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Diamonds and Pearls, Oh My

Vivia Chen

November 7, 2012

Breakfast-at-tiffanys(1)The presidential election is over, Hurricane Sandy has moved on, power flows again in Manhattan, and I am back taking hot showers What else can anyone want?

Speaking of simple things, let me tackle a career issue that I'm sure you've been racking your poor brains over: Can you wear splashy jewelry in the office?

I realize this question might have had more relevancy had the Republicans prevailed, but a friend recently emailed me with this urgent query:

I was at an event at Barclays for senior women in financial services. As I gazed across the room, one thing jumped out at me: Women were wearing South Sea pearls everywhere I looked—black baroque ones and big white ones—all the size of gum balls.

Are pearls the functional equivalent of men's power ties? Does the size of the pearls reflect the size of your job? Didn't [former Avon CEO] Andrea Jung set the stage for this with her iconic white baroque pearls? Did she ever take them off?"

Now, I know my friend is obsessed with big pearls. I've noticed that as she keeps rising in her company over the years, her pearls—and other jewels—have gotten more substantial.

I don't blame her. If I were in her position (instead of being a humble blogger), I'd cloak myself in  some nice baubles too. Fact is, women who have achieved a certain professional status (law firm partner or senior positions at corporations) often wear lots of big jewelry—like chunky gold bracelets, big diamond rings, or earrings studded with emeralds and rubies.

Which raises this question: At what point is jewelry inappropriate for business? Does it depend on the type or size of the jewels? Or does age and senority dictate what's appropriate?

 "I think this is where pearls pull out way ahead of diamonds," says my friend. "No matter how big, they are still soft and unimposing. Kind of like well-tailored clothes on a man, or classic Italian shoes."

I tend to agree with her that you can get away with giant pearls (price tag alert: The "Classic Pavé" bracelet—not even the necklace!—from Mikimoto is $23,000). And even if you are wearing real pearls, most people will probably assume they are fake—so no one will think you're being ostentatious.

But what about big diamonds, clusters of emerald or rubies, or heavy gold jewelry? Would wearing them to the office make you look over the top? The answer is yes—certainly if you wear a bunch of them at the same time.

Big diamonds (say, more than a carat) make "too much of a statement," says a former female partner at an Am Law 200 firm, "unless it's an engagement ring." (Don't ask me why, but somehow a big rock on your engagement finger is always considered tasteful.)

I've seen "women of a certain age" wear all sorts of showy jewelry, and I don't recall that they got criticized. I think that's because people feel these women have paid enough dues in their careers to show them off as war trinkets.

So what about younger women: Is it a bad career move for a junior associate to wear big, expensive jewelry? My friend thinks so: "The 20-year-olds can wear big J. Crew stuff, and [other] costume jewelry, but I am not sure about the South Sea pearls."

Another Am Law 100 partner, however, doesn't think young women have to wait for deferred gratification. She says wearing pricey jewels can be a good career move: "I believe that a junior associate should dress somewhat above her station to signal that she is seeking and is ready for a promotion." Her advice: Only one big piece of jewelry at a time, please.

What do you think? Is it okay to go to town with your jewels at the office?

Related post: (Over)Dressed for Success?


Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? Email The Careerist's chief blogger, Vivia Chen, at [email protected].

Follow The Careerist on Twitter: twitter.com/lawcareerist



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As for me, I think it totally depends on company's dress code and it's type of businesses.
Foe example, it is not okay to wear all this king of jewelry when you work in a funeral agency. But when you are in a fashion industry, than it is totally appropriate.
and of course you position also matters. Wearing expensive jewelry on a secretary position is not the best idea as well,

I agree with Eve. Culture is a major influence! Although jewelry can really be a good determinant of one’s success, sometimes it is just simply to be stylish.

On a related note, at what point in a career is it acceptable for a guy to wear one of those cubic zirconium necklaces in the shape of a dollar sign?

I ran this past my jewelry club that meets regularly. Made up of mostly ladies, we agreed that professional women should wear the jewelry that makes them feel important, confident and reflects their success. We've come a long way from worrying about how low our necklines plunge. Better to let them stare at our bling than our busts!

This post is full of good advice, and I love your explanation of why pearls rarely look ostentatious. Another reason may be because pearls shine and glow - and are less distracting then diamonds and other gems that sparkle.

We have always thought this about Pearls. They equal confidence and power. Great article.
Francis J. Mastoloni
President Cultured Pearl Association of America

The answer is not in the culture of the pearls but in the culture of your firm or company. And as for diamonds...unless you're in the jewelry business, would leave anything larger than 2 carats in your jewelry box - even the engagement ring.

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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: [email protected]

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