For much of the past decade, women's jewelry has been virtually invisible. Simple silver rings, stud or hoop earrings and slender chain necklaces seemed the way to go, unless you wanted to risk looking (gasp!) like a hippie. No longer. "This season the feeling is very jubilant, which was quite a surprise," says Carmen Borgonovo, editor of W Jewelry, the first consumer magazine for baubles, which will debut in April. The styles now appearing in jewelers' windows and in department stores are bright, glamorous and, in many cases, as outsized as something Zsa Zsa Gabor might wear.
In general, fine jewelry is flourishing even at a time when other segments of the luxury market have stagnated. That success has been driven, in part, by the growing numbers of women who are buying pieces for themselves. Says Elizabeth Florence, executive director of the Jewelry Information Center in New York (www.jic.org), "Female self-purchase has grown like wildfire in the last five years. Women are not shrinking back and waiting for Prince Charming to buy them jewelry."
Whether you're shopping for yourself or someone else, here's a Tip Sheet guide to help you navigate this season's looks:
Colored gems: These were in style even before Ben Affleck presented Jennifer Lopez with that 6.1-carat pink-diamond ring. No one works more creatively with these types of jewels than young, French-born designer James de Givenchy, a nephew of Hubert. His sleek salon, Taffin, just off Madison Avenue, boasts ornate brooches, earrings and necklaces made from the rarest of --colored stones, including pale sapphires, Mandarin garnets and red carnelian--many of which have been plucked from pieces of another era. When choosing jewelry, look for pink (coral, rose quartz, tourmaline) or green (peridot) gems, which will be among the season's most popular.
Chandelier earrings: If you've ever wanted to dress like Nefertiti, now is your chance. Inspired by the jewelry of ancient Egypt, chandelier earrings look best on women with long, elegant necks and pulled-back hair. "They used to be very formal," says Florence, recalling their more recent heydays in the 1930s and the '70s, "but now I've seen people wearing them to work, or on weekends with T shirts and jeans."
Cuff bracelets: These broad, clingy bracelets actually originate from medieval body armor--and, of course, from Wonder Woman cartoons. This spring, they come in every material from leather and silver to woven silk and gold. Says Florence: "Any kind of bold bracelet looks best with bare or partly bare arms. It's definitely girl power at its best."
Cocktail rings: These are, perhaps, the season's most fun fashion accessory, harking back to the days of playing dress-up with your grandma's giant jewelry. In the 1930s, Hollywood actresses like Joan Crawford wore these rings--defined as having a stone that is at least three carats, but usually more like six--to show off their money, beauty and elegant hands. Now, you can, too.