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Lacking sparkle: who said diamonds are a girl's best friend?

Sales of luxury jewellery is soaring, but Larissa Nolan has never felt happy to wear necklaces, rings or bracelets. She asks the experts why the gems that so many adore leave some women cold


Feeling fine: Larissa Nolan tries on some jewellery at CM Weldon in Dublin. Photo: Damien Eagers / INM

Feeling fine: Larissa Nolan tries on some jewellery at CM Weldon in Dublin. Photo: Damien Eagers / INM

Damien Eagers / INM

Feeling fine: Larissa Nolan tries on some jewellery at CM Weldon in Dublin. Photo: Damien Eagers / INM

The most stylish woman of all time, Coco Chanel advised: "Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off."

It's a rule of classic chic; better to keep the accessories to a minimum, rather than over-do it. A choice piece or two is far more effective than drowning in a jangle of jewellery.

But it's advice I take to extremes. Before I leave the house, I look in the mirror - and take it all off.

I cannot bear wearing jewellery. As a lover of fashion, I know it is integral to personal style, a key tool in expressing yourself through what you wear, and a clever way of transforming an outfit into a whole different look. The designer Michael Kors describes it as "an exclamation point to a woman's wardrobe."

I love it as an art form, admire it on other people, and am transfixed by Tiffany & Co. I look longingly online at bracelets and anklets from Danish brand Hultquist, or the rock-inspired earrings by Jenny Huston's company Edge Only. I covet the stunning large-link graphite necklaces from New York designer Alexis Bittar and marvel at the gold-knot chokers from Reiss. Sales of luxury jewellery are soaring, and Irish designers of more affordable pieces, like Chupi, are making a name for themselves on the world stage.

But, as soon as I try to wear jewellery myself, I feel like someone's Great Aunt Queenie, the town mayor, or maybe a birthday girl who got a bit carried away with the dressing-up box.

Earrings, once on me, feel like lead weights and look fusty. Necklaces click and clack around and are an irritant without function. My work-worn hands are more suitable for gloves that conceal instead of rings that draw attention to them. It all feels so… girly, I usually fling it off before I go out the door. Otherwise, over the course of a night, it ends up stuffed down the bottom of my handbag.

After years of no jewellery, it's even weirder to start now. I feel self-conscious, as though this is me putting on my shiny jewels to be all "dressed up". Yet, although I love flats, I don't feel this way about high heels, which are far more outré. I can go from my favourite loafers to spindly patent heels with ease.

Maybe it's because I've always veered more towards an androgynous style. I don't do florals or flounces, and pastels make me puke. Stylists say this isn't a factor, as jewellery is loved by both men and women. Yet Angelina Jolie and Ellen DeGeneres, both jewellery minimalists, are also unisex dressers. The only other woman I know who doesn't wear jewellery at all, is my own mother.

So, what's with my aversion to this centuries-old, universal form of adornment?

Fashion psychologist Professor Carolyn Mair explains that, by its very definition, wearing jewellery attracts attention. "If you prefer not to wear jewellery, you are more likely to want attention through what you say and do, than how you look," says Mair.

"How much we like jewellery depends on many factors, including our culture, need for attention, our confidence and personal style, our personality and socialisation. Wearing jewellery for many people is a status symbol that demonstrates the wearer's worth, if not their taste. It's aesthetically pleasing and satisfies our need for beauty."

Its purpose is to emphasise and enhance - and it plays a big role in dating and mating. "Celebrities like it as it can exaggerate sexiness. For example, a choker draws attention to the neck, and a long neck is considered sexy and beautiful in women. In the same way, a pendant draws attention to a woman's cleavage or a man's chest. Earrings draw attention to earlobes, an erogenous zone." On the flip side, rings signify whether a person is taken, or not. "In every culture, we wear jewellery to explicitly state our availability."

Wearing particular types of jewellery can serve a social need, aligning us with a particular group, defined by their group identity, or "entitativity." Mair explains in her book The Psychology of Fashion: "Being perceived as part of an in-group can mean being perceived as separate from and superior to other groups." Jewellery - like clothes - is an agent of our personality.

On Maslow's hierarchy of needs - a motivation theory in social science - jewellery falls into both the "belonging" and "self-esteem" layers of the model. It's a status symbol, often gifted to us as a sign of love by friends or family, and contributes to making us feel worthy of respect.

The book states socialisation is a key definer in how we dress, from clothes to jewellery: "We are restricted in our dress by social and cultural norms and rules." In my case, my mother's dislike of jewellery was probably a significant part of my style socialisation.

Life changes can alter our relationship with jewellery. Kim Kardashian went from bling to basic after a shocking burglary in Paris in 2016, during which she was robbed of millions of jewels at gunpoint. Since then, she no longer keeps jewellery in the house or wears it for appearances. Her signature look now is a thin wedding band on her ring finger, and little else.

Renee Weldon, of CM Weldon's jewellers in Powerscourt Townhouse Centre in Dublin, says a discomfort with jewellery is not uncommon in women today.

Renee herself likes to keep jewellery to a minimum, often wearing just discreet earrings, and she understands jewellery can occasionally feel claustrophobic.

She says young women coming in for engagement rings today can be unaccustomed to wearing it and often tell her the new ring feels heavy and odd on their fingers.

Jewellery designer Chupi Sweetman thinks women's relationship with jewellery is changing.

"Most jewellers are men, most jewellery is designed by men, so the jewellery women wear is often made by people who will never wear it themselves, or know how we experience it.

"Our grandmothers - and even our mothers - led different lives to ours: we're out there now moving mountains and changing the world. Every time I make something new, we all wear it in the team and see how it feels, running out the door, going to the gym." Comfort is currently the biggest trend in fashion.

Another change is that now we are buying for ourselves. "Traditionally, it was gifted to us by men, so they would choose what we wore. Now, half of our sales are women buying for themselves."

Chupi says that "no jewellery" can be an aesthetic in itself, but it is very rare. She believes that if you don't wear jewellery, it's only because you haven't found what's right for you.

She may well be right. After spending an afternoon in CM Weldon's, trying on €100,000 worth of jewels, I realised that I can like jewellery - provided it's vintage and ridiculously expensive. It seems if it's relatively cheap, I just don't value it enough to warrant displaying it on my body. And if it's not worth thousands, I won't bother at all. It's true: I would wear a watch - at least it's utilitarian - but only if it's a Tag Heuer. Which is likely why my wrist will remain unadorned until I win the Lotto!

I'm happy to keep the focus on the clothes instead as a form of self-expression and a means to accentuate the positive and cancel out the negative. I'll take heart in another piece of Coco Chanel advice. "Dress shabbily and they remember the dress - dress impeccably and they remember the woman."

Irish Independent