It looks as if the days of glass and glitz are numbered. Costume jewelry, if nothing else in fashion, is entering a golden age. Midas minus the gemstones.
One leader of the look is Issac Manevitz of Ben-Amun, who often is called upon to accessorize Calvin Klein's "Mr. Clean" fashion collections, because his jewelry designs are so assertively simple.
Manevitz has been using gold plate, faux ivory and ceramics, but not gemstones, to make earrings, necklaces, bracelets and pins that he describes as "a collection of oversize circles, triangles, rectangles and ovals." This spring he is introducing a line of 14-karat gold designs as well.
Manevitz makes all of his jewelry as sculptures first, inspired by his idol, Henry Moore. He says he thinks of jewelry against clothing as if it were sculpture against the walls of an art gallery.
"I'd like to see women wear just one piece of jewelry at a time, powerful enough to make one strong, clear statement," he says. "The worst mistake a woman makes with jewelry is overcrowding."
Like Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel, Manevitz is showing chain necklaces and bracelets in his new collection. But his way with links is not Lagerfeld's.
"Mine are bold, clean chain links at choker length," he points out. "Chanel's are longer, finer chains mixed with pearls and jewels."
He says small-scale women wear his bold-scale jewelry too "because small jewelry doesn't give the same feeling of excitement that oversize jewelry gives."
If a woman were to buy one piece of jewelry this season, Manevitz says he would recommend a pin. He likes to see them worn in a place where they "caress the shoulder."
The Ben-Amun collections of gold jewelry and of costume jewelry are at Neiman-Marcus.
Ruth Benoit named her jewelry collection Kam Sin after her given, Chinese name. (Her mother is Chinese.) If she uses stones, they are carved jade or amber from ancient dynasties, and she mixes them with bold 24-karat gold.
In her native culture, Benoit points out, jewelry is more than an accessory.
"Every Oriental owns at least one piece of jade because it is considered good luck," she says. "It is typical for a mother to pin jade on her infant's clothes to ward off evil omens. It's common to give jade for wedding and anniversary gifts."
Benoit says the best-quality jade is a pale, translucent shade of green that ages to that condition with the passing of time and the effect of body oils against it.
"The more you wear jade the better it looks," she asserts, adding that serious collectors who buy her jewelry look for her oldest jade pieces, which include some from the Ming Dynasty. These customers are so unimpressed by gemstones that if a setting includes diamonds they don't even ask about the diamonds, she reports. Benoit's jewelry is at Bonwit Teller.
Making jewelry is like landscaping a garden for Helen Stulberg. A landscape architect who started working stone, bone and ancient glass into necklaces and earrings to pass the time when she was recovering from surgery, Stulberg says she thinks in terms of the same problems whether designing jewelry or a garden.
"They both are ways of making nothing into something, using color, proportion and scale," she says.
With materials Stulberg and her partner, Dianne Carr, collect in Tibet, Nepal and China as well as the United States, they craft a collection called Beadazzled, available at Saks Fifth Avenue.