Chokers have graced the necks of royals, represented strength during the French Revolution, and made red carpet history. We trace the history and evolution of natural diamond chokers, as they continue to reflect a certain bold attitude.
For a moment, imagine the famous Egyptian Pharaoh Queen Cleopatra, lounging on the throne, wearing an immense collar, or choker, made of gold and semi-precious beads. And then fast forward to Cannes Film Festival 2023, and you’ll be awash with diamond chokers smoldering on the necks of not just the women, but men too. Remember Manu Rios in Cartier.
Chokers are possibly one of the rare adornments that have passed the tests of generations. First devised with the intent of protection, they have since moved on to communicate power and style.
But first, what is a Choker?
Put simply, choker is a necklace that fits closely around the neck. It’s construction, however, is not so simple. “The design and structure of chokers, with their close-fitting nature, require precise measurements and craftsmanship to ensure a comfortable fit and an appealing aesthetic. Crafted from a variety of materials like precious metals, natural diamonds, gemstones, beads, pearls, chokers also feature detailing, such as filigree work, engraving, and stone setting, showcasing the skill and artistry of the craftsmen involved. Additionally, well-designed clasps or fastenings ensure both secure wear and ease of use,” explains Jay Sagar, jewellery expert at AstaGuru Auction House.
A well-made choker can strongly define your personal style. Bijoutier Pavan Anand explains it quite passionately: “Jewellery is not just an accessory! It is a weapon to exhibit power, wealth, style and place in the world. Gems are most visual and conspicuous when placed high up on the neck or across it. The silhouette has a tendency to elongate the look of the neck and draw attention to the facial features in a way that makes them very desirable.”
House of Rose
The Choker’s Cultural Journey:A string of rebellion or dog collar?
The journey of the choker is quite a roller-coaster. Around 2500 BC, the Sumerians were the first to wear golden choker necklaces. The ruling Pharaohs of Egypt also flaunted necklaces and believed chokers had special healing and protective powers. Moving across time and ages, it was seen on the neck of the Queen of England – Anne Boleyn – as also on future queens such as Queen Victoria. Queen Alexandra of England – who also served as the Empress of India – used to wear a choker to hide a small scar on her neck. Unwittingly, she made the choker quite a trend among her peers.
In India, too, chokers have a significant history and hold deep cultural and symbolic meaning. “In Indian tradition, chokers known as “guluband” have been worn for centuries. Often crafted with exquisite gemstones, natural diamonds, intricate goldwork, and precious materials, choker necklaces were a hallmark of opulence and grandeur of Indian royalty, especially the household of the Nizam of Hyderabad,” mentions Sagar.
In the 1920s and onwards, chokers became Art Deco, as they started dripping with big jewels, natural diamonds, even velvet, lace, and other materials. Called ‘dog collars’, they were seen as an elite trend. So much so that they featured in LIFE magazine in 1944! “Girls revive the dowager fashion of 40 years ago” – the article said.
But not all is rosy in the history of choker. In the 18th century, during the French Revolution, women who were against the French monarchy beheading its citizens, or who had lost loved ones under the guillotine, wore red ribbons on their neck – sort of eerily representing a cut neck. In the 1800s, prostitutes were said to wear black ribbon chokers as a sign of their profession. And well, in the 1990s, teenagers wore black ribbons or tattooed chokers as a sign of rebellion and angst!
But there were beautiful examples in between which saved chokers from a gothic death. The effervescent Princess Diana wore a multi-strand pearl, diamond and sapphire choker with a seductive black dress, as a part of what many say was her ‘revenge dress’ in 1994. The dress, and the choker, were her response to Prince Charles’ televised admission of his affair with Camilla.
Gwyneth Paltrow etched chokers in history when she wore a natural diamond Harry Winston choker at Oscars in 1999 – which she re-wore at her wedding to Brad Falchuk in 2018.
