Never mind that old Coco Chanel chestnut about taking one thing off before walking out the door. Today, you may want to add more to the mix.
One of the current preoccupations of fine jewelry collectors is an assemblage of necklaces that is layered, personal and playfully disheveled (or artfully edited, as the case may be). It is an ideal display for items à la mode — initial necklaces, chains, coin pendants — and whatever else finds its way into the jumble.
(The look even has an Instagram nickname: the #neckmess. Coined in 2016 by the Rhode Island-based designer Jessica Kagan Cushman, the term has made it into jewelry vernacular.)
According to Lauren Kulchinsky Levison, the vice president of the East Hampton boutique Mayfair Rocks, the practice of stacking and staggering necklaces is an approach favored by clients who “want to wear jewelry in a more magical way,” rather than the blunt force of big statement pieces. “Any jewelry designer who isn’t making necklaces that can be added into someone’s daily look and combine with all the other designers out there is missing out.”
The London-based designer Pippa Small attributed the popularity of layered necklaces to their aesthetic flexibility. “With necklaces, you have much more versatility,” Ms. Small said. There is no need to fit something into a piercing or around a finger, so “you can wear something large, small, strangely shaped. Around the neck, anything goes.”
Her current tally of assorted necklaces totals about 10 pieces that she wears 24 hours a day. “I like the feeling of the weight and the touch of the stones,” Ms. Small said. But she admitted that, when wearing them, “it’s noisy.”
They include two hollow, gold vessels she acquired in India. In one, she stores locks of hair from her twins and in the other, their baby teeth. The array is anchored by jewelry from Ms. Small’s eponymous collection, like an 18-karat gold pendant depicting a pair of gold owls — a symbol of good luck in Myanmar, where the piece was produced in cooperation with a project that bolsters employment and promotes the country’s jewelry heritage. She also adds lengths of gemstone necklaces in her preferred color for the moment: “Right now, I’m turquoise,” Ms. Small said. “It’s quite joyful.”
Gathering individual, idiosyncratic compilations of necklaces reflects “a shift of jewelry going from a showy, statusy thing.” she said. “It’s going back to its roots as a thing that really deeply, psychically means something to us.”
Some are so attached to their carefully assembled collections that they wear them in any setting, no matter how extreme. “I delivered my son with seven necklaces on,” said Samantha Rudd, the vintner at Rudd Winery in Oakville, Calif. “I like them to be like a second skin.”
That several of those pieces are bespoke necklaces and pendants detailing her personal history makes them particularly indispensable to her. “Designers can turn around custom pieces, and they’re more than willing to do it,” she said. “It becomes more of an expression of the customer and not just the designer.”
Ms. Rudd treasures a pendant by the Dutch jeweler Bibi van der Velden that features her family tree encrusted in emeralds, and another by Millie and Noah that has the contours of her eldest son’s face carved in crystal. Sometimes, she will combine them with whimsical necklaces of mushroom or animal motifs in custom gemstone combinations from the collections of designers like Brent Neale and Retrouvai and strands of Tahitian pearls on leather cords, purchased on repeated visits to St. Barthélemy.
She insists that the abundance of jewelry is a quietly reassuring presence, not a hindrance. “What I like about my necklaces is that I don’t even notice them,” Ms. Rudd said. “It’s like makeup. You don’t feel they’re there but other people can see it.”
Elements of storytelling
The rise of fine jewelry brands attuned to women who buy jewelry for themselves — both to accessorize and to compose a personal narrative — has contributed to the ranks of avid necklace stackers.
One of those women, Lucy Wallace Eustice, co-founder of the handbag brand MZ Wallace, met her match in two jewelry labels that have been around for less than a decade: Marla Aaron and Foundrae. Both instill elements of storytelling in their outputs.
The foundation of the Aaron collection is a range of chains and locks, hardware-inspired elements (often bejeweled or engraved) that function as pendants or charm holders, or that can be joined together to create bracelets, necklaces or other adornments. Foundrae primarily creates jewelry and medallions embellished with symbols representing themes like resilience and trust.
Ms. Wallace Eustice’s daily changing lineup of necklaces draws heavily from both lines. She also incorporates finds she has amassed over the years, like a Cartier strand of petite gold balls and a crimson bead from a Left Bank vintage boutique in Paris that she adds to other pieces. The flexibility to mix and remix different elements of a necklace — pendants and charms, chains and beads — fits neatly into current thinking about conscious consumption: buying less and buying thoughtfully.
Part of the fun of the layered necklace look is “restyling it,” Ms. Wallace Eustice said. “You get a variety of looks out of fewer things that you mix up in different ways. It’s not prescriptive.”
A crystal collection
Building a better #neckmess may not be prescriptive, but sometimes it might be curative. “We’re all at a point of searching for answers because things are so out of control,” the actress Busy Philipps said. At a moment when she was looking for what she described as “a daily reminder to stay grounded and let go,” she began collecting crystal necklaces, jewels that for millenniums have figured in mystical lore. And she said she discovered makers of “crystal and intention-based jewelry,” like Rock & Raw Jewellery, — who create pieces that are markedly more fashionable than the versions of yore.
New arrivals have joined her crystal talismans. First came a strand of opal beads (then another) from her close friend, the Los Angeles-based jeweler Irene Neuwirth. Those were followed by a zodiac pendant representing Ms. Philipps’s birth sign, Cancer, and a rainbow-colored tennis necklace from The Last Line.
The profusion of jewelry led Ms. Philipps to crack the code of a practical concern. “I was always confused by how women could wear multiple necklaces and not have them all tangle,” she said. The remedy? “I learned to go with different types of chains and types of necklaces. If your chains are different sizes and textures, they don’t get tangled.”
High and low
Rock stars have a long history of offhandedly piling on heaps of necklaces. Joe Perry, guitarist for Aerosmith and The Hollywood Vampires, is a case in point (so, too, are his bandmates Steven Tyler and Johnny Depp, for that matter).
The stories behind the pieces Mr. Perry has amassed are tenderhearted. On one strand, he wears his father’s class ring and on another, a ring his mother once wore. He is uninhibited about mixing high and low; the distinction between precious and semiprecious materials doesn’t hold much weight for him.
Mr. Perry tosses together handmade chains in fine silver from the jeweler Donna Distefano, a colorful necklace given to him by a fan from South Africa and a lapis carving resembling the monumental statues of Easter Island that he picked up in an airport gift shop, a memento of a trip to Chile with his wife, Billie.
From afar, the cascade contributes to the musician’s rakish superstar aura, but Mr. Perry considers it a wearable time capsule. “I see them when I look in the mirror. They’re a small way to collect and remember.”