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Kings Mountain, North Carolina, United States
"A mind lively and at ease" is a blog by a first-generation Russian-Ukrainian immigrant Maria K. (Maria Igorevna Kuroshchepova). An engineer by education, an analyst by trade, as well as a writer, photographer, artist and amateur model, Maria brings her talent for weaving an engaging narrative to stories of life, fashion and style advice, book and movie reviews, and common-sense and to-the-point essays on politics and economy.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Today I love... inexpensive jewelry

"Let your jewellery be always the best of its kind" - The Etiquette of Dress

It is difficult to disagree with my new favorite source of sartorial wisdom. It is almost as difficult to disagree with a close friend of mine - a true diva with a penchant for diamonds and Italian gold. However, as much as I love jewelry, I just cannot bring myself to spend half of my monthly wages on just one thing - and the one I immediately have to insure and place in a safe somewhere, only to wear at great risk to my safety. So, here it is - I love inexpensive jewelry, be it something I stumble upon at Target or at a discount store like Ross, or a true antique piece I discover on eBay.

That said, I am not advocating walking around like a living Christmas tree covered with the biggest sparkliest baubles I can find. Costume jewelry can still be lovely and worn tastefully. Mind you, it took me a very long time to find my own jewelry style, and I am still learning, however I have finally solidified a core of my jewelry collection that is pretty and versatile to get me through any occasion.

The sets

For a long time I used to favor jewelry sets that included earrings (most frequently studs) and a matching pendant on a thin chain. It took me awhile to realize that most of such pieces did me no favors. I have always preferred my hair long, so when I wore it down, the tiny stud earrings and most of the chain would get lost behind it. And if I wore it up, the studs only emphasized the shortness of my neck. The added muscle I acquired after years of martial arts training was great from the standpoint of strength, but did nothing to transform me from a sparrow to a swan.

After some experimenting I gravitated toward two different types of jewelry sets. The first one is still a necklace-and-earrings combo, however with longer more elaborate earrings and an understanding that - while I love the design - I would rarely wear it as a set, otherwise the overall effect would be too cluttered. This particular set was my husband's gift to me for our first wedding anniversary. He bought it at a delightful little place in Blowing Rock, NC called Mrs. Brumbles Gifts, Dolls and Bears. Knowing Mrs. Brumbles' inventory fairly well, I can say with a fair degree of certainty that the price tag was no more than $40. More often than not, I wear the pieces separately, and even then I have to make sure that the rest of the outfit is understated.

The second type of set I wear a lot consists of matching bracelet and earrings. It can be easily worn as a set, because the pieces are removed from each other and, thus, do not create that obviously matchy-match look. These abalone earrings and bracelet are definitely my favorites because of the array of gorgeous shades of blue. The shape and the length of the earrings are perfect for me - not too big to swamp me, but still long and dangly enough to not get lost behind my long hair. I bought the set at a small shot in Chimney Rock, NC for $15.

These bracelets weren't sold as a set, but I wear them as such. I bought them at the Biltmore Estate gift shop for something like $15 total. As I wear a lot of different shades of red and brown, these go with almost all of my outfit. Each bracelet is different than its brothers, but they are the same size and width and pick up each other's colors. In addition to being versatile accessories, they also help draw attention away from my large upper arm and to my slender wrist. Perfect!

These two pieces weren't a set either and came from completely different sources. The necklace was one of my few self-indulgences purchased with Bank of America reward points (when that employee reward program still existed). The hair clip was bought separately at a local pharmacy, because I had an event coming up and wanted to wear the necklace and it occurred to me that the clip would go well with it. I wore the whole shebang with a vintage evening gown and the overall effect was good.

Blast from the past

I was able to bring only a handful of pieces from Ukraine with me because of the export restrictions. It doesn't matter if something belonged to your mother or grandmother - it may still be considered a state historic property and you'll be forced to leave it behind. My favorite part about all my family jewelry is that each piece has some history behind it. This ring, for instance, belonged to my great-grandmother, who was a lady-in-waiting to the last Russian Empress Alexandra. The ring itself is very heavy old silver, and the inlay - painted enamel. It is fairly large so I wear it as a statement piece and work the rest of the outfit around it.

The ring shown with the earrings here belonged to my mother. Shortly after she and dad were married, mom was mugged and her original wedding ring was one of the things the muggers took away. So, my dad had this beautiful red gold filigree ring made for her and gave it to her on their first wedding anniversary. When mom died, the ring passed to me. It was the ring I chose for the wedding ceremony when Gerry and I were married. As mom herself was very anti-mixing metals (that is, no wearing silver with gold, unless one of the pieces combines the two metals tastefully), I wear it as my wedding ring with gold jewelry.