“With the surge of period dramas such as Bridgerton, Downton Abbey, A Gilded Age, and most recently, with the Princess of Wales wearing the late Queen Elizabeth’s Japanese pearl & diamond choker necklace to Prince Philip’s funeral, chokers remain a prominent and popular jewel,” says Jean Ghika, Global Director of Jewellery at Bonhams.
These ‘reappearances’ prove the timelessness of chokers. No wonder they are classics and auction favourites.
Chokers:Elegance for the Modern Generation
Change is inevitable though. Chokers, too, have reinvented themselves to appeal to the current generation. “The modern-day choker fan comes looking for elevated designs, open settings and rich elegant statements. While the Victorian era was a bit intricate, currently pieces that have good sized stones are popular, as well as collar and riviera style necklaces that can be styled as one of two bridal neck-pieces,” says Upasana Kartik Garg, Creative Director of SRHR Jewellers, Dariba Kalan. Riviera necklaces have precious stones or natural diamonds of the same shape, size, or variety the entire way around.
Chokers are, perhaps, one of the easiest necklaces to style. Owing to their high up-in-the-neck position, they are unmissable. So really, attires with any kind of neckline works – whether it’s a u-, v- or sweetheart neckline. For example, actress Janhvi Kapoor wore a natural diamond choker with a sweetheart neckline purple gown at Filmfare Awards in 2023,and actress Deepika Padukone paired a Cartier diamond Panthere choker-style necklace with her collared, v-neck pantsuit at Cannes 2022. “It’s also very glamorous on a well fitted high neck outfit, specially a darker tone colour – an ideal base for diamonds,” advises Ms. Garg. “…We’ve seen clients style chokers with satin shirts and embellished pants to make a statement outfit.”
Jewellery designer Renu Oberoi mentions that the versatility of chokers helps with layering. So for weddings, you could opt for a natural diamond choker and pair it with longer, thinner necklaces to have a regal look. On the opposite spectrum, create a casual summer look with a monochrome off-shoulder dress, accented by a sleek, single strand diamond choker, layered with long chains.
When styling, the size and design of the choker matters. “For weddings and other grand events, one would go for a thicker and more intricate choker, with larger or more diamonds, precious stones, or pearls,” advises Vikram Singh, Artistic Director at Her Story Jewels. “For cocktails or big work events maybe something more sleek like a single row of brilliant-cut diamonds, and for more fashion-forward casual moments, you could opt for one diamond,” he continues.
As for earrings, the size and style of the choker defines it. Large natural diamond chokers that cover your neck are best paired with smaller, but bold earrings, while simpler chokers call for longer earrings so that the focus stays on your face.
Polki – uncut raw natural diamond – chokers are a warm, beautiful choice for Indian weddings, while brilliant-cut diamond chokers are ideal for black tie, red carpet and cocktail events. Actress Kiara Advani became the poster girl of chokers when she wore a large polki choker for her haldi ceremony, a cascading natural diamond and emerald choker for her wedding, and another diamond and emerald choker, heavily layered, for her reception – all created by designer Manish Malhotra.
Will chokers go out of trend?
“Can stilettoes ever go out of style?” Anand counters the question. “Chokers are not for everyone. The women, or even men today, that sport them are alpha in their fashion game. Today, fashion is even more about ‘power’ and ‘presence’. So not only will they [chokers] continue to be sought after, but we will see many adaptations and creative variants in them,” continues the bespoke jewellery designer.
From Brie Larson’s pared down, sportier Cannes 2023 appearance in head-to-toe Chanel – including a single line diamond choker from the brand – to Priyanka Chopra Jonas’ fusion look at the inauguration of Nita Mukesh Ambani Cultural Center, in an upcycled Banarasi sari turned modern dress, paired with a Bulgari Serpenti natural diamond choker, this style of necklace can suit a vast array of styles, occasions and personas.
Chokers have proven time and again that they are not just a passing phase. It’s that one design that will last you, elevate you and continue to rule.