While we were steadfastly wedded to elastic waistbands during lockdown, we were still wearing fine jewelry. So, it comes as no surprise that, as we emerge from isolation (and what feels like wardrobe groundhog day), many of us will be amping up the jewelry drama. Before, we might have been wearing one or two key pieces. Now, necklace layering has snowballed into an avalanche – cue the #neckmess. Thick tangles of precious jewels are taking Instagram by storm, punctuated by vibrant gemstones, gleaming chains and unique talismans.
For designer Pippa Small, this has long been a modus operandi. Having worn bracelets wrist to elbow since she was a teenager, Small is now renowned for the extraordinary swathe of jewels she wears around her neck every day. “I sleep in my necklaces. They can get tangled, [so] I am like a bird in the morning – I sit and noisily ‘preen’ my necklaces, untangling and straightening them,” she explains. Small’s daily neckmess features amulets and personal charms, such as Myanmar owls (symbols of good luck), Navaratnas (nine different gems, representing nine celestial gods) and specially prescribed gems from her gem doctor in India. Day by day, this thicket of gems gradually burgeons and blooms. Currently, she is decked in abalone and pāua shell, mixed with flashing Madagascan labradorite and gold beads, and layered with blue opals, talismanic gold charms and bells. Small says she selects the pieces for her neckmess depending on her mood, the season and even the light. In summer, she may wear translucent colored gems – airy aquamarines, pink tourmalines and heathery kunzite and morganites; in winter, the stones become more opaque and shift to dark opals and lapis. “It’s rather like being an animal that changes its coat with the season,” she explains.
Why we are now gravitating towards this maximalist sensibility, however, is still up for debate. “I feel it’s a deeply primitive, magical thinking and perhaps because a part of us still believes in the protective qualities of natural treasures, too. The more we have, the safer we feel in such precarious times,” says Small. Of course, summer dressing also brings with it more skin-baring – and opportunities for adornment.
“Lounge- and streetwear are a lot more prevalent [right now], so this casual trend of wearing so much jewelry looks cool instead of overly dressy,” suggests Tania Shayan, co-founder of Shay, an LA-based brand now renowned for its stackable sensibilities. But certain celebrities have long flaunted eclectic neckmess collections, including Gwyneth Paltrow, who is often draped in multiple Foundrae chains and charms – minus the Mr. T vibes.
It seems that the key to successful neckmess styling is learning how to play with chain lengths, textures and tones. “The best advice I can give for building your layers is to trust in whatever you are drawn to. There are no rules,” says designer Jacquie Aiche. “I love to style my diamond layers from light to heavy, so they graduate from top to bottom in size and in the number of diamonds.” The raw beauty and ethereal shades of crystals meld beautifully with varied gold tones, while bolder color stories can be developed using vibrant stones, such as turquoise and emeralds. “I think coming up with a cohesive gemstone palette is key,” says New York designer Jesse Lazowski, founder of Marlo Laz. “Gemstones definitely don’t have to be the same, but complementary tones are chic. I love an orange sapphire or citrine mixed with a pink tourmaline, or an aquamarine with an alexandrite or blue sapphire. Diamonds go with everything, of course,” she quips.
“We find that the key to a good neckmess is confidence,” says Lin Ruiyin, co-founder of State Property, a Singapore-rooted brand favored by Michelle Obama, Nicole Kidman and Lady Gaga. “We suggest starting with a necklace you wear all the time; something you’re very comfortable in,” adds her partner Afzal Imram. While the overall aim here is irreverence and seemingly effortless glamour, your pile-up still needs a savvy strategy. Your base layer can start at your collar bone, or be the longest drop from your neck, but it’s important to layer up each piece one at a time. “You need to wear the necklaces layered at different lengths and try not to overlap them – this way you can see each piece and they won’t tangle,” says Shayan.
It can be helpful to identify a standout piece or significant jewel to form a center point, framed by further strands, too. “Layer something new in every two inches or so. The key is to curate a good assortment of chains, pendants and charm necklaces,” instructs Nicole Carosella, co-founder of Sorellina – a New York-based brand famed for its use of precious stones and tarot card-inspired designs. “If you want a cleaner look, though, make sure all the pieces are connected somehow, either with complimentary colors or the same gold tone,” advises her sister and business partner Kim Carosella.
To avoid feeling encumbered, try not to overcrowd your neck with bulky gemstones or too many major statement pieces – and be careful not to layer too many necklaces of the same type, which can result in a flat composition. “Adding necklaces of varying textures will add dimension and interest to your neckmess,” says Ruiyin. “Many of our pendants come with an adjustable chain so that you can wear it shorter or longer, depending on your stack.”
The true beauty of this trend is that you can style with careless abandon and really not worry too much about the end result. “There are so many ways to tell our stories and express who we are, like layering birthstones, zodiacs, initials and other mementos that define us or symbolize those that we love,” says Lazowski. “I think we are all finding that layers in jewelry can be reflective of our personal layers of life – and there is a power in telling one’s story through jewelry.”