As much as red carpet jewelry heaped with gumball-sized diamonds inspires awe (and the urge for million dollar shopping sprees), real life generally calls for smaller scale sparkle. Turns out, diamonds that actually get the most mileage don’t necessarily require an Oscar winner’s bank account. If you’re ready to start shopping at the $500 mark—or maybe even a little less—you can start building a diamond jewelry collection that will last a lifetime.
A good place to begin: the eternal signet ring. For centuries, the style was engraved with monograms or family crests, and signified a posh pedigree. Though as of late they’ve transformed into fashion statements, the swanky appeal is as alive as ever. Case in point: Stone & Strand’s diamond-studded signet ring, which strikes just the right balance between aristocratic and cool; I’d wear one on my pinky finger for a flicker of subtle shine.
With an under $500 budget, you can achieve a look that punches above its price by choosing a piece bejeweled with several small diamonds rather than a single large solitaire. With seven sweet, petite diamonds clustered into a shape that’s as pretty as a daisy, Mejuri’s floral pendant fits exactly this description. Playful but not sugary sweet, the necklace layers easily with other diamond strands that may someday expand your collection.
And why not bring a jolt of color into the mix? After all, it’s a great way to play up the presence of your diamonds. Alison Lou’s upbeat jewelry—often featuring emoji motifs like smiley faces and hearts—places enamel frames around diamonds, magnifying their impact. You can’t go wrong with the huggies designed with a simple round diamond and enamel drop; They’re sold individually so you have the option of wearing a mismatched pair.
To push the earring envelope a degree further, try a style that combines diamonds with a slinky chain. Among its encyclopedic offerings, The Last Line is a label that boasts several variations on that theme; the Diamond Stud and Sphere Chain earring has a series of five delicate diamonds along its length, emerging a cross between a traditional stud and supple hoop.
No piercings? An earring is still within your reach. Like most throwback 1990s fashions (i.e., slip dresses, headbands, bike shorts and fanny packs), ear cuffs have made a comeback. Maria Black’s take on the style is punctuated by bright diamonds that highlight its curvy architectural lines. And if you do have a piercing or two, all the better. A series of diamond studs, hoops or pendant earrings in graduated sizes adds more dimension to your look.
Of course assembling a collection of diamond jewelry that wears like a second skin can’t be done all at once. Helen Ficalora’s clients come back to her again and again over time for handmade diamond charms. Consider starting your own collection with a talisman signifying luck or protection—a horseshoe or hamsa or four-leaf clover—then add on another to celebrate a milestone, remember someone special or just zhuzh things up from time to time. Slip them on a simple cord or chain or place them on a charm bracelet one by one. There’s no more precious way to record your personal history than with an ever-evolving diamond souvenir.