It is considered tradition for a bride to give jewelry to her bridesmaids as a token of her appreciation for their participation in a wedding. The bridesmaid jewelry is usually given with the intent for it to be worn during the wedding ceremony. In recent years, the jewelry gift has been somewhat replaced with gifts like gift cards and electronics, although many brides still honor this age-old tradition.
Most bridesmaids spend a good deal of money on being in a wedding. Many pay for a portion or all of the wedding shower as well as gifts for the happy couple. In addition, most bridesmaids pay for their dresses, shoes, bags, hairstyles, and makeup among other things. The jewelry that the bride provides for them is considered a courtesy to lessen at least some of the cost associated with the responsibility and privilege of being a bridesmaid.
The jewelry chosen for each bridesmaid can be different. Since every bridesmaid has a different personality, each set of jewelry can be purchased to match their personal style. Many brides choose bridesmaid jewelry with similar themes or colors, but with varying appearances for each girl.
The decision to choose necklaces, earrings, or a matched set depends on the bride's tastes. There really is no appropriate item to choose, it is just a matter of what will match the theme and style of her wedding. In some cases, the bride may choose the same jewelry as hers in a different color for their bridesmaids. For example, white pearls for her jewelry and blue pearls for the bridesmaid jewelry to match their blue dresses. The bridesmaid jewelry does not necessarily have to match the bride's jewelry; it is simply a matter of what the bride's tastes are.
Some brides choose to give the maid of honor a special piece of jewelry. It can be a more expensive selection or something altogether different to set the maid of honor apart from the bridesmaids. A small tiara or jeweled headpiece can also work nicely in these situations, as long as it does not upstage the bride.
As far as when to present the bridesmaid jewelry, there isn't really a wrong time. Some brides choose to hand it out during the bachelorette party or bridal shower. Many wait right up until the rehearsal dinner, which is perfectly appropriate as long as the bridesmaids know not to purchase jewelry on their own. The rehearsal dinner is when the bride and groom traditionally make a special acknowledgment of those who worked toward the success of the wedding. The gift of jewelry fits perfectly in with this night as it also is a long standing tradition that brides and bridesmaids alike find a helpful and lovely gift to show a bride's sincere appreciation.