7.Trend and Tradition


The increased production of gold and diamonds, following the discovery of gold in Australia and California in the mid-19th century and of diamonds in South Africa in 1866, has had a decisive effect on the quantity and quality of jewelry made since then. The late-19th century Art Nouveau designs that were an extension of the Arts and Crafts movement, as well as the Art Deco jewelry made after World War I, cannot be separated from the setting of European society and culture. With the 20th century came the widespread use of electricity and the improved ability to use platinum, with its high melting point, as well as the sudden growth of the diamond cutting industry in India in the 1960s and advances in wax casting techniques. These factors have contributed to a huge increase in the supply of available jewelry. Furthermore, modern uses of jewelry are changing significantly due to the changing role of women in society. Fashion trends are created in response to these profound underlying currents of society, and some of these trends become custom. In turn, customs with fundamental appeal take root and remain as tradition.

It is often assumed that gemstones are imbued with tradition simply by their nature, but each individual type of gem has its own trends. Such trends include the drastic oil-or polymer-impregnation treatment of emeralds, since the 1970s; the high-temperature heat treatment of rubies and sapphires; and the trend in diamonds toward extra facets and non-traditional fancy cuts such as star shapes, as well as engraving grading and other information on the girdles of diamonds. Whether or not those trends will remain to become customary practices, and eventually be included in the realm of gemstone tradition, is still open to debate. The increase in supply, made possible by the use of treatments has resulted in diminished consumer confidence and lower prices. Any new convention involving diamonds will be judged on its own merits, based on whether it is merely a convenience for the seller, or if it truly enhances the consumer’s enjoyment of more beautiful jewelry with higher long-term value.

Trends in traditional jewelry are subject to fashion cycles. The diamond business, for example, is subject to periodic changes in preferences for shape, size, and color. There is a saying, “Today’s problem is tomorrow’s bestseller.”  In other words, rough material for diamonds that are currently in a low demand cycle will undergo a drop in price that eventually leads to its becoming perceived as a bargain. In turn, jewelry using these diamonds will become more popular, bringing the price of the rough material up again. Fancy shapes are especially subject to low prices during periods of low popularity, but they can become very expensive when they are in a popular cycle. This is because supplies of the rough material that is best-suited for a particular shape will eventually be exhausted, and material that is normally not suited for that shape will be used to fill demand, despite known cutting inefficiencies. Rumor has it that last year, someone connected to De Beers had a difficult time trying to find a nicely shaped, two-carat-sized oval diamond for a wedding ring. Even under normal market conditions, the number of gem-quality fancy shaped diamonds with a good face-up outline is limited. As more people become knowledgeable about gemstones, and gemstone quality and rarity become more of an issue, the value of gemstones that are beautiful and free of defects will continue to rise.

Stone setting styles also have their own trends, cycles, and innovations, and new traditions evolve from these. Bezel-setting and mill-graining were commonly used techniques for setting stones during the Art Deco era, but modern jewelry employs innovations in stone setting that become daring expressions of design. The Art Deco style was straightforward: Bezels were bezels, and shanks were shanks. Current styles have evolved, however, and gemstones are incorporated into jewelry in a way that maximizes their potential beauty. The Art Deco style, for instance, standardized the width of a ring’s shank to a slightly thin size that was then considered optimal. With the current variations in gemstone sizes and shapes, and the more three-dimensional construction of jewelry, the optimal shank shapes and sizes in modern rings are based on a consideration of overall balance.

Trends in jewelry styles are undeniably influenced by the popular lifestyles of the times. With the development of the mass media, look-alike styles are advertised, especially to the younger generation. These fashions gain popularity at amazing speeds, only to immediately fall out of favor in a repeating cycle. Copies of popular styles flood the market, but no matter how inexpensive, they are just a temporary phenomenon. Only the original pieces that inspire the copies retain any value over the long term. Because gemstones themselves cannot be mass-produced, it is impossible- except in the case of pieces using low-quality round brilliants- to make hundreds of identical pieces of jewelry at once. It is often noted that the theories of marketing cannot be applied to jewelry, for this very reason. Fine jewelry such as the pink coral brooch (Rose de Noel) introduced in Chapter 1 is impossible to produce in large quantities, and there is no way to use conventional marketing methods when promoting them.

People’s lifestyles change as they get older. Something that has fallen out of use over the years can either be passed on to the next generation or remodeled and made into something that is more usable today. You may have jewelry from 30 years ago that still matches your current lifestyle, just as you most likely have pieces whose style has fallen out of vogue. Jewelry pieces that were once similar in value may differ in value over time due to changes in factors such as the value of the component materials or jewelry styles. A piece’s popularity at a given point in time is also one of the primary reasons for fluctuations in price.

The popularity of jewelry also changes in relation to that if other consumer products. The percentage of disposable income that is used to purchase jewelry varies widely by country, region, and time period. Jewelry is one of the oldest consumer products, known to humankind for thousands of years, but there probably has never been a time in history where it has had to compete with as many other attractive products as now. Suppliers of jewelry need to clarify their thoughts about the nature of jewelry,, acquire the necessary skills to create attractive jewelry, fulfill their responsibility to the consumer, and create new trends. Only then can they build solid new traditions.