modern Irish jewellery

The round of Communion and Confirmation celebrations every Spring in Ireland may be the height of the style for those of us far removed from the glittering catwalk and red carpet worlds of models and movie stars.

But any opportunity to don the heels and bling offers an oasis of confidence-boosting comfort and chutzpah, especially these days.

Looking back on family albums years from now, it won’t be the recessionary backdrop that springs to mind, but how fab you looked in your floaty chiffon dress and beaded sandals.

If you’re marking the occasion with the child’s Communion medal or bangle, there’s also a galaxy of glittering jewels for adults to be found in homegrown bling.

The ethnic feeling was one of the key looks in fashion this summer – New York doyenne Diane Von Furstenberg’s lucky charm bracelet includes Tibetan symbols of love, hope and longevity.

Now especially, our own ancient Celtic symbols of intricate ornamental knots, Ogham-inspired engravings and hammered, asymmetrical shapes like dolmens shine brilliantly on the world stage.

I set off on a treasure hunt around Dublin for gold and silver and came up with these pearls of wisdom.

Golden Balls

Though David Beckham has joined his wife Victoria as a fashion designer (for Adidas) it’s the three golden balls of a pawn shop that offered a magnetic lure for bargain-hunting bling browsers.

One of the three remaining traditional pawn brokers in Dublin, Carthy Jewellers, Marlborough Street, Dublin, had a dazzling array of secondhand gems ranging from children’s bangles through adults earrings, bracelets and pendants to an Art Deco style turquoise bangle and earring set at significantly lower prices than new pieces. If you’re buying for the stylish man in your life there were elegant cuff-links and club rings emblazoned with the club’s badge etched into the gold.

Stacks of flair

Fans of contemporary ethnic themes will be charmed by Brian de Staic’s collections from the Dingle peninsula. The shapes range from the cool, clean squares of Erin Cearnog to Cashel bands or Torc brooches.

The collections encompass contemporary versions of quintessentially Irish themes from delicate fuchsias, the three-pointed knots usually inscribed on Celtic crosses and the crosses themselves.

One of its most charming collections is Ogham, very modern shapes with personalised names or sentiments inscribed on the jewellery in the series of lines in the Ogham alphabet.

Into the Outlet

Factory outlets have never been more popular with bargain hunters and bling buyers are no exception. O’Connors of Harold’s Cross, Dublin is usually a Mecca for engagement-ring customers looking for anything from solitaires to three-stone rings.

But if you’re looking for a simple dress ring in precious stone, the savvy buyer is singing the blues.

“We make a whole range of precious stones and metals and Tanzanite is relatively new alternative,” says director Bernadette O’Farrell.

“It’s a lovely blue with a purple through it. It’s a softer stone than sapphire, so it’s not generally picked for anything other than a dress ring or “right-hand” ring. “

She says that white metals are still the most popular with their customers. If you’re looking for stacked bangles for summer’s bare arms, head here for bangles and glitzy stone-set bracelets.

Knot’s Landing

The jump in gold prices has meant that we’re looking at silver with a new affection. “People are being very careful about how they spend their money,” confirms John Condron, head of the Federation of Jewellery Manufacturers of Ireland. “Since 2006 gold has doubled in value so now there’s huge interest in good quality silver jewellery. Even though silver prices have almost tripled it still remains affordable.”

He reckons we should look to the work of smaller workshops for unusual glitter.

“There’s a wealth of talent in Ireland at the moment. Some of the smaller one-man operations are turning out beautiful contemporary pieces for the likes of Weirs and Kilkenny Design [which are two of the most upmarket and aspirational stores in Ireland outside of artists studios].

There’s a more contemporary feel in Ireland now and a good demand for good quality ethnic – not shamrocks and shillelaghs – but replicas of the 13 most important crosses around the country and replicas of some of the museum pieces. It’s far more heritage orientated.”

His own company based in Blackrock, Dublin is another hotpoint for Trinity Cross motif bangles, bracelets and pendants.

The other trend he flagged is a tad more romantic than the self-purchase one: lots of couples are re-committing to vows at anniversaries.

Maybe not on the scale of Salma Hayek and hubbie Francois Henri-Pinault’s renewed vows in Venice where the couple’s second round of nuptials included a party for over 200 people. Guests included Penelope Cruz, Lucy Liu, Charlize Theron, Lily Cole and Anna Wintour, to mention just the women and the glamour was underlined by black and gold, plumed masks.

But for loved-up renewals in the real world, Condron recommends a simpler approach: classical Celtic pieces with enduring appeal.

Hammer right

Third-generation goldsmith Karl Ryan of based in Aungier Street, Dublin has seen a jump in customers looking to have old gold remodeled.

If you’re getting married this year and looking for nuggets of wisdom in keeping costs down there are canny ways and means:

Girls who’ve been given maybe their gran’s wedding ring are finding a practical boon to a sentimental bridal gift.

“Back in the 60s and 70s wedding rings were big heavy things,” says Karl. “And we’re seeing customers get a set of wedding rings made up out of one.

“To buy a set new it’s about €500 or €600 for 18ct wedding bands; but you’d get away with €120-200 depending on whether we had to add a little extra gold,” having remade the old heavy one into two sleek contemporary bands.

But the hallmark of the workshop’s style is Celtic-themed ornamental bands that are right on trend for this year’s ethnic-flavoured fashion. They’ve also a simple asymmetrical set of two bands in the one ring that’s got a hammered finish and is decorated with inset diamonds – the Druid Collection.

Druid collection from Ryan's of Aungier Street, Dublin
Druid collection from Ryan's of Aungier Street, Dublin
Fado (long ago) jewellery based in Blackrock, Co Dublin
Fado (long ago) jewellery based in Blackrock, Co Dublin

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