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Personalized Jewellery: Up close & personal

Posted July 15, 2021 | By Arabella Roden • Editor / Jeweller Magazine

ARABELLA RODEN explores the deep and varied history of personalized jewellery, from birthstones to signet rings and beyond.

Central to the wearing of jewellery is the element of personalization: the ability of precious gemstones and metal adornments to signify the unique attributes of the wearer. Before recorded history, humans wore jewellery to express elements of their identity, from cultural affiliation to social status, occupation, and interpersonal bonds.

Today, jewellery serves the same purpose – and perhaps nowhere is this more apparent than in the personalized jewellery category. Current personalized jewellery trends – from birthstone and zodiac jewellery to initial pendants and signet rings – have deep historical roots, yet remain relevant to consumers by appealing to the innate desire to express oneself.

Birthstones and Zodiac Jewelry

Some scholars trace birthstone jewellery – like astrology – back to ancient Hindu traditions, which associated gemstones with nine ‘celestial forces’.

Above: Jessie V E

In Western culture, the 1st Century historian Josephus is often credited with connecting the 12 zodiac signs – Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius, and Pisces – with the 12 gemstones said to have been embedded in Aaron’s breastplate in the Bible.

However, the trend of wearing gemstones correlated with one’s own birth month likely dates to 16th Century Europe.

By the Victorian era, from 1837–1901, birthstones were “considered the favorite stone of choice” for engagements, writes gemologist C. Jeanenne Bell in Collecting Victorian Jewelry – and remained so, until they were superseded by diamonds in the mid-20th Century.

However, there was no consensus on the ‘official’ list of birthstones until 1912, when the US-based National Association of Jewelers formalized American birthstones for commercial and promotional purposes.

This list was modified in 1952 by the Jewelry Industry Council of America, with several stones added.

Further updates occurred in 2002 and 2016 as new gemstones became widely available and in demand with consumers.

Zodiac jewellery first rose to mainstream popularity in the 1930s and again in the ’70s – the so-called ‘Age of Aquarius’, when the trend was embraced by Parisian jewellery houses – according to jewellery historian Marion Fasel.

Recently, the trend has become popular once again – in particular, pendants engraved or gem-set with Western zodiac symbols and/or their corresponding constellations. Searches for the term ‘zodiac necklace’ steadily increased over the past four years, both in Australia and worldwide, according to Google Trends data.

“Zodiac jewellery peaked in popularity during the 1930s, the 1970s and today: all eras of great uncertainty,” Fasel recently told fashion magazine Porter.

“People look to the stars and want their jewelry to act as a talisman during difficult, uncertain times.”

Celebrity endorsement has also played a role; models Gigi Hadid and Kendall Jenner are among the stars who have worn the trend, donning zodiac pendants crafted by US designer Mercii.

Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, frequently wears Taurus and Virgo zodiac pendants – the star signs of her son Archie and husband Prince Harry – created by Canadian jewellery brand Suetables.

Indeed, Markle has a well-documented love of personalized jewellery of all kinds; her custom-made Lorraine Schwartz eternity ring is set with a hidden peridot, sapphire, and emerald – the birthstones of herself, her husband, and son – and she has also donned Ecksand stacking rings with her family’s birthstones.

Additionally, Markle has given royal approval to another trend: the initial pendant.

L to R: W. Rosado; Simone Rocha; Meghan, Duchess of Sussex; Gwyneth Paltrow; Cara Delevingne. Top: Shay Fine Jewelry
Above: Monica Vinader; Karen Walker

Modern Personalization

Recent years have seen the rise of what consultancy firm Deloitte terms “mass personalization”.

In the 11th edition of its Consumer Review report, Made To Order: The Rise of Mass Personalization, Deloitte analysts write, “Empowered by social networks and their digital devices, consumers are increasingly dictating what they want, when and where they want it. “As society becomes more affluent, the demand for personalized products and services will continue to increase as manufacturers seek to satisfy consumers.”

Deloitte research indicated that in some categories, more than 50 per cent of consumers expressed interest in purchasing personalized products or services, with a majority willing to pay more – “particularly in the more expensive or fashion-related categories

In jewellery, birthstones, initials, and zodiac symbols immediately give pieces a deeply personal quality to which consumers respond; there is a through-line between the simple initial necklace or birthstone ring back to the traditions of the past.

At the same time, jewellers can offer an affordable personalization service by adding custom elements inspired by these trends, such as engraving a zodiac symbol or embedding a tiny birthstone.

Beyond beauty, personalized jewellery affirms identity; and with consumers ever more drawn to the personal, custom, and unique, as well as open self-expression, personalized jewellery neatly dovetails with both modern tastes and ancient history.

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