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THE JEWELRY ISSUE

Inspired by Mother Earth

The glitz and glamour have been toned down. Designers are opting for pieces that take a cue from nature.

May 03, 2009|Melissa Magsaysay

The jewelry getting the most attention this spring leaves the flashy carats behind and seems to draw its inspiration from the mineral samples in a science museum gift shop. Agate, malachite, moonlight crystal, quartz and shimmering drusies are set in gold, wrapped in wire, strung as pendants or faceted as cocktail rings in ways that showcase the best of what nature has to offer.

"Authentic more natural stones are the 'new bling,' " says Julie Gilhart, senior vice president and fashion director of Barneys New York. "There is a handmade craft and artisanal feel to them, which feels fresh and new."

Pieces that feel special but without over-the-top glitz make sense right now, says L.A.-based jewelry designer Devon Leigh. "People are reaching back to the earth and to things that happen naturally," she explains. "There are a lot of negative things happening in the world, and ideas found in nature are balancing and comforting." Leigh uses geodes -- plain on the outside, glittery crystal on the inside -- in her work, slicing them for one-of-a-kind earrings and necklace pendants.

Yves Saint Laurent's spring collection of rings and necklaces has a similar handcrafted aesthetic, incorporating stones such as turquoise and agate. The stones that sit on top of the "Arty" cocktail rings are encased in what looks like molded gold, formed and set in a rough but sophisticated way. The swerving lines of the setting and varying surface textures add to the organic appeal.

"I love the way designers are mixing metals with these stones," says Leigh. "It's not over-the-top hippie. It's edgy and feminine."

Erickson Beamon tempers the hippie vibe by using extra-large stones and setting them at random angles, making a multi-strand necklace look like an eclectic statement piece. Jessica Kagan Cushman strings dozens of different stones over four tiers to make an eye-catching conversation starter of a necklace. And Etro clearly showcases each stone, faceted on a gold arm cuff to reveal varying grains and gradations of color.

Some designers love the juxtaposition of earthy and shiny elements. "I have always been drawn to the organic and more unusual stones," says Venice-based jewelry designer Irene Neuwirth. "Most recently it's been boulder opals, which I set with diamond pave. No two are ever the same, and the contrast of the earthy stone and diamond pave is really beautiful to me."

The large, vividly colored stones make the accessories they're attached to statement pieces. And because the prices of quartz and geodes are so much lower than those of precious gems, designers can take creative liberties with the stones and sell pieces at reasonable prices (unless they add diamonds, of course).

The bohemian feel of this jewelry lends a relaxed and romantic vibe to any ensemble. Play up the art nouveau elements by pairing pieces with something soft, pale and flowing. Or use them to soften an outfit that's crisp and stark. The look is distinctive -- and decidedly down to Earth.

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melissa.magsaysay@latimes.com

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