This last bit is my own contribution to the family jewelry box. When I was fifteen, our entire family had a spontaneous get-together at my dad's parents' apartment. As it was very last-minute, grandmother had no time to bake something, and bought a cake from a nearby store instead. Once it was time for dessert and I dug into my slice, I felt something crunchy and pulled out a gold earring. Now, please don't be too horrified by this - we don't have FDA in Ukraine, so this sort of thing is not uncommon. I am just glad it was an earring and not something worse. My maternal grandmother then took the earring to a jeweler and had him use the metal to make this ring for my sixteenth birthday. It is another one of those pieces I have to work with carefully to appear looking "cluttered".

The big guns

Being a small woman I generally tend to avoid overly flamboyant jewelry. However, I do own a few gaudy sparklers for those time when my spirit rebels against all things proper. None of these pieces cost more than $15, which is a small prices to pay for a bit of fun. The blue earrings were purchased on a whim two years ago at a local Wal Mart. I think we were going to a St. Patrick's Day party with my in-laws, and I didn't have anything green on. These had a little bit of green tinge to them, they went well with what I had on, and were inexpensive. I wear them quite frequently but cautiously, because they are so elaborate.

The gold leaf earrings came from a nature store at the Marketplace mall in Rochester, NY as a self Christmas present (and before you ask those are gold-plated maple leaves and not what you are thinking).

I am a big fan of the starburst shape, so I bought this brooch at a local pharmacy a couple of years ago. It started off as a combination hair ornament/brooch - there used to be a rubber band attached to the back, but proved to be too painful to wear as a hair ornament, so it was permanently relegated to being a brooch. I wear it a lot as a coat or jacket pin, because it's so big.

The two cocktail rings came from the Biltmore Estate gift shop - again gift to self for good behavior. As this doesn't happen often (good behavior that is) it was something worth celebrating for once.

Casual fun

This is a little trick I picked up while in Paris. Parisians frequently dress quite casually (although they never wear anything sloppy, ill-fitting or untidy), but make one piece of the outfit just a tad more formal than the rest. Among men, this usually applies to their shoes - it is not uncommon to see wingtips with jeans, which almost shouldn't work, but it does. Women appear to enjoy wearing casual outfits with almost-formal jewelry. It is not that they walk around decked out in diamonds - usually the piece is subdued and works with the outfit.

Here are the pieces I wear in a similar fashion - they are just a touch above the rest of the outfit in terms of formality. These earrings were purchased very recently with a Target gift card I received for Christmas, and I have already worn them at least twice. I have a feeling they are going to be my favorites for quite some time.

This pair came as a free gift with a purchase from Victoria's Secret of all the places. I rarely shop there anymore, but do love the earrings and wear them often. No matter what I wear them with - be it a smart cocktail dress or a jeans-with-something outfit - I always receive compliments.

This necklace is another Target purchase, but from quite some time ago - at least seven years. It initially came with a pair of earrings, but one of the earrings got lost. So, now I wear it casually, when I want a fun piece to liven up the gray-and-black color scheme I love so much.

I am a big admirer of Art Nouveau (was actually very fortunate to catch an Art Nouveau Revival exhibit at Musee d'Orsay in Paris in November). So natural shapes are very big with me. I do not know what I shall do when I finally wear these two pins to death, because I just cannot get enough of them. The silver-and-pearls pin came free with a sweater. The sweater had shrunk and I gave it away, but the pin stayed. The one with blue topaz was on sale at JC Penney's back in Rochester, NY fifteen years ago and was the first piece of jewelry I had ever purchased for myself. My favorite way to wear them is on a sweater or jacket to pep up a pair of jeans or khakis.

My favorite Christmas present this year

As I mentioned, I wear my mother's wedding ring with gold jewelry. Until recently, my option to go with silver jewelry was a silver puzzle ring Gerry gave me as an engagement ring. While it was quite lovely, fun and fit my personality, I was always terrified to take it off and put it down somewhere: if it was accidentally knocked down, I could never remember how to assemble it back together. So, this year, Gerry presented me with this beautiful replacement during our New Year's gift exchange.

Those who are in favor of real diamonds will probably scoff at it, but I think it's beautiful. I love the filigree marcasite detail, and the way the ring looks on my hand. That latter part is no mean feat, considering I have very small hands with fairly short fingers. Besides, had we waited til we could afford a diamond ring this size, I may not have gotten it until our silver anniversary. As it is, I can wear it and enjoy it now, without a care as to how much it cost or what it is made of.

Images courtesy Maria K.

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