Finding a great piece of jewelry for your wife or girlfriend is difficult. Chicago based Toki Collection by Tonia Kim, whose current Les Nomades jewelry is pictured above, offers some jewelry-buying advice for Chicago guys.

The most damning piece of evidence that Newt Gingrich was not fit to make run at the presidency was his six-figure credit line at Tiffany & Co. The leader of the free world needs to have creativity to solve modern problems, and clearly in his personal life, Gingrich’s crisis creativity was non-existent. He was clearly just spending as much as he could at a ubiquitous upscale jewelry store to cover up his sleazy tracks. Fine, that last sentence is pure speculation, but honestly, would a guilt-free man with a clear conscious need to spend that much money gifting jewelry?

Chicago jewelry designer and maker Tonia Kim.

Honestly, we don’t really care if men never buy jewelry for their significant others, but for those that do, it bothers us if they equate effort with carats. Big jewelry chains are great at convincing guys that women will melt at the sight of anything sparkly, even if the sparkles are placed over a mangled-looking piece of metal with as much artistic flair as a salad fork. We tend to believe men in Chicago have better jewelry-buying instincts than the fictional men in Kay Jewelers commercials, but still, it can be difficult finding the right piece of jewelry for your girlfriend or wife. Luckily, Chicago has no shortage of talented jewelry makers and curators, so we sought some jewelry-buying advice from someone who falls in the former category: designer Tonia Kim. Her Toki Collection jewelry is carried in several places in and around Chicago — like p45 and Sweet William — along with stores in Los Angeles and New York (you can see her full store listings on her blog). Her work has been featured in several national publications, and she was recently named one of Chicago magazine’s 50 most beautiful Chicagoans, which we are mentioning purely because this is the type of thing that would embarrass her. She’s rather humble. And also rather busy. Her current collection of jewelry, the Les Nomades line, recently came out, and she’s also involved in charities, event promotion and film production. But despite her busy schedule, she took the time to offer some advice for Chicago guys trying to buy their lady the perfect piece of jewelry. Read up, take mental notes, and if you have a $500,000 line of credit at Tiffany & Co., well, you’re probably not about to take advice from this website.

Jewelry Buying Advice from Tonia Kim:
Man Up Chicago: We like to think we have open minds and open hearts, but honestly, is there any circumstance where Jane Seymours’ “Open Heart” line of jewelry would be a good gift for a significant other?

Tonia Kim: You figure there has to be someone that would like Jane Seymour’s “Open Heart” jewelry line, right?  I would say that this would be a perfect gift for a woman was a big fan of the highly acclaimed tv series “Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman.”  Or, someone who really enjoys the “Open Heart” commercials where Seymour really gets into the process of how she “designed” her line via a paintbrush and canvas.  I should try that sometime.

Another piece of jewelry from the Les Nomades series from Toki Collection.

MUCh: There’s obviously no shortage of places to buy jewelery in Chicago, but what places do you recommend for men buying jewelry for their girlfriend or wife?

TK: Barney’s has an incredible selection of jewelry. There is a great mix of classic, timeless pieces as well as edgier styles. I highly recommend guys popping into p45 in Bucktown! Besides the fact they sell my jewelry and have been a great supporter of my line, they carry some amazing designers that I am proud to be in the company of, both local and national. Not only is the selection great, they are the best shop girls in the city and will have you walking out confidently with a purchase your girlfriend or wife will love. The shops on Damen Avenue are a pretty good bet in finding interesting, beautiful jewelry. Some other favorites include Roslyn and Robin Richman, which are also in Bucktown.

MUCh: Let’s use your line of jewelry for this question: A guy is buying his significant other a gift. What item would you recommend for someone who is in a pretty new relationship? How about for someone who has been together a long time (possibly married for a few years)? Please explain your choices.

