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Jewelry That Adds Face Value


As the pared-back stylings of quiet luxury continue to dominate dressing, focus has returned to the face. And some jewelry designers are offering septum and lip creations to ensure the public’s gaze doesn’t stray.

“We are in an age of less is more when it comes to dressing,” said Meg Strachan, founder and chief executive of Dorsey, which sells jewelry featuring lab-grown gems. “I’ve been wearing a Dorsey septum cuff to preschool drop-off just to give the moms something to talk about on the text chain. I’m considering piercing it.”

In December, Dorsey debuted eight styles of septum cuffs, a U-shaped design that slides up on either side of the cartilage wall between the nostrils, and can easily be removed. Priced from $120 to $185, they sold out in seven days, Ms. Strachan said.

Two additional styles were introduced in April, and she now plans to expand into pierced septum pieces for the coming fall collection.

“It can be subtle or a statement,” she said. “It can be the only piece of jewelry you wear to a black tie wedding.”

In its spring 2023 show, Balmain models walked the runway with labret cuffs and face jewels made of galvanized brass with an aged-gold plated finish. The labret jewelry, worn in the center of the lower lip, was not for sale, according to a Balmain spokeswoman, but an engraved brass septum cuff is $195 on the house’s website.

Messika, a Paris jewelry brand that held a runway show in September 2022, paired Adidas streetwear silhouettes with its high jewelry, like the Golden Shield lip ring and Rising Soul septum rings. And during the fall 2022 runway shows, Louis Vuitton presented an androgynous shirt-and-tie tailored look accessorized with an oversized septum piercing.

“Lips in our society are very important; there’s a femininity and sexuality that you can play with,” said Valérie Messika, founder and artistic director of her namesake jewelry house. “There’s a mood and a personality that you can assume that you can’t with classical jewelry. You can have a strong, bold look and lips that sparkle.”

Ms. Messika has created a handful of one-of-a-kind lip pieces: The Golden Shield lip ring, for example, can be adjusted up to a half a centimeter (about two-tenths of an inch) and hangs between the lower lip and the chin, an area of the body she said she is “not as familiar with designing for.” The pieces move as their wearers do. Prices range from $1,000 to $28,000.

“It’s always a headache when you want to think about comfort and it’s quite different when dealing with the face,” the designer said, “but to be honest, to challenge myself on that part of the body, there’s more excitement.”

Directing attention to the face makes sense considering recent history, after months of mask wearing and a lack of social interaction except via screens.

“People are really wanting to express themselves, have fun and feel youthful,” said Pamela Love, the creative director and founder of her New York-based brand.

Ms. Love said she has noticed an increase in people wanting jewelry for their face. “It’s been my priority lately, and I’m talking a lot more about the nose specifically,” she said. Ms. Love has five piercers and has expanded her jewelry offerings for the septum and labret. All of the 29 septum pieces on the brand’s website, which range from $195 to $575, are for pierced noses.

Although celebrities like Florence Pugh, who has a one-of-a-kind Tiffany & Company septum ring, FKA Twigs and Cynthia Erivo all have been photographed with septum jewelry, “it’s shockingly one of the most controversial things I speak about on my platforms,” said the actor Christa Allen (of the 2023 true crime thriller “He Went That Way”).

“My septum piercing makes people very angry; it feels to me like there’s a correlation between facial piercings and people’s expectation of who you are,” she said. Ms. Allen went from a temporary cuff to a real piercing in mid-2021.

Even though “I didn’t feel at home in my face until I got it,” the actor, who has starred alongside Jennifer Garner and Amber Valletta, added, “there hasn’t been a single conversation with my manager that hasn’t involved me taking it out or hiding it.”

The oldest known jewelry likely worn as a septum piercing was in Australia and dates to about 44,000 years ago, according to John A. Rush, a retired professor of anthropology and author of “Spiritual Tattoo: A Cultural History of Tattooing, Piercing, Scarification, Branding, and Implants.”

More recently, they were embraced reluctantly in the West. “Nasal septum piercings, as a symbol of power captured from the animal kingdom, were popular among Native American Indians, but these practices were considered perverse by Europeans,” he wrote in an email. “Nostril rings were first introduced to the West around 1913, when the French singer and actress Polaire (Émilie Marie Bouchaud) toured the United States (she was considered the ugliest woman in the world!).”

Maria Tash, a fine jewelry designer based in New York who transitioned out of piercing to full-time designing about 15 years ago, said, “Septum and labret piercings are literally in your face, they’re smack in the middle of your face — and if they’re poorly fit, it drives me nuts and can be unattractive.”

Her 57-piece septum collection ranges from $150 for a 14-karat gold earring, used as a septum piece, to $6,150 for a three-row pavé hoop. Her own septum and labret have been pierced since the early 1990s, but, she said, she keeps her septum “hidden a lot of the time,” and the inside of her labret has closed.

Ms. Tash said she is of two minds about cuffs versus piercings. “Faking it with cuffs isn’t great, it hurts,” she said. “It’s like a party dress, not a lifestyle. But I’m also grateful for it and glad to see it. Faking it makes more people interested in trying it, which makes those piercings less stigmatized and drives them to be a different kind of statement. It’s not a big ‘whoa’ statement, but more of a ‘oh, jewelry can be beautiful in other parts of the body I haven’t thought about’ way.

“These piercings and the jewelry you put in them is an exciting way to express yourself, what you like and who you are,” she said.

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