Jewelry & Watches

Is It Right to Wear Jewelry at the Beach?

The case for-and against-jewelry at the beach.
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It began with the pearls down Sara Murphy’s back on the beaches of Cap d’Antibes. And might have ended with Scarlett Johansson’s engagement ring off the water in East Hampton. It’s that kind of story, a tale of beach jewelry, lost and found.

Murphy, arts patron, and muse, was part of Fitzgerald’s South-of-France expat crowd. There is an image of her I turn to when the topic of jewels on the beach comes up—and it is more frequently than you might expect—and I need to defend my position in support of it. It’s a black and white photo of her with her husband Gerald, sitting in the sand, her strand of pearls clearly visible, the tan line they might create across her spine vividly imagined.

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Sara Murphy at the beach.
Photo by UTCON COLLECTION / ALAMY STOCK PHOTO.

I googled the photo again just days ago when pictures surfaced of Scarlett Johansson, also on the beach and in love. I studied Johansson’s hands carefully and zoomed in appropriately. Absent—at least to my inquiring eye—from all images was her reportedly $400,000 11-carat light-brown diamond engagement ring, possibly designed by James de Givenchy.

Wait. Was I doing this all wrong? Was Sara Murphy? Was Maria Callas? Carolina Herrera? Mariangela Melato? Elizabeth Taylor? Rihanna? In an effort to stabilize, I emailed members of the jewelry tribe for support. The subject line: DO YOU WEAR JEWELRY TO THE BEACH???

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The Golden Age of Beach Jewelry

Opera singer Maria Callas at Venice Beach, 1990.
Photo by ARCHIVIO CAMERAPHOTO EPOCHE / GETTY IMAGES.

Swedish model Olimpia Hruska in Sardinia, Italy, 1964.
Photo by SLIM AARONS / GETTY IMAGES.

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American actress Marisa Berenson sunbathing in Capri, 1968.
Photo by SLIM AARONS / GETTY IMAGES.

Charley Weaver at the Las Brasas Resort in Acapulco, Mexico, 1872.
Photo by SLIM AARONS / GETTY IMAGES.

“I normally wear an all gold or a pearl or coral piece. It all depends on where you are and what the occasion is, but if we are thinking holidays at the beach I want to feel at ease... comfortable and wearing pieces that are dear to me and that make me feel special!” jeweler Ana Khouri wrote back almost immediately.

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"Nothing looks better with a suntan than gold jewelry, but nothing goes with a sunburn."

And I knew I could depend on D.J Mad Marj Gubelmann: “I like the x-large Faraone Mennella Barbarella earrings and a chunky gold Rolex. My beach jewelry philosophy is plain yellow gold and chunky. I don’t like costume jewelry. This is my version of it!”

The stylist and author Stacy London provided concrete examples: “Someone who consistently gets it right is Rihanna. She wears a lot of small jewelry which never seems to stand out but is just part of her style on and off the beach. Adowa Aboah just wears many tangled gorgeous gold chains but it works. I feel like she almost single-handedly started the neck mess trend.

"But I also believe that more can be more on someone like Danielle Snyder, the co-founder and designer of Dannijo jewelry. Her Instagram is a lesson in how to wear jewelry at the beach that makes it the focus. Then there’s Diana Rigg in Evil Under The Sun," says London. "She makes swim accessories an art form by actually building an outfit without which the look would not work. Her turban, bold button earrings, and oodles of bangles make the beach outfit!”

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Diana Rigg in 'Evil Under the Sun,' 1982.
Photo by MERSHAM/TITAN/KOBAL/SHUTTERSTOCK.

I immediately google Diana Rigg and feel the rush of vindication. London, perhaps sensing I felt the case was now closed, finished with a warning. “The mistake I do see people make are in choice of earring. Heavy earrings look like you’re dressed for the wrong party. And they hurt because they are so much heavier when wet.” Solid advice, even if it did dampen my mood a bit.

Jennifer Fisher—queen of the lightweight gold hoop—would brighten things wouldn’t she? “A simple chic gold hoop works perfectly from beach to lunch to dinner." A single link gold chain also works, or a simple anklet, she says. "Keep it clean and simple. Bracelets and rings are not necessary.”

But cracks in my beach jewelry theory, one founded upon the foundation of multiple Lalaounis gold bangles and Elena Votsi turquoise beads, began to appear. “Less,” wrote Fisher, “is definitely more.”

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And then the waves came crashing in. “I don’t personally wear jewelry at the beach,” Lizzie Tisch, a woman once described as my jewelry spirit animal, declared. “It’s not my favorite look plus I’d be afraid I’d lose it!”

Fred Leighton’s Rebecca Selva, the one I was sure would urge me to pair an Eres black one piece with a Cartier nail hoop, and my vintage striped agate beads: “My advice for beach jewelry is generally no jewelry if you are planning to go into the water, whether you are a tippytoe-er, wading beauty or swimmer. There are gemstones that will withstand the salt water—diamonds, sapphires, rubies— but the water and waves can loosen the fit of a ring and loosen mountings. We sometimes see jewelry that’s had a dip in the sea. If it could talk, it wouldn’t a happy conversation!"

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Selva also warned that sunblock, lotion and sand can get on gemstones. "Lotion can make a ring slip off the finger! If you are not planning to go into the water, be mindful that under the sun, gemstones and metal get hot and can be uncomfortable. Years ago, we had a situation with a Victorian pools of light necklace—under the sun, the rock crystal orbs were veritable lenses channeling light and heated the wires holding them. Ouch! Keep your loved and beautiful jewelry at home, and enjoy the sun and water!”

I had to defend my honor. I presented the evidence of Sara Murphy and her pearls. Selva replied. “No! Although the pearls came from the sea, they were protected in a shell. The saltwater will damage the nacre.”

I was now caught in a riptide of doubt. So naturally, I called Robert Verdi.

“There are sectors of beach jewelry,” the television personality advised, tossing me a life raft. “It’s divided into two spaces. The jewelry that you wear because it's meaningful, it's who you are. Wedding bands and engagement rings always stay on. And there is the other side, the fringe earrings that you picked up at a market in Marrakech."

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"I don’t think people can really enjoy wearing pieces that are a potential loss," Verdi says. "A client of mine came out of the ocean once without her $40,000 ring. The beach is really not a place to wear fine jewelry. It’s hard enough to find your left flip flop in the sand let alone a diamond ring.”

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Kelly Bensimon West Palm Beach, Florida, 2015.
Photo by CARLOS MARINO / GETTY IMAGES.

He did, however, make certain concessions. “Wear things that are fun and easy to take off. Luis Morais has flexible easy to remove bracelets. Sara Beltran makes necklaces that feel right. That’s the other thing: tan lines. Whatever you are wearing you need to people able to easily take it off your wrist or pull it over your head when you are sitting out.”

The tide could yet turn. I was still waiting for Lauren Santo Domingo to weigh in. “Nothing looks better with a suntan than gold jewelry,” the founder of Moda whispered into my computer. “Nothing goes with a sunburn. Plan accordingly.”

And so I did, in a Belperron wave bangle and Ileana Makri evil eye. Those are protected from saltwater and sun and tanlines, aren’t they?

*This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com

*Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors

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