Years ago I decided that if expensive diamonds, rubies, and pearls are beyond my reach, I'll wear gems of a different sort: jewelry bought on trips to foreign lands.
My collection started 30 years ago with a visit to Taxco, Mexico's famed silver-mining town, with the purchase of a silver, turquoise, and amethyst necklace and has continued with brass bangles from Morocco and Tunisia, ivory bracelets and silver neckpieces from India and Nepal, filigree gold necklaces from Indonesia, naga beads from Thailand, jade bracelets from China, a ruby ring from Myanmar, tagua-seed earrings from Brazil, and silver rings from Guatemala, Ecuador, and Peru.
"Reason not the need," Shakespeare said in a different context, and it's true that I don't need another piece of jewelry. Still, it's fun to seek out local shops that specialize in imported jewelry. Here's where my travels have taken me:
Anthropologie, 11500 Rockville Pike, Rockville, 301-230-6520; 825 Dulaney Valley Rd., No. 4195, Towson, 410-828-5521; Tysons Galleria; 703-288-4387; anthropologie.com. The company's aim is to build interest in foreign cultures, and the pins, chokers, necklaces, hoop earrings, rings, and bracelets made of shell, glass, plastic, and other nonprecious materials pay tribute to traditional designs. This is jewelry that's easy on the pocketbook yet makes a statement.
Arise Gallery of Clothing and Jewelry, 117 Carroll St., Takoma Park; 202-291-6951; arisedc.com. The decision to move clothing and jewelry from the Willow Street warehouse full of furniture and decorative objects to a spare, contemporary shop across the street has made Arise's collection of craft jewelry stand out. New displays enable customers to see the items–from Asia, Africa, and the United States–more clearly and try them on more easily.
Artifactory, 641 Indiana Ave., NW; 202-393-2727. Fair prices and a huge collection of high-quality jewelry from around the globe are the highlights of this packed warehouse-cum-gallery near the National Archives. It's the best shop in Washington for a varied selection: old ivory bracelets from Africa and India, antique silver bangles from South Asia, trade bead necklaces, brass and silver neck and finger rings, and contemporary earrings by American artists. Similar jewelry in New York galleries is twice the price.
Bead Museum Store, 400 Seventh St., NW; 202-624-4500; beadmuseumdc.org. This tiny museum, dedicated to beads and personal ornamentation, has a first-rate selection of one-of-a-kind ethnic and contemporary beaded jewelry at realistic prices.
Beadazzled, 1507 Conn. Ave., NW, 202-265-2323; 501 N. Charles St., Baltimore, 410-837-2323; Tysons Corner Center, 703-848-2323; beadazzled.net. Design and string them yourself or let the experts at Beadazzled do it for you–either way, these shops are one-stop sources for unusual beads and all the string and clasps to go with them. A collection of ready-to-wear jewelry serves as inspiration. Restringing and repair services are a bonus.
Chico's, locations in DC, Maryland, and Virginia; chicos.com. Primarily a chain of clothing shops, Chico's also sells faux ethnic jewelry–some of which could pass for the real thing–at good prices.
Gold City Jewelers, 451 Hungerford Dr., Rockville; 301-838-8888. Gorgeous 22-karat gold and gemstone jewelry from India and a helpful staff are this shop's strong points. Most pieces are sold by weight, as they would be in South Asia, and most are elaborate enough for formal occasions. Some simpler bangles and rings could be worn everyday. If you're traveling to India, look here before you go.
Indian Craft Shop, Department of the Interior, 1849 C St., NW; 202-208-4056; indiancraftshop.com. You'll find authentic, high-quality jewelry made by artists representing more than 45 Native American tribes. Women will like the distinctive beadwork, necklaces, earrings, bracelets, and rings; men will find bolo ties, belts and belt buckles, cuff links, and tie tacks.
National Museum of Women in the Arts, New York Ave. and 13th St., NW; 202-783-5000; nmwa.org. There is usually marvelous craft-artist jewelry in the museum shop, often reflecting the current show. Inexpensive but fun, multicolored, plastic rings are displayed with more pricey well-designed brooches and bracelets, necklaces, and earrings.
Oya's Mini Bazaar, 2420 18th St., NW; 202-667-9853. If you don't mind sorting through rugs and baskets, you can find cheap but often striking baubles and beads, mostly from Africa and South Asia. Delicate earrings and necklaces from Ecuador, leather bracelets from Africa, and loose beads galore are fashionable and inexpensive.