TK: Oh boy, how new is the relationship? I would steer clear of jewelry until there is some sort of seriousness with the relationship.If you are in a fairly new relationship, I would choose pieces with absolutely no meaning. For example, a necklace where you share one half of a heart pendant is a big no no or anything that is a staple, everyday piece like a monogrammed necklace.  So, the rule would be, no hearts, no engraving. Once you break up with that person, I’m pretty sure that thoughtful monogrammed necklace will be sitting tangled in a drawer in her bathroom or kitchen. I would stick with styles that she could dress up an outfit with, something very simple, or a style with a sense of humor. Basically, jewelry that is emotionally vacant. Wait, you asked me to reference my line of jewelry! Same answer, but here are some picks from my collection. The oxidized silver spear necklace with gold details has been popular with both guys and girls. So, if it doesn’t work out, you can take it back for yourself. If you’ve been in a committed relationship for some time or married, aim for that special piece. That could be something that is specifically designed for your significant other or that one dynamic piece in the collection that would surprise her that you picked it out! A good example of this would be the pyrite chunk necklace with hand forged oxidized silver sticks. Jewelry can be a tricky thing to buy, but at this point, he probably has a decent idea of what her style is.  Whether it’s a new or long relationship, I would always recommend my fine braided necklaces. I’ve been selling them consistently to my clients and retailers for the past few years and they still don’t disappoint.

MUCh: What jewelry styles and metals are modern enough to look “of the moment” but also won’t be so trendy that they look extremely dated in a year or more?

Simple and rustic, this necklace from Toki Collection is nice alternative to glitzier pieces.

TK: Oxidized silver has been a theme in my jewelry for quite some time and my clients and buyers still love it. It gives a different interpretation to your standard silver toned jewelry. It’s definitely important for me to keep the designs fresh and relevant for the season, but I also don’t want it to be so trend driven that you won’t want to wear it a year from now. Who wants to invest in a piece that lasts them for only one season? Ultimately, that just seems wasteful. The way I oxidize the pieces gives them an almost aged look and each one comes out differently. It’s equally as frustrating as it is exciting when the piece is finished. Another modern look that isn’t too trendy is layering jewelry. I have always been a proponent of this and it’s a creative way to change up the look of an outfit. When I design for a season, I keep in mind past collections and try to weave similar themes so the jewelry can be worn together. I love that my clients come back season after season and add to their collection of Toki jewelry. It validates that I’m doing something right.

MUCh: From your personal experience, is getting unique but modestly priced jewelry better than getting something expensive that’s full of diamonds? And obviously this excludes engagement rings.

TK: I think in the past, people thought getting diamond jewelry was the end all be all. But with the huge influx of different styles of jewelry available to consumers, that isn’t the case anymore. Jewelry used to be secondary to apparel, but lately, it has become just as important in a woman’s wardrobe as clothing. That one statement piece can change up an entire outfit and become the center piece of the look.

MUCh: Should a guy who is seriously dating a girl ever buy her a ring that isn’t an engagement ring?

TK: I really think that depends on the girl.  If marriage is on her mind, you might be sending the wrong message if you get her a nice ring and that’s all it is a ring, nothing else. On the other hand, if she loves rings and wears all different kinds, go for it.

MUCh: Obviously a guy should consider his significant other’s personal preference, but between necklaces, earrings, bracelets (and whatever else), what is probably the safest style of jewelry a guy can by his lady?

TK: I always suggest necklaces. I might be saying this because I’m not that much of an earrings and bracelets girl myself. Although, with warm weather finally here, loading your wrists up with bracelets is always a great summer look! But back to the general rule, stick to necklaces unless you really know her preferences.

MUCh: Without giving us so much detail that we end up confused, should a guy consider his significant other’s hair color, hair style, height, eye color or skin tone when buying her jewelry?
TK: I wouldn’t think to hard about these things. I would say, use common sense. For example, I wouldn’t suggest a black oxidized earring for a girl that has dark hair and wears it down all the time. You won’t be able to see the jewelry!

MUCh: Most of your jewelry sells for no more than $300, which for the average guy, is a pretty reasonable amount to spend. Of course, there’s no shortage of jewelry in this price range, and we assume some of it is better quality than others. So when it comes to construction and materials, what should a guy be looking for to make sure a $100 (or more) piece of jewelry is going to last longer than stuff on H&M’s $10 rack?

TK: I would look at whether or not the item is made of a precious metal or base metal, especially if the girl is sensitive to certain elements, base metal is not a good choice (brass, copper, etc.). However, with that in mind, you’ll have to shell out a lot more for jewelry made with gold and silver since the precious metal market keeps increasing everyday. The other thing to look for in general are the obvious mechanics of the piece, such as the connections (jump rings, clasps, etc.). If you buy a piece with stones, make sure there are no chips or cracks.