The fashion A-lister’s take on multiple piercings is a world away from randomised gap year silver hoops. A “curated ear” suggests thoughtfulness and originality. It is not without a touch of bravery, too. Some of these baby piercings hurt. In the new rules of jewellery, who dares wins.

This article appears in the spring/summer 2017 edition of The Fashion, the Guardian and the Observer’s biannual fashion supplement

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