The First Ladies and Their Jewels

America's First Ladies wear jewelry for a multitude of reasons. Sometimes they choose a particular piece to make a statement. Many women in government, including Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, choose their pieces with great intention. When speaking about her accessory choices Albright said, "Jewelry had become part of my personal diplomatic arsenal; I do believe the right symbol at the correct time can add warmth or needed edge."

Let us celebrate this Presidents Day by taking a look at the jewelry worn by some of our former First Ladies.


Martha Washington: First Lady from 1789 to 1797 

Contrary to many popular depictions of the original First Lady, Martha Washington wasn't a frumpy woman but instead was quite fashionable. Mrs. Washington appreciated the finer things but was careful to remain modest in dress and adornment. Many of Martha's pieces held symbolic significance like her amber necklace. Amber was popular among the ruling but democratically elected classes in Ancient Greece and Rome. 


Mary Todd Lincoln: First Lady from 1861 to 1865

Mrs. Lincoln was known for being a very fashionable woman and was also the first of Presidents' wives to be referred to as the First Lady. For President Abraham Lincolns' inauguration in 1861, the president purchased a necklace and a pair of bracelets from the infamous Tiffany & Co. Instead of buying a full set of jewelry, Lincoln purchased a demi-parure for a total of $530 (what would now cost around $12,500). A demi-parure is part of a set; a parure is a full set, which could include earrings, a necklace, a brooch, bracelets, and a ring.

Though extremely well crafted and elegant, this set held an appropriate amount of restraint for a nation on the brink of civil war. This decision was symbolic and wise for a new administration experiencing turmoil amongst the people.

Her choker for the inauguration featured seed pearl rosettes. The rosettes were made by placing seed pearls, strung with horsehair, on a mother of pearl base. These pieces are still in good condition today. 


Jacqueline Kennedy: First Lady from 1961 to 1963

Pearls have always been a popular choice among the First Ladies. At least 14 First Ladies have worn pearls for their official White House Portraits.

Jackie Kennedy's contemporary fashion sense reflected the new era of President John F. Kennedy. Simulated pearls were one of her favorites. Wearing pearls was the perfect way to honor the history of First Ladies and Democratic leaders before her.

Some of Mrs. Kennedy's other most notable jewelry pieces included her emerald and diamond engagement ring and her collection of brooches.


Nancy Reagan: First Lady from 1981 to 1989

As President Reagan began promoting the free-market economy, Nancy Reagan responded appropriately with a collection of jewelry full of gold, diamonds, platinum, and even a jeweled American flag ring. Her pieces fit well into the trends of the 80s, but were also elegant and befitting of a First Lady.

Mrs. Reagan was always polished and put together. This first lady was very savvy about the way she presented herself to the public and worked hard to keep a clean image through the often troubling era.


Michelle Obama: First Lady from 2009 to 2017

Michelle Obama has earned herself a reputation for being a jewelry aficionado. Many publications and media outlets have chronicled her choices throughout her time in the White House. 

Mrs. Obama has a history of using jewelry to make a statement. During her time in the White House, Michelle Obama commissioned designer Kara Ross to turn a tree that had fallen on the White House lawn into bracelets. The bracelets made from this tree were given to visiting heads of state to perhaps symbolize the joining of nations.



This brief look at the jewelry of the American First Ladies has shown that even jewelry can send a message and hold deep meaning. The jewelry worn by these women was without a doubt elegant, stylish, and unique. 

What are some of your favorite pieces worn by our First Ladies? Comment below and let us know your top picks.


1 comment

  • Great piece Vanessa! I love pearls, always thought they were an elegant touch!

    Sharon B

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