What I like to do is to just start laying stones next to each other.
Sometimes what I think is going to be great just doesn’t turn the
old crank, but another stone pulls out subtle highlights or secondary
colors in the larger stone that you can’t see until the right accent
stone is right next to it. This works especially well with opals and
stones that are doubly refractive or have other color phenomenon,
like stones displaying slightly different colors or saturation along
different axes or flashes of different colors. Blue zircon, Tahitian
pearls and some sapphires and tourmalines fall into this category.
Try cool colors with cool colors and warm with warm to start, but
don’t stop there unless you make a “Wow, That’s it!” kind of
Blue, pink and white stones are examples of cool colors - aquamarine
and moonstone work great together, as do pink sapphire and white
druzy quartz. Red, brown, yellow and green are warmer colors - dark
Tahitian pearls and rubelite or tsavorite garnet can be very nice
together, the vivid color can make the orient of the pearl really
pop. I like to set warm stones in yellow gold and cool stones in
white metal whenever possible. When contrast is the objective, using
different colors of metal really enhances the effect, especially when
using diamonds, but be careful not to over-do it.
There is also the color wheel, a ring on which the full spectrum of
color is laid out, kind of like the cross section of a rainbow bent
into a circle. The color wheel is used primarily for determining the
appropriate color for shadows in painting among other things. The use
of opposite sides of the wheel will sometimes give an idea of what
might work well when contrast is the goal, but sometimes the opposite
color won’t work as well as something a quarter or a third of the way
around. The color wheel is best used for finding contrasting colors,
and is not as great for determining complimenting colors. It is of
limited use in jewelry design, but it is sometimes worth pulling it
out and playing around with it. It’s always fun in any event.
Neil says diamonds go with just about everything, and as usual, he’s
dead-on right. When in doubt, a few small diamonds will dress up
almost anything, especially if they are of high quality. I like
Neil’s analogy of the “dash of salt”, but I prefer to call it a
"sprinkling of sugar". Sugar coated Raspberry tourmaline served up in
platinum and 18K Royal Yellow is one of my favorite dishes.
I find black used as an accent color adds a degree of formality and
sophistication, but I seldom use it as anything other than the
primary color or center stone. Just about any color works as an
accent with black, but black as an accent for another color can be a
little too dramatic for my taste.
When all else fails, look to nature. Look at sunsets, variegated
flowers, stream beds, rainbow trout, bugs, forests in any season but
particularly autumn, pretty much everything Mother Nature makes is
color coordinated. She has this complimentary color thing down.