Inaugural Gemstones

When the 57th President of the U.S. was sworn in on January 21st, many looked to First Lady Michelle Obama to set the stage for American fashion trends in 2013. The First Lady did not disappoint when she appeared at the inaugural ball in geode shaped diamond earrings and bangles by American designer Kimberly MacDonald.

In honor of First Ladies from Martha Washington to Mrs. Obama, two GIA experts are taking a look at some of the most fascinating, trend-setting and significant jewelry that America’s First Ladies have donned through the ages. The first expert is Dona Dirlam, director of GIA’s Richard T. Liddicoat Gemological Library and Information Center. GIA’s library is a resource like no other, containing a growing collection of more than 38,000 books and over 100,000 photographic images and provides “ready reference” in the fields of gemology and jewelry. The second expert is Larry S. Larson, a GIA gemology instructor, with decades of jewelry retail experience in both sales and management. Here’s what they had to say about some of our most distinguished First Ladies and their inaugural jewels.

An American Original
A lifelong lover of jewelry, Martha Washington donned a citrine pin at America’s first-ever inauguration in 1789. Dona told us, “Citrine is relatively plentiful today and comes in a variety of sizes and shapes. The small, dainty flower-shaped pin that First Lady Washington wore was a sign of the more reserved Colonial times.

Mary Todd Lincoln pearls. (Courtesy of the Smithsonian)

Mary Todd Lincoln pearls. (Courtesy of the Smithsonian)

From the Sea to the Shore
Recognizing that pearls were a wardrobe staple long before Jackie Kennedy, Mary Todd Lincoln wore a Tiffany seed-pearl necklace and matching bracelets to the first Lincoln inaugural ball. “Mrs. Lincoln may have been in the public eye during a transitional time, but her taste in jewelry was certainly classic,” said Larry. In keeping with the times, she later purchased jet jewelry, which is black, during her mourning period.

The First Lady of Fashion
The most iconic First Lady of Fashion, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, donned an emerald jewelry suite – which included a necklace, bracelet, and matching earrings – to her husband’s inaugural gala in 1961. “Jackie’s style has been imitated since she first stepped foot in the White House, and given that emerald is Pantone’s color for 2013, I wouldn’t be surprised to see pieces similar to this suite emerge this year,” said Larry.

4.25-carat Kahn Canary Diamond

4.25-carat Kahn Canary Diamond

The Arkansas Accessory
“Paying homage to her previous tenure as Arkansas’ First Lady, Hillary Rodham Clinton wore the 4.25-carat Kahn Canary Diamond to her husband’s Inaugural galas in 1993 and 1997 as a special, unique way to represent Arkansas’s diamond site,” said Dona. The diamond’s owner, Stan Kahn of Pine Bluff, Arkansas, loaned the diamond to Mrs. Clinton, and it was set in a ring designed by Henry Dunay.

Which of the First Lady’s jewels do you admire most? Do you prefer Michelle Obama’s unique shaped diamonds, or the emeralds donned by Jackie Kennedy?

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