From old-guard to avant-garde, fine jewelry has always been defined by color. We want our diamonds white, our rubies fiery, our emeralds grass-green, and our sapphires vivid. For millenniums, that was the simple truth for maharajahs, moguls and everyone in-between. All other stones were labeled semi-precious. The chic money was not on colored diamonds, except for the rarest investment-quality stones.
In recent history, the most desirable and precious gemstones were reserved for “ball jewelry.” Dazzling tiaras, cascading necklaces, brooches and earrings (the kind found in museum and royal collections or Sotheby’s and Christies’ auctions) were rendered either exclusively in diamonds, or in diamonds accented with one of the “big three” precious colored stones.
Then, sometime in the past decade, the rules came undone. Designers at the world’s finest jewelry houses grew obsessed with color. In an astounding turnaround, rubies, emeralds or sapphires became highlights of couture creations, white diamonds applied sparingly to offset the colored stones. Women who had accumulated complete wardrobes of vault jewelry suddenly craved casual styles and trompe l’oeil colored diamonds they could wear comfortably every day.
Not unlike wine or art connoisseurs, collectors gravitated to new heights of creativity, and to rare, conversation-piece stones. Talented jewelers obliged with both modern and classic expressions of timeless beauty. With magnificent, traditional ball jewelry spiked with mysteriously colored stones. With statement pieces so big and bold only the wearer would know her gems were real.
Jewelers continue to raise the bar of desire, introducing us to a rainbow of South Sea pearls; to sapphires in yellow, pink and blue; to yellow, brown, pink, even red and green diamonds. Anti-status colored stones have indeed come to personify status in the 21st century. The choices are intoxicating, liberating—and at times a bit overwhelming. Here, then, are some of the best Sarasota has to offer.
As Holly Golightly, Audrey Hepburn taught the world that jewelry shopping heals the psyche. When she stared at the diamonds in Tiffany’s windows—sipping coffee, munching on Danish, alone in her reveries—Holly found inner peace. Images of her radiant beauty are iconic; Hepburn’s upswept hair and simple black dress the perfect foils for spectacular diamonds and enormous pearls. Pure fantasy.
As I shopped Sarasota’s jewelry stores, scenes from Breakfast at Tiffany’s occurred to me. I recalled Holly’s breathless exclamation, “Didn’t I tell you this was a lovely place,” as she and Paul (George Peppard) strolled through the store. Stoking my reveries, Sarasota jewelers scoured their vaults for rare treasures, producing inimitable estate pieces as well as contemporary examples of extraordinary workmanship. Jewels worth hundreds of thousands of dollars were fastened around my neck, slipped on my fingers, clipped to my wrists. Sarasota jewelry stores are lovely places indeed.
My heart quickened when Ali Chokr placed treasured specimens from Diamond Vault’s private collection before me. The cache features every shade of yellow diamond ring imaginable, magnificent stones of the caliber that entices connoisseurs from Europe to the store. He personally crafted the pièce de résistance: a collar studded with hand-picked diamonds in a breathtaking rainbow of colors. At Queen’s Wreath (the shop itself a jewel box), owner Tina Little’s unique cornflower blue sapphire ring was mesmerizing, and just my size. As if that weren’t enough, she introduced me to Cape diamonds—not yellow, not white—her prized example exquisitely defying color rules.
The jewelry at Optional Art is art indeed. Roberto Coin couture is available exclusively here. I also learned that one of the store’s renowned designers, Michael Bondanza, got his start at Cartier, an establishment rooted in art deco style. Perhaps that explains the amazing art deco references in his contemporary works of art, specifically the diamond and citrine bracelet placed on my arm. But what exactly defines the Sarasota consumer? How do our jewelers get into her psyche? Visit their stores and the mystery unfolds.
The luxury jewelry brands represented in Sarasota are dazzling. They reflect the level of sophistication, the quest for excellence more often associated with the capitals of the world. Mayor’s is set to open a Van Cleef & Arpels boutique on the heels of the success of its Le Must line by Cartier. What you don’t find in Saks Fifth Avenue’s jewelry cases will be requisitioned: That includes everything from specific estate pieces to jewels from prestigious London-based Graff. One need never travel out of town.
Armel is the only shop in the area permitted to carry the respected Carl F. Bucherer line of timepieces. McCarver & Moser is referred by Web site link to an international cadre of persistent Patek Philippe customers who’ve discovered the Sarasota store’s amazing access to the watch maker’s limited editions.
At Tilden-Ross, Gail Ross tells me Sarasota is such a social town that people can’t afford to see their jewelry coming and going. She places an incredibly rare pink diamond ring on a tray, its spectacular beauty rivaled only by the yellow diamonds of an antique-looking necklace. The yellow stones (contrasted by modern-cut white diamonds) are as masterfully rose-cut as if the work were done as far back as the 16th century.
Bruce Crissy of Crissy Galleries proffers the ultimate custom jewelry: antique pieces with craftsmanship that can’t be replicated by modern equipment; rare stones like a vivid pink sapphire not to be found anywhere else in the state. For name-brand collectors, Crissy offers a sapphire and diamond brooch by Van Cleef & Arpels; a Tiffany diamond bracelet, circa 1890, in its original box. The assortment here, and the expertise, are world-class.
In the end it appears that the quest itself produces as much pleasure as the artistry and quality of the trinkets found in Sarasota jewelry shops. Though serendipity waits in every nook and cranny, the essential elements—quality, originality and impeccable service—are no surprise.