Mix Masters
Designers find new inspiration in jewels that convert into multiple looks
Imagine you have a pair of fantastic chandelier-style earrings that can be streamlined into studs for the office and fashioned into a dazzling pendant for a night on the town. That’s the idea behind convertible jewelry, named as such for its ability to be converted into multiple jewels.

Popular during the Art Deco period, convertible jewelry featured such things as brooches that could be divided into dress clips, bandeaus (ornamental headbands) that could also serve as necklaces or be separated into matching bracelets, and earrings with add-on elements that provided a day to night option. Convertible jewelry was also a hallmark of the Retro period. Necklaces converted into bracelets or into a bracelet with matching earrings, while the ever-versatile dress clip was often designed to attach to a necklace, bracelet or hair clip such as a barrette. Cartier, in fact, famously created a necklace that split apart into five clips that could be worn separately or together.   

Today, convertible jewelry is back in the spotlight. Jewelry designers are taking a modern approach to this classic concept, engineering interesting new styles with a variety of materials that have women of all ages taking notice. After all, convertible jewelry allows a woman to be creative, adds versatility to her wardrobe, gives her more bang for her buck and is, well, just plain fun.

Clara Rankin Williams of Chicago-based Clara Williams Co. understands that. The former technology executive with a master’s of business administration from Harvard University has combined her talents into a jewelry collection with unique adapters that expand its functionality. For instance, a 14-karat gold link necklace upwards of $13,000 can be worn alone or decorated with various centerpieces such as a pyrite tassel or a moonstone unicorn that simply snap into the necklace’s signature magnetic clasp. The necklaces can also be converted into handbag straps using the company’s patented handbag-strap adapter. Earrings, all of which have collapsible posts and clips so they can be worn by anyone, have shepherd’s hooks on the backs for adding drops, while a pin adapter converts pins into necklace embellishments.

“Every woman wants to feel stylish in her own way and feel current. An investment in interchangeable jewelry allows her to do both by taking part in the design process and by continuously adding to her collection,” Williams says. “Today’s woman is also on the go, and this type of jewelry allows her to pick pieces based on her needs. If you work in the tech world, a traditional strand of pearls can look edgy by adding a drusy centerpiece. That same pearl necklace can be worn at a fund-raising gala by adding a diamond centerpiece and pearl tassel.”

Award-winning designer Victor Velyan, located in Los Angeles, shares that philosophy. His collection, inspired by such things as architecture, unique cultures and nature—particularly that of Africa and its animals—includes 24-karat gold and silver rings with diamonds and interchangeable pearls, as well as 24-karat gold, silver, patina and gemstone earrings with removable tops and drops.

“When a woman purchases my convertible earrings with three components, she can wear it five different ways. She can also add more drops in the future in different colors,” Velyan says. “She, in essence, can wear one piece of my jewelry with many different outfits and feel like she’s wearing a different piece every time.”

Convertible earrings can also be found at Los Angeles-based Erica Courtney. Known for award-winning designs that often grace the red carpet and top fashion magazines, Courtney now offers earrings in her Drop Dead Gorgeous collection that feature beautifully adorned gemstone drops interchangeable among toppers such as the sparkling Anchor earring, the classic stud and the elegant Mary Marquise hoop.

“Our clients absolutely adore our convertible jewelry,” Courtney says. “They get so amused and excited when they learn about all the different ways our pieces can be worn. Having the ability to change the style and feel of certain pieces really gives women the freedom to create and personalize their own looks. Also, the fact that our clients can buy one piece and add it to their collection/piece, instead of having to buy a whole new earring is great for their wallets.”

Likewise, New York-based Temple St. Clair, with her signature rock crystal amulets and collectible cocktail rings, has added convertible earrings to the mix. A particularly feminine pair highlights royal blue moonstone in a flower-shaped stud with detachable pear-shaped drop.

Then you have New York-based Sorellina’s Axl Serpente Tassel earrings. Here, Venetian box-chain tassels in oxidized silver, which hang from 18-karat yellow gold snakes, can be looped up to form a hoop. In the same vein, Brazilian jewelry designer Fernando Jorge developed a flexible, linear drop earring starring his trademark snake chain. Outlined in diamonds and gemstones, the chain can be looped up to form a hoop and a completely different look.

If rings are more your taste, how about one that converts into a bracelet? The ladies of New York-based Gumuchian—Anita Gumuchian and daughters Myriam and Patricia— have taken a design from their Turkish heritage and transformed it into something utterly current and chic. The Ring Cycle collection centers on a stack of eight connected rings topped with a daisy that unfold into a bracelet with the daisy at its center. Available in yellow, white and rose gold with and without pavé-set diamond petals, Gumuchian plans to expand the collection to include other floral and animal motifs.

Also pushing the convertible envelope is Floridian Pamela Huizenga. Certified as a lapidarist at 16, Huizenga’s passion lies in cutting her own stones and letting them dictate her jewelry designs. Of particular note is a pendant showcasing an exquisite Ethiopian opal that also functions as a brooch by folding the bail behind it. There are also pendants with sizable “enhancer bails” that open and close over a range of necklaces, allowing you to appreciate them with more than one look.

“I enjoy making pendants that can be used with a variety of chains, beads, pearls or fibers. Using an enhancer bail allows that versatility,” Huizenga says.

Featherstone Design, meanwhile, located in New York, has created an award-winning collection based on interchangeable elements. Crafted from platinum, 18-karat gold and the finest-quality gemstones, the elements include earring tops, pendants and pins that can be worn individually or expanded with “bellies” and “enhancers.” Bellies are considered the central element of the piece with a hook to accommodate the “enhancers.” Enhancers, in turn, are stunning gemstone drops that can either be suspended from the belly or from the original piece. To help you visualize the beauty of the elements and how they interchange, Featherstone has created a charming video of the process, which can be viewed here.

Other pieces of interest include “stud muffins” that your stud earrings slip into to alter their look, as well as an outstanding hand-carved sterling silver belt buckle with removable gem-encrusted peacock pendant.

Jeweler Deirdre Featherstone says her main inspiration for designing convertible jewelry is to maximize the magnificence of the gemstones.

“Fear of commitment inspires me,” Featherstone says with a chuckle. “You mean I have this beautiful stone, and I can only use it one way? I love multiple colors, and with convertible jewelry, you can create all of these different blends. You can create anything outrageous when you convert.”

What also inspires Featherstone and other designers of convertible jewelry are requests from clients. At a time when the push is toward personalization rather than homogenization in jewelry, this exchange of ideas between creator and consumer should produce a wellspring of designs that keep convertible jewelry on the fashion landscape.

“My best ideas come from my clients,” Featherstone says. “Convertible jewelry allows my clients to have a hand in the design. I might put something together one way, and they might put something together that looks like they could go swimming in it. I like that. There’s always something that breaks the rules.”  

Erica Courtney agrees: “I was motivated and inspired by one of my clients. She was looking at one of my pieces and made the comment, ‘I wish these brios would come off.’ At that very moment, it was like a light bulb went off in my head. The ability to interchange jewelry was a unique and brilliant idea that I knew many women could benefit from.”
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