The Phoenix, 1514 Wisconsin Ave., NW; 202-338-4404. Mexico is the source of much of the jewelry in this long-established Georgetown shop. Classic Mexican sterling-silver pieces dominate, but gold and gemstones put in an appearance as do contemporary American designs. Unlike newer shops specializing in Mexican silver, the Phoenix carries select, high-quality items.
Pirjo, 1044 Wisconsin Ave., NW, 202-337-1390; 4821 Bethesda Ave., Bethesda, 301-986-1870. Though clothing by creative designers is the main stock, there's a small selection of contemporary jewelry by craft artists. Wood, silver, glass, plastic, and other interesting materials are used in striking bracelets, earrings, necklaces, and rings.
Pua, 444 Seventh St., NW; 202-347-4543. Alongside tailored, natural-fiber clothing, Pua showcases a small but brilliant array of jewelry from South Asia and Tibet, hand selected by owner Zarmina Said, who obtains much of it from a dealer in Nepal on her trips there and to other countries that produce her designs.
S&A Beads, 6929 Laurel Ave., Takoma Park; 301-891-2323; beadstore.com. S&A has beads galore and a helpful staff that offers advice and will assist the craft-challenged customer on a do-it-yourself project. Ready-to-wear jewelry means you can also shop and go.
Smithsonian Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, 1050 Independence Ave., SW; 202-633-0535; asia.si.edu. Like the art in the museum, the Sackler's fine jewelry is from Asia and the Middle East. Whether it is wood, bone, and brass bangles or pricier items made from silver and gemstones, the prices are reasonable though not a bargain, the quality is reliable, and the selection is large.
Smithsonian Freer Gallery of Art, 12th and Jefferson Dr., SW; 202-633-0535; asia.si.edu. The small shop sells choice designs evoking Japanese, Chinese, and South Asian aesthetics. Copies of classic design are displayed alongside more contemporary pieces.
Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, 950 Independence Ave., SW; 202-786-2147; nmafa.si.edu. There's something for everyone, and in every price range, in this museum shop: from leather-and-bead bracelets to stone necklaces and earrings to gold-plated replicas of antique African jewelry.
Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, Fourth St. and Independence Ave. SW; 202-633-7030; nmai.si.edu. Two shops at Washington's newest museum are among the best places to find beautiful Native American traditional and contemporary jewelry. The main-level shop showcases the highest-quality silver, spiny oyster, and turquoise pieces–with prices to match. Upstairs, more-affordable jewelry also appeals.
Smithsonian Renwick Gallery of American Art, 17th St. & Penn. Ave., NW; 202-357-1445; americanart.si.edu/renwick. Looking for the latest work by innovative American jewelry artists? Look no further.
Taxco Sterling Company, Union Station, 202-682-1172; Georgetown Park Mall, 202-342-9504; Fashion Center at Pentagon City, 703-415-5665; Tysons Corner Center, 703-893-2526. If your idea of great jewelry is silver, big, and bold, look no further. While the majority of the jewelry is from Taxco, Mexico's silver-mining center, some items come from Italy and Indonesia.
Textile Museum Shop, 2320 S St., NW; 202-667-0441 ext. 29; textilemuseum.org. One-of-a-kind jewelry, mostly of Asian, South Asian, and Middle Eastern origin, is exhibited along with handwoven scarves so stunning they also can be worn as jewelry. You may find chunky amber beads or woven silver bracelets in this changing collection.
Trade Secrets, 1515 U St., NW; 202-667-0634; thesecretsout.com. Clothing from India and Africa may be the main draw, but a careful look around will unearth unusual beaded necklaces, metal bracelets, dangling earrings, and more. Owner Marcia Duvall's friendly chitchat plus a proffered glass of Merlot make the experience here more akin to rifling through a friend's closet than to shopping.
Zawadi Gallery, 1524 U St., NW; 202-232-2214; zawadigallery.com. Pieces of distinction, such as old ivory and heirloom silver bracelets, can be found in this attractive shop, whose name means "gift" in Swahili. Marvelous clothing, and a friendly owner who serves as a fashion consultant, simplify putting jewelry and clothes together to smashing effect.