'Tis the season to be "jewelly," the time of year for parties when beautiful baubles surface for inspection by beautiful people, often in the plush environments of hotel suites or private homes. The guests, presumably, go home and make out wish lists for Father Christmas.
In a recent round of these parties it became apparent that there is an etiquette for such events. You can talk about the people who wear exquisite jewelry, the people who make exquisite jewelry and the exquisite jewelry you hope was made for you. But you cannot talk about money--not until the party's over.
"I'd talk to Santa about it," Virginia Kazanjian, wife of the Beverly Hills jeweler, told a Chanel-clad woman looking wistfully at a spectacular necklace of precious stones. They were at the Bel-Air home of Madelyn Fio Rito and her husband Gerald Jones, where the gems of the Kazanjians and Italian jewelry designer Marchesa Luisa di Gresy were on view.
But there was no way of knowing if Santa could afford the dazzling trinket, because as Kazanjian explained: "This is just a fun party. We would rather not discuss price."
So far this season, in addition to the Bel-Air party, there has been an opening-night gala at the new Tallarico shop in Beverly Hills, a small soiree at the Westwood Marquis Hotel for the Mauboussin jewel collection shown by Parisians Laurence and Alain Mauboussin and an invitational showing of the Andrew Grima collection at Laykin et Cie in I. Magnin, Beverly Hills.
"The real thing is in," noted Fio Rito, who with business partner Virginia Rogers represents the marchesa's collection in America. "People want to wear real jewelry but not terribly expensive jewels."
With the marchesa's pieces, priced from $650 for a pair of earrings to $6,500 for a carved emerald necklace, Fio Rito believes "women can buy something for themselves without saying, 'I'll have to ask my husband.' "
While some experts suggest a woman's first important piece of jewelry should be a ring, Fio Rito disagrees.
"One ring is not that effective. People are looking at your face, not watching your hands all the time. I would start with a necklace and a pair of earrings. Then bracelets, if you can afford them. But I don't believe in wearing too much jewelry. A lovely pair of earrings, a necklace and a ring--that's enough. Too many dangling things are so overwhelming they take away from a women's beauty."
Money might be discussed only at the proper moment during the jewel season, but one detail everyone talks about anytime is something called "difference." The Marchesa Di Gresy, for example, is purportedly different because she uses real gems--primarily semiprecious stones and some carved antique precious stones--for high-fashion jewelry.
Kazanjian is different because his collection is one of the most beautiful in the world, says his clientele, which includes El Paso's Francine Weaver and L.A.'s Valerie Foster Rigby, who spent much of the evening taking a 34-carat emerald ring on a trial run.
Andrew Grima Ltd., the London firm that prides itself on creating special-occasion jewelry for the Royal Family, also "prides itself on craftsmanship," company chairman James Lepp explained.
Known for bold, asymmetrical designs with a "spiky, stalactite look," the company is the brainchild of Andrew Grima, a former engineer. Founded in 1960, it claims a following that includes Jackie Onassis, Princess Diana, Queen Elizabeth II and Princess Anne, who appeared recently on the front page of London's Times newspaper sporting the special Grima brooch presented to her by the royal signal corps.
Grima works according to some special rules. "Every design has to have a particular theme," Lepp notes, adding that "we work to the dictates of individual stones and take inspiration from the events of the day."
The collection, briefly on view in Beverly Hills before leaving for Japan, included gold-and-diamond earrings and a necklace catalogued as "Halley's Comet." The comet earrings, priced at $1,800, turned out to be the least expensive of the 150 items on view. The most expensive was a $127,000 sapphire and peridot bracelet.
The Japanese tend to buy opals, Lepp has discovered in his business travels, while "the Americans like diamonds and big heavy stones like peridot and sapphires."
Lepp finds a few additional trends: Women are buying jewelry for themselves these days. Rings account for the highest percentage of purchases, followed by chains and collars.
Working with fragile materials such as handmade gold wire has earned the company what Lepp calls the Oscar of the jewelry industry. To date, Grima has earned 11 International De Beers awards.
Instead of going directly into the family jewelry business (founded in 1827), Alain Mauboussin went to work marketing soap and toothpaste for Colgate.
"I didn't want my first boss to be my father," Mauboussin said at the private showing in the Westwood Marquis.
The Mauboussin "difference" turns out to be his firm's particular combined usage of precious stones with mother of pearl.
"We were the first," Mauboussin asserted. "There were always diamonds and sapphires. We wanted to mix them with another material, but we didn't want anything like steel. We wanted a material that was noble, alive."
Mauboussin's prediction for one of the newest and most wearable pieces of jewelry is the brooch.
"It will be very in fashion over the next 10 years. There is already a lot of demand in Paris because women are finished looking like boys. They are wearing dressier clothes."