Fine Jewelry

How to find the perfect shade of gold, whatever your skin tone

Golden touches: Leonie Hanne; Ellie Delphine; Bettina Looney

Coveted since time immemorial, gold has a unique ability to brighten and illuminate all skin tones. CHARLIE BOYD discovers why this precious metal is enjoying a universal revival, and speaks to the fine jewelry designers crafting the golden heirlooms of tomorrow

As a naturally occurring element, gold has existed for as long as we have – in fact, 40 percent of the world’s gold is thought to be three billion years old. Its chemical symbol in the Periodic Table is ‘Au’, from the Latin word ‘aurum’, meaning ‘shining dawn’ or ‘glow of sunrise’, and it was first found as nuggets or sparkling flakes in the beds of streams and rivers. By 2,000 BC, Egyptians had begun mining gold, and the death mask of Tutankhamun, who died in 1323 BC, reportedly contained around 10kg of yellow gold. “As an admirer of ancient artefacts and history, I’ve always been attracted to gold,” says Benedetta Dubini, who transforms authentic, ancient coins into striking gold jewels with a mirror-like finish. “Jewelry and other decorative objects were often crafted with this venerated material – its longevity, inability to tarnish and warm hue have always attracted people to choose it over other metals,” she explains.

In the past few years, yellow gold has unequivocally replaced white gold and platinum as the most in-demand metal tone. Throughout the pandemic, the price of gold has gone from strength to strength – remarkable proof of its intrinsic value. “In recent years, we have seen tremendous growth in demand for our gold products, specifically yellow gold,” says David Yurman, CEO and founder of his eponymous fine jewelry maison, renowned for its gold cable bangles and gleaming chains. “Our creations are designed to be timeless in style and not rooted in trends, so we’ve attracted customers who become collectors and who purchase our pieces as heirlooms to be passed down to their children. Yellow gold is an enduring metal that keeps its value for generations,” he explains.

While undoubtedly a solid investment, there are myriad zeitgeist influences on why yellow-gold jewelry is booming – and not just because Meghan, Duchess of Sussex chose a yellow-gold engagement ring. “I think it has to do with clients’ appetite for color right now,” muses jewelry designer Brent Neale, who incorporates kaleidoscopic gemstones into her whimsical designs. “In my opinion, yellow gold is much more complementary to more colors than white gold or rose gold,” she explains. The proliferation of rainbow stones over the past few years has also been accompanied by an overwhelming trend for bold enameled jewels, such as Foundrae’s talismanic treasures. “It was my love of enamel that led me to commit to 18-karat yellow gold, as champlevé enamel won’t fuse with white or rose gold,” explains founder Beth Bugdaycay. “Some designers see the gold as just a vehicle for them to set stones in, but, to me, the gold itself is the star,” she says.

Yellow gold actually looks good on all skin tones. If you’re pale, it can really help to brighten you up, and nothing is sexier than yellow gold in the summer with a tan

The wider trend for athleisure and streetwear since the start of the pandemic has also played its part in the proliferation of yellow gold. “I think it’s in keeping with the popularity of other segments of culture that are associated with gold jewelry,” says Jameel Mohammed, founder of Khiry Fine, who sculpts minimalist jewels with a flawless, reflective finish. “Hip-hop is the most popular music form and gold jewelry has always been strongly associated with hip-hop culture and Black culture at large – it’s a concurrent renaissance,” he explains.

The added bonus of this seismic move towards yellow gold is that the metal is now undergoing the sustainability sea change that diamonds experienced in the early 2000s. Designers are ensuring that their gold is as fully traceable and as eco-friendly as possible, targeting younger generations of fine jewelry customers. “From a sustainability standpoint, gold can be recycled with no degradation in quality and it’s not a terribly difficult process to do,” explains Octavia Zamagias, founder of Octavia Elizabeth, who started her career as a traditional bench jeweler and uses 18-karat yellow gold for its purity and vivid vibrancy. “Recycling platinum, on the other hand, is a difficult process, which means that most designers won’t venture to use recycled platinum in the way that many sustainable designers aim to do with their gold,” she says.

Despite all these advancements, when it comes to choosing the perfect piece of gold jewelry, you may still be faced with an age-old question: “Are you a white-gold or a yellow-gold person?” Thankfully, this outdated dichotomy has largely dissolved. Now, designers are looking more holistically at the nuances of our skin tones and our broader personal style before prescribing a particular metal tone. “We find that clients who have lighter skin with a pink undertone often request rose gold, as it actually reads yellow against their skin tone,” says Baylee Zwart, founder of LA-based brand Azlee, who mixes her own bespoke gold-alloy blend to achieve a warm 18-karat gold hue. “When worn on darker skin tones, however, rose gold can read very pink, so we tend to recommend yellow gold unless the client really wants that pinkish look,” she adds. “I think that it’s very situational and your undertone contributes to this more than the lightness or darkness of skin,” agrees Mohammed. “I’ve seen both yellow- and white-toned gold be particularly striking on people of all skin shades, in relation to the warmth or coolness of their undertone.”

Golden girls: Marie-Pierra Kakoma and Niki Wu Jie

One thing that all these designers seem to agree on, however, is the versatility and universal appeal of yellow gold. “Yellow gold actually looks good on all skin tones. If you’re pale, it can really help to brighten you up, and nothing is sexier than yellow gold in the summer with a tan,” says Zamagias. It can also be helpful to consider the general color palette of your ready-to-wear wardrobe, too. “If clients gravitate towards lighter-colored clothing, white gold can get lost when worn, so I’d recommend yellow or rose gold. But, if they tend to wear darker clothes, I feel like any color of gold works well,” says Zwart.

For those reluctant to choose between shades of gold, mixed metal tones remain an eclectic choice. “I mix my metal tones every day and I really enjoy how the different tones complement and contrast,” explains Carolina Bucci, whose contemporary ‘K.I.S.S.’ bangles are available in 18-karat yellow, white, rose and blackened gold. But above all else, designers are keen to stress the importance of gut feeling and experimental freedom over any pre-prescribed rules. “I don’t think there should be rules of thumb for what color gold clients wear – I think it should come down to what they love the most and gravitate towards,” says Zwart. “I wouldn’t think of it as something to strategize,” agrees Mohammed. “Ultimately, your jewelry is really personal and should reflect the story of your life, your interest in fashion and the way that you want to see yourself in the world; sometimes, the most unexpected combinations are what set trends.”


The people pictured in this story are not associated with NET-A-PORTER and do not endorse it or the products shown